In our house, we divide evening meals into "wine food" and "beer food". Wine food is fish, steak, casserole and roast meats; beer food is spicy, oily, studenty foods like chilis, curries and burgers.
On a Sunday evening, with some previous-days' leftover bottles all finished off, I felt in need of a glass of something to go with my main of burgers in buns.
With no beer in the fridge and reluctant to open a bottle of wine just for the odd, unlikely-to-match glass, I looked in the cupboard at bottles-on-the-go to assess my options - gin, whisky, PX or Cream Sherry.
Gin might have worked but would also likely have earned me a disapproving look: "Moving onto spirits already, dear?"; peaty whisky and PX were definitely out, so I plumped for a glass of Lustau M&S Rare Cream Sherry - we have around half-a-dozen bottles after it was marked down in-store to something less than cost-price, so I felt under no obligation to keep it back "for best".
And the strange thing was - it worked. From the initial "Yeah, that's not actually terrible", I went through "Hmmm, OK actually" to "Yes, this is a match that works" and then "Why has no-one thought of this before" to "But why is this actually a good match?".
The reasons it works, I think, are this:
- the dish is quite sweet (ketchup, gherkins and brioche) and food-matching requires that the wine always be sweeter than the food
- burgers are quite salty and sweet wines work well with salty foods
- the burgers are strongly flavoured with a slight char that goes well with the fragrant cooked fruit, roasted spices and general savouriness of the sherry
- the high acidity cuts through the richness; the intensity stands up to the strong flavours of beef, cheese and garnishes
Put like that, there is no level on which Cream Sherry does not work with burgers; it ticks every box.
If we think of more obvious, natural partners to burgers, it's beer or Coke; beer is sharp and hoppy-fragrant with a moderately high sugar content - like sherry.
Coke is sharp, sweet and spicy - also like sherry.
The only significant difference is that where beer and Coke finish dry (that is, despite having a fairly high sugar content, they feel acidic on the finish), the sherry remains distinctly sweet on the finish which may take a little getting used to.
If that's the case, and you find you can't get over it, then look for a slightly less-sweet style, such as Oloroso.
But next time you have a burgers, a barbecue or a fry up, forget the beers and try a dark sherry instead. You might be pleasantly surprised.