If you are serving ham for your holiday meal, there is a fundamental question you need to answer before choosing a wine to pair with ham. What type of ham do you have? There’s a plethora of hams … canned, fresh, bone-in, bone out, spiral cut, black forest…and you know what? None of that matters. The only two questions that matter are:
1) Is the ham glazed and therefore has a sweet element to it or is it a cured ham without glaze?
2) Is it a fattier type of ham.
or…Is it both sweeter and fatty? This is the toughest type of ham and wine pairing so we’ll get to that last.
Follow our first food and wine pairing rule for pairing wine with a sweeter ham and to the degree possible, don’t serve a wine that is not as sweet as the ham. For glazed hams, look for wines that have a slightly sweeter element to them. Classic examples would be a slightly fruity Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Malvasia Bianca or one of the myriad types of Muscats that are available. If you insist on pulling out one of those sweeter Roses, this is the time to do it. Whatever wine you choose though, make sure that it still has some acid on the back as the salty nature of ham doesn’t go with an all fruit, no substance style of wine.
Pairing wine with hams that are cured and don’t have glaze are one of the easiest types of wine and meat pairings because they go with so many types of wine. The leaner nature of a cured ham provides a great opportunity to bring out those drier Rieslings. The bigger flavor of the meat pairs beautifully with lighter reds like Pinot Noir but if there is still a little fat in your ham, then even bold red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon are a great choice. Here’s a basic rule of thumb. For very lean hams, look to dry acidic whites like dry Rieslings, or light reds like a Pinot Noir. Cured hams with a little fat go great with Pinot Noir, but if you prefer bigger reds a Cabernet Sauvignon will work. If the ham has a fair amount of fat, go with the big reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah or Petite Verdot.
We alluded to it earlier in this post but the toughest ham to pair wine with is one that is fatty but has a pronounced sweet element to it. Normally fatty meats call for bigger wines with lots of tannins but the sweeter flavor of the ham will likely make those taste like vinegar in comparison. Your best bet is to go with a crisp white wine with a hint of sweetness, but enough acid to help it stand up to the fattier piece of meat. The best wines for this are Gewürztraminer and Rieslings (are you sensing a pattern with Rieslings and ham?). Just make sure that in addition to the sweet element there is enough acid to stand up to the fat.
If you found this of interest, then check out the next post when we offer up wine pairings with Pork Roast.