Throughout history, people tried to prevent meat (and fish) from spoiling and make it durable. For this purpose, they created many different techniques. Today, refrigerators can do this job. But as the traditional methods not only make meat durable but also give it exceptional flavors, many producers still use them.
Whether ham is fresh or cured, it’s delicious with wine – given that you pick the right one. In this article, we’ll discuss the best ham and wine pairings.
Which Wine Pairs With Ham?
Usually, the best wine to pair is either a dry white with decent acidity or a medium-bodied red wine. The wine shouldn’t be too bold, so it doesn’t overpower the ham’s flavors. Wines with subtle sweet notes can be great pairings as well.
What Is Ham?
Ham is pork. More specifically, it’s the meat from the hind leg of a domestic pig. Typically, ham is salty, has a fleshy density, and is relatively low in fat compared to other pork cuts. Often, it also has a subtle sweetness that creates an exciting counterpart to its saltiness.
Ham comes in many variations, and depending on the preparation, its flavors can vary significantly. Fresh ham is great for immediate preparation and consumption. Especially for holidays like Christmas, ham roasts are very popular in Europe and the United States.
But you can also find many cured ham specialties from different parts of the world. They are either salted, smoked, or wet-cured. These preparations preserve the ham so that it can last for months or even years.
The most noteworthy cured hams are:
- Spanish Jamón
- Italian Prosciutto
- Smoked Ham from Germany
General Rules for Pairing Ham and Wine
The most basic rule for pairing meat and wine is straightforward: Red wine goes with red meat, and white wine goes with white meat. For ham, this rule is a bit too simple. The reason is that ham is less fatty than steaks, burgers, or other red meat chops. Thus, white wines can be good pairings for ham as well.
As a general rule, you should avoid wines that are too bold. Full-bodied wines can easily overpower the ham flavors. A light- to medium-bodied wine typically is the better choice.
It makes perfect sense to pick a wine that comes from the same region as the ham. So when looking for pairings for an Italian ham, you should focus on Italian wines first. Don’t be too rigid about this rule, though. Sometimes crossing a border and searching in a neighboring region can result in a great match, too.
To get a better idea about the right pairing, let’s discuss some ham specialties and the best wines to match them.
Glazed Baked Ham and Wine
Ham With Sweet Glazes
Sweet glazes, based on brown sugar, honey, or pineapple, pair well with fruity wines. Pinot Noir is a great pick, especially when it comes from a New World wine country. Its fruity bouquets combine perfectly with the sweet notes of the glaze without overpowering them.
Wine lovers who have a sweet tooth might also enjoy a sweet and sweet pairing. French Gewürztraminer, for instance, from the Alsace region, is an excellent wine for this purpose. It’s medium-bodied with subtle spicy and bitter notes.
Ham With Savory and Spicy Glazes
Spicy glazes with mustard, cayenne, or chili work fine with Pinot Noir as well. In this case, you should go for Old World styles though. They are typically higher in acidity, so they can better handle a savory preparation. In addition to intense flavors of red and black fruits, they offer wooden and earthy notes that match deliciously with spicy glazes. Gamay wines have very similar characteristics, so feel free to try them instead. These bottles are worth testing:
Barolo might be another good choice for red wine lovers. It has similar aromas as Pinot Noir and Gamay. But as it’s significantly bolder and more tannic, it’s only an option for very savory ham preparations. Try one of these:
Again, there are other great matches for fans of sweet wine. Especially sweet sparkling wines create interesting pairings with hot ham seasonings because the bubbles reduce the spices’ heat on the palate. Go for Moscato d’Asti, Asti Spumante, or Lambrusco. All of these sweet sparklers come from Italy.
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Which Wines to Pair With Spanish Jamón
Jamón (Spanish for: ham) is an indispensable element of Spanish cuisine. You can find it in every tapas bar, every restaurant, and even in most private kitchens throughout the country. Typically, it’s served as a single dish in a tapas menu or as a finger food snack with bread and cheese.
Just like winemaking, producing high-quality jamón is more an art than a craft. And over the centuries, the Spanish have developed different ways to make numerous excellent types of ham.
Jamón Serrano and Wine
One of the most popular types is Jamón Serrano. Its name derives from the Spanish word “sierra” (English: mountains) and indicates that it historically was made in mountainous regions with moderate climates.
Jamón Serrano undergoes a unique production process. First, it’s covered with salt and kept in a very humid room for a couple of days. Then, it air-dries for an average of 12 months. During that time, the ham faces changing conditions that replicate the different seasons of the year.
As a result, it loses more than one-third of its original weight and develops intense aromas.
Pair Serrano with young, low-tannin red wines such as French Beaujolais. The formerly mentioned Pinot Noir is a good match as well. Again, go for a wine from the Old World such as France.
Serrano is significantly less fatty than most other types of ham. Thus, it also matches very well with white wines, in particular with those from Spain. For example, consider enjoying it with an Albariño. This dry white is light-bodied and low in tannins. But because of its crisp acidity, it can easily cut through the meat. Verdejo wine from the Rueda DO is an excellent option with similar characteristics, too.
Jamón Ibérico and Wine
Another fantastic ham delicacy from Spain is Jamón Ibérico (English: Iberian ham). It’s made from the black Iberian pig, a traditional breed of Spain and Portugal. In contrast to modern factory farming, these pigs enjoy species-appropriate husbandry. They can roam in large enclosures with pastures and oak groves while having healthy menus, including maize, barley, chestnuts, acorns, and olives.
Together with the animals’ capacity to accumulate intramuscular fat, the constant roaming leads to Jamón Ibérico’s fine marbling. And the diet gives the ham its typical nutty taste.
The curing process of Jamón Ibérico includes multiple phases of salting and air drying. Depending on the producer and the desired quality, it can take up to four years.
When selecting a wine to pair with Jamón Ibérico, pick a bold red. Wines from the Rioja DO or the Ribeira del Duero DO are great choices:
Others made from Tempranillo grapes might work as well.
Which Wines to Pair With Prosciutto
Prosciutto di Parma is a type of raw, cured ham from the Italian city of Parma. Its history goes back thousands of years to the Roman Empire. Although the Italians optimized the production processes over the centuries, the main steps are still similar to the ancient methods.
Prosciutto is made from the legs of the European white pig. After being salted, it rests for a few weeks. During that time, the salt draws the moisture out of the meat and causes its flavors to concentrate. Next, the ham is washed, seasoned, and then dry-ages for up to 3 years.
When ready for consumption, Prosciutto is rich in flavor, with distinct salty and subtle sweet notes. Depending on the seasoning, you might also sense black pepper, garlic, rosemary, or other herbs.
Italians traditionally serve it in thin slices together with cheese, figs, melon, or bread. But it also makes a great ingredient in main courses, for instance, to wrap pork chops or as a pizza topping.
Which Wines to Pair With German Ham
Germany has a long tradition of producing cured meats. And you can find very different types in numerous regions. Among them are two that gourmets all over Europe love: Black Forest ham and Westphalian Ham.
Black Forest Ham and Wine
Black Forest ham (German: Schwarzwälder Schinken) is a traditional ham from the Black Forest region in Southwest Germany. It’s the most popular type of ham in Europe, and it’s protected by European laws.
Black Forest ham is made from the legs of the domestic pic and undergoes a multi-step curing process:
- First, the producers salt and season the hams. The precise recipes differ from company to company, and some of them are family-owned secrets for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, they typically share a couple of ingredients: salt, pepper, garlic, cilantro, and juniper berries. To accumulate the spices’ flavors, the hams stay in brining containers for several weeks.
- Next, they spend some more weeks in special towers where they are smoked over fir and juniper wood.
- Finally, they ripen for up to three months in air-conditioned rooms until they reach their desired taste.
After this process, Black Forest ham has delicious salty, spicy, herbal, and smoky aromas. Unlike Prosciutto, it has no sweet notes, though. The Germans like to eat their Black Forest ham with butter on a slice of rustic black bread. But they also use it as an ingredient in many pasta dishes, quiches, or for wrapping beans or asparagus.
To match its fantastic taste, you should pick an elegant, dry wine. For friends of white wine, a dry German Riesling is a great option (see examples in the glazed ham section). Alternatively, try a Viognier from the Côtes du Rhône region in France. This region also has some matching wines for red wine lovers. Especially if your ham has a layer of fat, the Syrah wines from the area will pair fantastically with it.
For those who like to experiment, orange wine is a secret tip. It has a significant level of tannins and an at least a medium body. Its spicy and nutty notes match superbly with the flavors of Black Forest ham.
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Westphalian Ham and Wine
Westphalian ham originally comes from various regions in western Germany and has a history that goes back to the early Medieval. The Westphalia region has many oak forests and thus was an excellent place to breed acorn-fed hogs.
Like its cousin from the Black Forest, Westphalian ham undergoes a multi-step curing process.
- The first step is salting: The producers rub a mix of salt, salpeter, and sugar onto the meat and let it rest for about six weeks.
- Following that, they wash the ham and then smoke it over beechwood fires. The smoking process can take between three and five months.
- Finally, they air-dry the ham for another six to 18 months. Some producers rely on only air-drying and pass on smoking.
Westphalian ham has intense smoky flavors with salty and spicy notes. One reason for its intensity is its bone that isn’t removed until the end of the curing and ripening process. That makes Westphalian ham special in comparison to all other types we’ve discussed so far.
Typically, Westphalian ham goes with rustic bread like pumpernickel. Another traditional side dish for it is asparagus.
An excellent wine for these meals is Silvaner. The white varietal is grown primarily in Germany and France and produces wines with subtle acidity and fine notes of green fruits, herbs, and flowers. Alternatively, you can try a dry Pinot Gris or a Müller-Thurgau.
Ham is a delicious type of meat that requires much effort to make, just like wine. You can find many delicious types throughout Europe, and all of them are great when served with wine. Try for yourself which kind of ham is your favorite and which wine goes best with it.