March 23, 2005

Ham it Up: Wines for Easter

If holidays were rated on the foods served to celebrate them, then Easter would top the charts. The candy is one reason, but the ham is what takes the day over the top. Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas roasts are fine foods, but neither boasts the addictive trilogy of salt, sweet, and fat of pork.

That delicious trio, however, puts up a challenge to wine. Too dry, and the wine will taste bitter in the afterglow of porky richness. Too sweet, and the combination might taste sticky and dull. What’s needed is a wine that has a touch of sweetness (to match that of the pork) balanced by great acidity to keep the flavors lively and light. These wines will do an Easter ham justice:

Sparkling wine: The Spanish cure some of the best hams in the world, and make some of the best wine to go with it: Cava. This sparkling wine’s soft, appley flavors play well off the ham, while the bubbles ensure the combination never gets dull. Of course, the Italians offer stiff competition with their prosciutto and Prosecco, a light, peachy bubbly from the Veneto. Both Cava and Prosecco offer the advantage of being terrifically underpriced: good versions run about $12.

Riesling: the slight peachy sweetness of Spätlese-level German riesling and the salty-sweet meatiness of ham have a ying-yang effect that’s positively addictive.

Gewürztraminer: Spicy and rose-scented, gewürztraminer’s exotic flavors coupled with its relatively light weight and good acidity make it a terrific companion to ham, especially when it’s been studded with cloves and marinated in orange juice.

Rose wine: white Zinfandel is typically too sweet for ham, though a drier style like DeLoach’s would be a fine match. But even better are the fruity but dry rosés coming out of California today—wines like SolaRosa, Saintsbury’s Vin Gris, Tablas Creek Rosé, and McDowell Valley Vineyards Grenache Rosé, to name just a few.

Light, fruity reds: Rough, drying tannins have no place next to the juicy richness of ham, so if you’re looking for a red wine to go with ham, go for the lightest and brightest around. It’s terrific with Beaujolais or simple, juicy shiraz-grenache blends from Australia. And if the ham is served cold, chill these reds slightly and they’ll taste even better.

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