(PRWEB) April 04, 2014
Easter dinner is one of the biggest family feasts of the year, rivaled only by Thanksgiving and Christmas. Like Thanksgiving, it is lovingly planned in advance and features a host of side dishes that are often regional in nature, using local produce. Also like Thanksgiving, the meal at Easter has become synonymous with a specific meat – in this case, ham. However, unlike turkey, there is some confusion as to whether ham is a white or red meat, and thus what wines to pair with it. Adding to the confusion is the number of ways that hams can be prepared – a much wider range than with turkey.
What is a host or hostess to do?
There are many answers to that question, according to Paul Santoriello, head winemaker at Door Peninsula Winery. The main consideration is the type of ham you plan to serve. Is it salt cured? Smoked? Will it have a brown sugar, honey or pineapple glaze, or be served with a condiment such as horseradish or vinegar-intensive mustard?
“In my opinion, one wine won’t cover all bases,” says Santoriello. “Instead, consider serving a collection of wines and let guests decide. Ideally, choose varietals and blends that complement the ham and are versatile enough to go from appetizers to the table.”
As a general rule of thumb, ham is a light meat. However it can be smoky and have varying degrees of savory ham flavors depending on how long it was aged. Ham that is heavily salt cured or prepared sweet will overpower dry and delicate white wines and make powerful dry red wines bitter and out of balance. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions:
COUNTRY HAM: DRY TO SEMI-DRY WINE
Usually pre-ordered from a butcher, country hams are cured with salt and occasionally sugar, then smoked with hardwood and hung to age. They are not fully cooked, and thus require thorough heating, after which they boast an intensely smoky, slightly bitter, with full ham flavor.
Due to their balanced smoky-meaty character, country hams pair best with dry- to semi-dry wines. A light-bodied traditional red (such as a Pinot Noir, or Merlot-blend) will work nicely, or a stronger acidic white (like Chardonnay), provided they have low to moderate astringency, and a mildly fruity aroma and flavor. Many local grape/fruit blended wines (such as Seyval Blanc/apple) also pair well with country hams, as they are balanced and have a food-friendly acidity to carry forward from light appetizers to ham. Riesling is another good choice. It is versatile and will make the meal less salty, taming the smoky ham character while adding complexity with its notes of apple and honey.
TRADITIONAL SMOKEHOUSE HAM: SEMI-DRY TO SEMI-SWEET WINE
Traditional smokehouse hams are quick-cured in brine, smoked over hickory and delivered fully cooked. Available either bone-in or boneless, they have a milder flavor than country ham, but are still smoky. They are not typically glazed with honey or brown sugar. Semi-dry to semi-sweet wines with little to no tannin astringency is the recommended pairing. Fruit wines are a particularly good fit, as they elevate the smoky flavor while taming the saltiness. For a local angle, try a wine made with Wisconsin-grown cranberries, cherries or apples.
SPIRAL CUT HAM: SEMI-SWEET TO SWEET WINES
The spiral cut ham is the most common type of ham in America. It is completely cured and comes already cooked, often with a sweet glaze topping. If this is what you are serving for Easter dinner, stick with a semi-sweet to sweet wine. The standard go-to wines are Riesling and Gewürztraminer but blackberry, cherry, and other blended fruit wines pair particularly well. They have a surprising acidity that works with the ham flavor and helps balance the sweetness of the glaze. They also complement vinegary mustards commonly served with hams.