Ham is an age-long favorite. As long as husbandry has existed, people have been eating pork. Countless varieties and recipes exist, from the exotic (and expensive) Massimo Spiragoli to the food we all love to hate (aka Spam), hams are here to stay. Might as well pour a glass of wine and enjoy!
Ham’s savory sweet and salty zen pairs wonderfully with wines that have mild sweetness, slight acidity, and bold fruit flavors. Wines such as Zinfandel, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Grenache, Moscato, Lumbrusco, Chenin Blanc, and Rosé, among others.
What do these all have in common? If you know your wines, sweet is the name of the game when it comes washing down ham with the perfect wine. Sweetness tends to bring out the rich and savory characteristics of pork. Ham, like wine, has a general flavor profile but varies wildly in nuance of texture and flavor. As such, there are a ton of wines out there ready for the perfect pairing to your favorite pork dishes!
The trifecta of ham: a methodology
First things first, let’s get acquainted with the three methods of ham production. Many producers use more than one of these methods, so feel free to explore wine pairings that play nicely with more than one production method. As always, be adventurous!
Dry cured, aged hams
These salty, bold hams are served thinly sliced for the perfect appetizer. Common types include:
- Jamón Ibérico
The incredibly saline, melt-away texture of these meats pairs perfectly with sparkling wines. A sparkling red or refreshing Rosé compliment the salty-smooth profile of dry cured meats like a dream. If bubbly ain’t your thing, try white wines or a dry Sherry or Madeira.
These hams are smoked to perfection for a savory, robust flavor. They’re served medium to thick cut. A true smoked ham lacks the sweetness of the common honey-smoked ham, but delivers a unique flavor profile easily masked by sweetness. Smoked hams are juicier and less salty than their dry-cured cousins, inviting lighter still wines to be enjoyed at the table. Smoked hams include mouth-watering examples such as:
- Black Forest ham
- Spam (what??? oh yes)
- Country-cured non-glazed
- Smoked ham hocks
The hearty nature of a smoked ham invites medium-bodied reds with fruity profiles and moderate acidity. A dry Lumbrusco, Grenache, Pinot Noir, or any dark red wine will lay down the deep red mojo for smoked hams. A Zinfandel or dark Rosé offer a delightful pairing for the lighter palate.
Smoked hams are the gift that keep on giving. After a delicious meal paired with light wines, smoked hams are resurrected perfectly in soups reduced from hocks or bones. These soups are best enjoyed with whites like Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay, or reds such as Syrah. The more ham is on the dinner table, the more excuse for wine!
Sweet and salty hams
The apparently antithetical profiles of sweet and salty converge for a delectable ying-yang flavor that creates a bewildering layer of possible wine pairings. Here are some hams on the sweet-and-salty roster:
- Canadian bacon
- Chinese barbecue pork (Char Siu)
- Honey baked ham
- Glazed baked hams
As a rule of thumb, sweet foods go well with sweet drink. That being said, not everyone likes a Moscato or Port. For drier tastes, try a Riesling or Merlot, or Chenin Blanc. For the sweet tooth, pour yourself a glass of Moscato, Vin Santo, Brachetto d’Acqui, or Port.
A taste of …
Wine producing regions also have their very own characteristic hams. Trial-and-error have produced some excellent cultural pairings centuries in the making. It was a hard job to do. But someone had to do it.
- Italy: Prosciutto with a fine Moscato d’Asti
- France: Jambon with Pinot Noir or Beaujolais
- Spain: Jamón Ibérico paired with dry Sherry
- Germany: Speck with Rheingau Riesling
- Portugal: Presunto with Madeiras
But what about the B word?
I know what you’re thinking … WHAT ABOUT BACON?! There’s no way we couldn’t address the elephant in the room. While we’re talking pork, we’d be remiss if we didn’t give bacon a seat at the table (even though it isn’t really a ham). After all, we gave Spam the mic, so why not America’s favorite cut of pork?
If you’re beggin’ for bacon with a side of libation (or the other way around), you’re in luck!
Bacon is a versatile food pairing. Its smoky, salty goodness make it a shape-shifter of flavor profiles for many different wines. Just like bacon can be thrown on almost anything, the potential for great wine pairings with bacon are endless.
Riesling and Gewürztraminer are already perfect with anything pork, so they’re a safe bet for Oenophiles with a taste for bacon. Bacon’s boldness may compliment a more acidic wines like Malbec. Red Rhône wines are often described as having a bacon-like taste, so they should dance wonderfully together on the taste buds.