The best reds for your burgers

Today, grills across America are smokin'. The Founders might find our back-patio palate patriotism amusing.

With an eye to the holiday, The Press Democrat organized its annual "Hamburger Reds" tasting to set you up with the best wines $20 and under to pair with your burger.

The top winner? Four-star rated Tablas Creek Vineyard, 2011 Patelin de Tablas, Paso Robles Rhone Blend at $20. It made the flavors pop in a Niman Ranch Black Angus Beef burger that was 80 percent lean, 20 percent fat. The juicy Rhone blend was the perfect complement because it had refreshing acidity and aromas and flavors of tart cherry, rhubarb and cinnamon.

The favorite wines rose to the top because they were rich and fruity or smoky enough to stand up to a burger's protein and fatty juices.

Other top-ranking wines include: Second-place winner Dry Creek Vineyard for its 2009 Heritage Sonoma County Zinfandel at $19 (4 stars), and third-place winner Amalaya for its 2010 Valle Calchaqui, Salta, Argentina Red Wine at $17 (4 stars).

A quick note about the star ratings. The scores reflect each wine on its own merit; how it fared with the burger didn't impact the score.

The flight included 30 wines, and the range was broad, from red blends to pinot noir, to zinfandel to cabernet sauvignon. The flight was eventually pared down to the tastiest 12, with the best burger matches noted in our wine grid.

Jason Haas, a partner in Paso Robles' Tablas Creek Vineyard, said he wasn't surprised his Rhone blend showed well with the burger and snapped up first place because of the way the wine made.

"We use a lot of grenache (29 percent) and grenache has a lot of fruit and a lot of spice but it also has great acidity, which allows it to be intense and yet still vibrant," Haas said. "

The grenache is blended with syrah (57 percent) and syrah has a smokiness which I think goes well with grilled foods."

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