Monday, December 13, 2010

Top Ten Holiday Ham Pairings

It's that time of year again. Time to break out the fine China, turn on Andy Williams, wrap presents, and invite your family over to share in the holiday festivities. Everybody's holiday dinner is a bit different. Some of you may bring back the turkey, others go with something less traditional, rack of lamb, lobster, or perhaps lasagna. But for those of you sharpening your knives for the traditional Christmas ham, I've put together a list of my top ten holiday ham wine pairings.

1. Reilly's - 'Barking Mad' Riesling - Clare Valley, Australia 2009 - $15
When people see Riesling on a wine label they either think, "Yay!" or "Oh, I don't do sweet." This refreshing white is perfect either way, because it showcases delicious fruity characteristics and it's dry. The Clare Valley is known for producing world-class dry whites from the Riesling grape. These wines tend to be a little weightier than, say, a German Riesling. This racy white has the weight to hold up to the ham, with the acidity to hydrate the palate after each salty bite. An incredible, food-friendly wine for the price.

2. Alexander Valley Vineyards - Gewurztraminer - Mendocino County, California 2010 - $9
Alexander Valley Vineyards is one of my favorite "value" producers in California. They are known for their Cabs, red blends, and Chardonnays, but this little ditty shows a whole new side of this value-packed producer. This California Gewurztraminer from the cooler Mendocino County displays typical Gewurz characteristics. With aromas of lychee nut and spice followed by an oily texture and a kiss of sweetness, this weighty white is your ham's soul mate. Its mediumish body and touch of sweetness make it a perfect partner for a honey glazed ham.

3. Trimbach - 'Reserve' Pinot Gris - Alsace, France 2007 - $28
I've said it before: Alsace produces some of the most food-friendly wines in the world. What separates their Pinot Gris from Italy's Pinot Grigio, other than the name, is the added weight and lush, versus lean, fruit flavors and aromas. Alsatian Pinot Gris has a fuller body, making it a great partner for a protein like ham. Oven roasting concentrates flavors on the outside, so pairing a roast ham with a fuller-bodied white ensures the wine won't get lost. In addition, this Alsatian Pinot Gris has the lush fruit flavors and aromas to compliment a variety of sides on the table.

4. The Crossings - 'Unoaked' Chardonnay - Marlborough, New Zealand 2009 - $18
Chardonnay is probably the most adulterated grape of them all. Its delicious characteristics are commonly masked by winemakers through the use of oak and malolactic fermentation. This producer takes a different approach with Chardonnay. They preserve the grape's natural acidity by not aging or fermenting in oak. The result is a dry, clean, refreshing wine, perfect for pairing with your Christmas ham.

5. Beckmen - Grenache Rosé - Santa Ynez, California 2009 - $18
When in doubt, think pink. Rosé is one of the most food-friendly styles in the world. The apparent acidity and light structure of these wines make them a great match for a wide range of foods. The Beckman's light red color and soft tannin comes from a limited amount of time spent soaking with red grape skins. This producer used the Grenache grape to make its delicious rosé, resulting in a spicy pink delight. I like this pairing because it won't overpower the ham, but more importantly, because it has a touch of tannin to cut through fat. Plus it has a little spice to compliment any mustard accompaniments. I would describe this pairing as an instant holiday classic!

6. Wild Horse - Pinot Noir - Paso Robles, California 2007 - $25
For those of you who prefer the redder side of life, this beautifully-crafted Pinot is for you. I had the pleasure of visiting Wild Horse back in 2003, back when you could get a great Pinot from the lesser-known central coast of California for under $20. Today it's harder than ever to find a good quality US Pinot Noir for under $50. Wild Horse is a steal at only $25. It has a wonderful medium weight, but more importantly a clean, medium acidity. This is a result of the cool climate where the grapes grow on the central coast. When it comes to pairing, Pinot Noir is much like rosé - incredibly versatile. Like Kevin Bacon in Footloose, this bad boy has all the right moves in all the right places.

7. Georges Duboeuf - 'Cru Beaujolais' Morgon - Beaujolais, France 2009 - $13
I have highlighted Cru Beaujolais' food-friendliness in the past. Its juicy flavors, light tannins, and bright acidity make it a great partner for salty foods, especially pork dishes. Morgon is a larger Cru in Beaujolais, and this region produces wines that display concentrated fruit. I love this pairing, but then again, I'm a sucker for Cru Beaujolais. I think it's because many wine professionals view the Cru's of Beaujolas as a joke, and I like to fight for the little guy.

8. Joseph Drouhin - Volnay - Burgundy, France 2007 - $42
Basically the same rules apply for the Drouhin as they do for the Wild Horse, since they are both made from the Pinot Noir grape. This particular Pinot comes from the Volnay sub-region inside of the great Beaune region of Burgundy in France. Volnay produces some amazing reds for the price, and is often described as firm yet silky. The style produced in Burgundy is more subtle, and slightly more earthy than the Pinot's of the central coast of California. This beauty has the characteristics to compliment and enhance a ham, plus you get a great taste of Burgundy without having to empty your pockets.

9. Dashe - 'Dry Creek' Zinfandel - Sonoma, California 2007 - $24
Not too many people think Zin when they think ham. But a young, juicy Zin can make for a great pairing. Dashe Zin comes from the infamous Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma, viewed by many as the grape's finest growing region. Although this writer believes the styles tend to be a bit big at 16%+ ABV, this juicy red will compliment a variety of sauces and sides on the table. Plus it appeases the big-red-only drinker, important if you've got one sitting at your holiday dinner table.

10. Allegrini - Valpolicella Classico - Veneto, Italy 2007 - $18
Valpolicella is a region in Italy that produces red wines from the Corvina grape, along with a few other regional varietals. The styles tend to be muscular in their youth, but after only a few years they soften and become incredibly food-friendly. Allegrini is a great producer in the region, and makes a great example of this value-packed red. It's easy to drink, easy to pair, and has a little muscle for that same big-red-only drinker who swears Cabernet Sauvignon won't beat up the dish...which, of course, it will.

My suggestion would be to pick up both a red and a white for the dinner table. This allows you to see the major pairing differences and cater to the many palates present. Plus, isn't the holiday season all about making everyone around you happy at the expense of yourself, all while maxing out your credit card? I may sound like the Grinch, but I truly am a fan of the holidays. Above all, I think the holiday season is about being with the people you love...and sharing, of course. So this year I am planning on sharing with the people I love just how much they annoy me. Happy holidays!

For more incredible wine picks and pairings, check out Cru Wine Online. We pair original recipes with delicious wines, and bring them to you in an entertaining video short, complete with a brief explanation of the wine, the dish, and the pairing.

Sign up today for a 6 Month Membership and receive a FREE wine glass set, a $19.95 value. Life's short, so drink it up. At only $7.99/month you can't afford not to! And while you're there, don't forget to finish your Christmas shopping in the Cru Wine Shop.

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

No comments: