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Reds, white and blue

The Superburger burger with the 2012 Kenwood Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. (John Burgess / Press Democrat)

PEG MELNIK,

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

America loves to misbehave on the Fourth of July with a juicy burger and a splash of red wine, indulgence at its best. Is there really any other way to celebrate independence?

With an eye to the holiday, the Press Democrat organized its annual "Hamburger Reds" tasting to give you a lineup of tasty wines $20 and under to pair with your burger.

The top winner? Four-star-rated Kenwood Vineyards, 2012 Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Pinot Noir at $20. This pinot made the flavors pop in a 7-ounce, juicy cheeseburger from Santa Rosa's SuperBurger, a well-loved hamburger spot. The pinot was the perfect match because it had refreshing acidity, bright fruit and good structure.

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

Other top-ranking wines include: Second-place winner Enotria, 2010 Dolcetto Mendocino County at $18 (3.5 stars); and third-place winner Geyser Peak Winery, 2012 California Pinot Noir at $18 (3.5 stars).

A quick note about the star ratings. The scores reflect each wine on its own merit; how it fared with the hamburger isn't reflected in the score. That said, to win first place the red had to be burger savvy and the Kenwood Vineyards pinot is just that.

Pat Henderson, senior winemaker at Kenwood Vineyards, said he believes his pinot won top honors because of its "yin yang" burger appeal.

"The burger is rich (the yin), while the pinot has bright acid (the yang)," Henderson said. "The pinot refreshes the palate bite after bite, counteracting the fatty quality of the burger and cheese."

The pinot's strawberry jam character has been a profile in the making for years, Henderson said.

"In 1988 to 1998, we completely changed where we grow the grapes and what clones we used," he said. "We replanted in cooler regions, moving more vineyards to the Russian River Valley."

Over the years they also mastered how to treat pinot with kid gloves.

"You can't shove a square peg in a round hole," he said. "It will go south on you."

Bill Cordell, owner of the SuperBurger in Santa Rosa and Penngrove, was apparently just as meticulous in developing his burger, a secret recipe he's keeping under wraps.

"It took me a long time to get it right," Cordell said. "We take certain steak and combine it in the perfect ratio so there's just enough fat flavor. Almost every day people try to find out our secret recipe, but I'm not giving it to anyone."

The Press Democrat Readers' Choice Best of Sonoma County selected SuperBurger as the best burger joint for two years running -- 2012 and 2013 -- and now it's a top contender for 2014.

Its award-winning burger also showed well with runner-up Enotria in the Hamburger Reds tasting. This wine showed well because of its vibrant black fruit and snappy spice. It also has a seamless texture and a lingering finish, all of which worked with the toasty burger.

The third place Geyser Peak Winery point noir paired well with the burger because of its wild strawberry flavor profile and bright acid.

We used the classic American burger, with cheese and all the fixings, but if you don't want to dress yours up, the bare hamburger won't disappoint as long as you have a sassy red to complement it.

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at (707) 521-5310 or peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com.