Wines to pair with holiday ham

by Linda Hubbard on December 23, 2010

Menlo Park-based Wine Market Assistant, just introduced a new mobile application, Pocket Wine Assistant, which provides up-to-date product information on wines, beers and spirits coupled with on-demand recipe and cheese pairing suggestions. The two partners, Jon Holland and Marchall Goldman, also doing some occasional blogging about wine, offering some personal picks, including a timely post about what wine to serve with holiday ham, which is excerpted below.

Baked holiday ham recipes tend to have certain common key characteristics – spicy flavors imparted from cloves, sweet flavors imparted from honey and often corn syrup or brown sugar, plus the savory characteristic of the ham itself. Sometimes various fruits are used for flavor as well, such as apricot, pineapple, etc.  To pair a wine for optimal enjoyment, all of these characteristics – sweet, bitter (from the spices), and savory must be considered.

First let’s address the sweet sensations. Your wine should generally have a degree of sweetness from a combination of residual sugar and strong fruit flavors.  Some sweetness is required in order to balance the flavors from the honey, syrup, or sugar.  Next we have to address the spices. Most of the spices that are used in Christmas hams can be balanced with either sweet flavors – or better yet – with wines that impart some equal spicy characteristics. Given the other flavors in the ham, white wines are generally used.

That leaves the famed wine from Alsace [or their U.S. counterparts] – Gewürztraminer, as an ideal companion to your Christmas ham. However, German or Alsatian Rieslings and other blended wines from Alsace are complimentary as well. You may also want to try a Vouvray. Vouvray is a regional wine from the Loire valley made with 100% Chenin Blanc, which normally offers some residual sugar, honey flavors, and sufficient mineral characteristics that offers balance and contrast to your ham. While these wines may not be familiar to many of you, we highly recommend that you try them – you may find a new holiday tradition.

Jon’s choice:  I consider a champagne such as White Star to be a great match for a Christmas dinner. This wine will work well to offset the saltiness of plain ham and compliments those with sweet glazes. White Star provides an excellent Champagne value and adds class and a celebratory to a special family event.

Marshall’s choice: My choice is an Alsacian wine from Zind-Humbrecht, one of my favorite Alsacian wineries. The Pinot Gris is rich and full with tastes of ripe peaches and stone fruits. There is a hint of sweetness from the fruit in this wine – but not from residual sugar. You will notice a fair amount of mineral flavors from this wine, which is quite characteristic of Alsace. The finish is clean and bright, cleansing the palate. In all, a great compliment to a Christmas ham and a special family dinner.

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