Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Burger Wine!

The headline is a bit of a misnomer. It should be “Ketchup Wine,” as in “wine that pairs well with ketchup.” To understand what a feat this is, here is just a brief bit of background, from Malcolm Gladwell's 2004 New Yorker article:

There are five known fundamental tastes in the human palate: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. ...Give a baby soup, and then soup with MSG (an amino-acid salt that is pure umami), and the baby will go back for the MSG soup every time, the same way a baby will always prefer water with sugar to water alone. Salt and sugar and umami are primal signals about the food we are eating—about how dense it is in calories, for example, or, in the case of umami, about the presence of proteins and amino acids. What Heinz had done was come up with a condiment that pushed all five of these primal buttons. The taste of Heinz’s ketchup began at the tip of the tongue, where our receptors for sweet and salty first appear, moved along the sides, where sour notes seem the strongest, then hit the back of the tongue, for umami and bitter, in one long crescendo. How many things in the supermarket run the sensory spectrum like this?

Click here to read the whole story, which includes thoughts on why it is that  no “specialty” ketchup has ever really caught on.

So here we have a wine from Spain's La Mancha DOC, the country's largest appellation by area, and a forbidding place it can be: Winter temperatures as low as 5º F; summer temperatures as high as 113º F, and annual rainfall of 13-14 inches. One would think a while about living there voluntarily. Fortunately, winemaker  Rafael Cañizares is a sixth-generation resident of La Mancha, and I doubt he gives these figures a second thought. What he does know is the soil, and the 228 acres of vineyards that comprise Bodega Volver distinguish themselves by the presence of large river stones beneath the typical sandy limestone and clay of the region. The typical tempranillo vine on the property was planted about 40 years ago.

Bodegas Volver Tempranillo La Mancha Single Vineyard 2010: Opens with dark red fruit, anise, and vanilla oak on the nose; with time in the glass, some notes of cassis and woodsy/earthy character emerge. In the mouth, the wine feels rich (moreso with aeration) with flavors of cherry, cola, vanilla, and spice. There are also some bitter cherry-pit notes, and soft yet assertive tannins at the finish. The alcohol level is a bruising 15%, but the wine does not come across as “hot.” It's imported by Jorge Ordoñez Selections.  

So what is it that makes it go with ketchup? Probably the cola note, but the wine also hits three of the five flavor buttons mentioned above: Sweet, bitter, and savory (umami). The most important factor may be that the balance of flavors between wine and condiment seem similar. Whatever it is, a glass of Volver and a well-made burger with lots of ketchup is a surprisingly wonderful experience, and, at $16 a bottle, one that can be repeated without fear of budget-busting.

P.S.: We have noticed the phenomenon of restaurants specializing in fancy hamburgers served with fancy beverages like wine. Zinburger is an example. And right here in lil' ole Asheville we now have a similar place called Juicy Lucy's.

Zinburger's name signals its preferences in wines; there are three imported wines on the list I saw, and two of them are Malbecs. No tempranillo, and certainly not this one. Juicy Lucy's offers alcoholic beverages, but no wines. To the barricades, dear friends. These guys need to know what they're missing.

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