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Sep 14, 2010
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Wine With . . . Sliders with Grape Ketchup

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas


When we recently interviewed Octavin Big House winemaker Georgetta Dane, she mentioned that sliders are one of her favorite things to serve with gutsy red wines.  “The right wine,” Dane says, “works like a spice to enhance the flavor of the sliders.”  That got us thinking about why a slider -- or any hamburger for that matter -- is so intrinsically delicious with wine.  The answer is: ketchup!  Of course sizzling beef on a bun is plenty good just on its own with wine, but the addition of ketchup, a condiment rich in wine-friendly umami, kicks the flavor up several notches.   But does ketchup refer only to the red tomato based stuff that comes in a squeeze bottle?

Tomatoes didn’t become the dominant ingredient in ketchup until the latter years of the nineteenth century, when their popularity was gradually increasing.  (Heinz introduced the first commercial tomato ketchup in 1876.)  But well into the 1800s, the word “ketchup” was used for any sauce or condiment made with vinegar.  We discovered a multitude of ketchup recipes in some of our historic cookbooks, including cucumber, mushroom, walnut, celery and especially grape ketchup.  The most intriguing recipe we came across may be the one in The White House Cookbook (first copyrighted 1887) for Oyster “Catsup,” in which fresh shucked oysters are boiled with sherry, cayenne pepper and vinegar, then sieved and bottled. 

Although we weren’t quite up for the oyster concoction, we did decide to make a batch of traditional grape ketchup to go with the sliders.  Our idea was that since this old-fashioned condiment includes all the taste sensations -- sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and wine-friendly unami -- it would provide perfect pleasure for the palate.   


1 pound ground beef

6 soft dinner rolls

1 cucumber, peeled and sliced

3 cups seedless red grapes

1 cup sugar

½ cup water

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon each cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and allspice


To make the ketchup, simmer the grapes, sugar and water in a sturdy pan for 7-10 minutes, or until the grapes have cooked to a pulp.  While they are simmering, stir occasionally, and mash lightly to help break them up with a fork or potato masher.  Rub the mixture through a fine sieve.  Discard the skins and return the sieved pulp to the pan with the cider, cayenne, salt, and spices.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes, or until the ketchup reaches the consistency of thick syrup. 

To make the sliders, form the ground beef into six patties.  Grill or sauté them to desired doness.  Lightly toast the rolls, and spread one side amply with grape ketchup.  Add the sliders and garnish with the sliced cucumbers.


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The wines that performed best with these sliders shared a common profile.  No matter the grape variety, they displayed a touch of fruity sweetness, so echoed the ketchup.  We tried some other wines that were marked more by earthy or gamey flavors -- a Corbieres, for example, and a Nero d' Avola -- but they proved disappointing.  That’s because the ketchup in this preparation serves as more than a condiment.  Its sweet, spicy character proves quite forward, and the wine you choose needs to complement it.



Approx. Price





Donna Paula, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec “Los Cardos” 2009

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)






The least expensive wine we are recommending, this Malbec offers ripe red berry fruit flavors enhanced by a hint of anise or licorice.  It might seem a bit simplistic if sipped on its own, but its juicy personality made it taste great as part of this meal.



Franciscan, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2006





We’re not sure that a deeper, more tannic, (and we suppose more “serious”) Cabernet would be a good choice with this dish.  This wine, however, worked very well.  More supple than most Cabs, it seemed full of sunshine, and tasted primarily of sweet, ripe berry fruit.



Greg Norman Paso Robles (California) Petite Sirah 2007







Petite Sirah, which invariably used to be big and tannic, seems to have shifted somewhat as a varietal lately, becoming softer and, yes, sweeter.  That may or may not be a good thing in the abstract; but in the case of this wine with these sliders, it was a definite plus.  The wine’s blue and blackberry fruit and hint of peppery spice complemented the meat and ketchup perfectly.



Neil Ellis, Elgin (South Africa) Shiraz 2007

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)






Juicy fruit enhanced by savory spice made this wine a definite winner alongside the sliders.  It showed none of the off-putting rubbery note that can mar so many South African reds.







Quivira, Dry Creek Valley (California) Zinfandel “Anderson Ranch” 2006






Less aggressive that many contemporary Zinfandels, this was a suave, sophisticated wine that still displayed the varietal’s tell-tale profile – sweet berry fruit, briary echoes, and a spicy finish.  It seemed tailor made to accompany this dish.