What is the perfect burger to pair with wine?
That's a question Sonoma restaurateur Carlo Cavallo has explored this spring while preparing to open a new restaurant, Burger & Vine, in the old Creamery building on the Sonoma Plaza.
Every Wednesday night at Meritage Martini Oyster Bar, his customers have been wrapping their mouths around juicy burger combos as a test run for Burger & Vine, expected to fire up the grill this summer.
"Burgers have never been out of style," said Cavallo, who is opening the restaurant with business partner Codi Binkley. "I call it gourmet junk food. It's very approachable, and it's comfort."
The wine theme will run like a stream through the entire restaurant, where the burgers will be cooked over oak barrel wine staves.
"It will have a winery feel," he said. "The stools and the bar will be made out of wine staves as well."
Those familiar with Cavallo's cuisine, inspired by the sunny, wine-growing region along the Mediterranean, won't be surprised to find some of their favorite flavor combinations in the burger line-up.
Cavallo likes to follow classic formulas with his toppings and sauces. In the Barcelona Burger, Manchego cheese dances with Romesco sauce. In the Caprese Burger, fresh mozzarella cavorts with an heirloom cherry tomato salad. In the Wine Country Burger, Cypress Grove's Truffle Tremor goat cheese flirts with a mixed green salad dressed with vinaigrette.
When you use classic flavor combination, it's quite easy to come up with wine pairings.
For the Barcelona Burger, for example, Cavallo would suggest serving a local tempranillo, a Spanish grape that exudes spicy, red fruit aromas and flavors.
For the Caprese Burger, which is drizzled with a balsamic glaze, you can't go wrong with a sangiovese, a medium-bodied Italian wine.
The Wine Country Burger, on the other hand, would go best with a pinot or cabernet sauvignon, he said.
For the Fourth of July, Cavallo suggests serving an all-American Codi Burger, named after his business partner.
The burger is topped with lightly dressed coleslaw, Vella Jack cheese and some house-made barbecue sauce. For a patriotic pairing, you can't go wrong with an all-American zinfandel.
"The finely chopped slaw goes well with our barbecue sauce, which is on the sweet side," he said. "You can also add some bacon on top."
Of course, it's important to make sure each burger component integrates well with the whole package and is prepared properly.
First off, there's the meat. Unless he's making an exotic burger like a Thai or Latin Burger, Cavallo uses plain meat that is simply seasoned with salt and pepper.
"We like to make our own patties, about ?-inch high and 5-inches wide," he said. "We take the lid off a 5-pound spice jar, line it with a piece of plastic, and that keeps the form."
At Burger & Vine, customers will have their choice of three types of hamburger: Certified Angus, grass-fed beef from Beltane Ranch in Glen Ellen or Wagyu Kobe Beef.
When cooking burgers, make sure your grill or your griddle is very hot before putting on the patty.
"You want a crust on the burger," Cavallo said. "Ours can often get done in three minutes a side."
For home chefs who want to use a meat thermometer, Cavallo suggested taking the burgers off at 150 to 160 degrees.