Perfect Pairings: Wine with Holiday Ham

I know, we just made it through Thanksgiving, but Christmas and all those other big winter holidays are just around the corner! Hurry up! Get that living room cleaned up and start on your next grocery list!  And don’t forget a list for the wine shop.  Have no fear, over the next few days The Bubbly Professor will have some tips for your next holiday feast, whether it centers on glazed ham, beef tenderloin, or rack of lamb.  We’ll even consider the vegetarians who roam freely amongst the meat-laden festivities. Click here for suggestions on wines to pair with roast turkey.  Keep reading to pair wine with holiday ham.

If your next big, crazy holiday gathering is going to feature a big, juicy holiday ham, the centerpiece of your meal will probably be glazed with maple or pierced with cloves. On the side, you are likely to find the standard line-up of holiday buffet dishes, including scalloped potatoes, sweet potatoes, brandied peaches, and green beans.

Your first wine pairing guideline is to keep your wine choices centered around white wines, rosés, or lighter styles of red, so as not to clash with the inevitable sweetness on your plate and to avoid overpowering the entrée.  As usual with holiday feasts, the array of side dishes offer up a wide variety of tastes and flavors, so our challenge is to find a wine that doesn’t wrestle with the rest of the meal.  Follow these rules to a great holiday match!

Rule #1 – Keep it Light to Medium Bodied – A meal based on ham will need a light to medium bodied wine in order to not overpower the main course in terms of both weight and flavors.  For best results choose a sparkling wine, a white wine, or a rosé.  If you just must have a red wine, keep to the lighter styles; Beaujolais and Pinot Noir are great choices, but this is not the time to whip out the Earthquake Zinfandel (however much I love it)!

Rule #2 – Choose a Wine with Lots of Fruity Flavors – A dinner based on ham will most likely contain a side dish based on peaches, raisins, or sweet potatoes.  While it is very hard to predict flavor-based reactions in wine and food pairings (as opposed to taste-based, which can be predicted quite accurately), fruity flavors in food will often make your wine seem less fruity.  In order to avoid a fruit-on-fruit wrestling match and ending up with insipid-tasting wine, make sure the wine has fruity flavors to begin with.

Rule #3 – A Wine with a Touch of Sweetness will be a great match, especially if your Ham is Honey-Baked or Brown Sugar-Glazed.  This is important:  sweetness in food makes wine taste less sweet and more acidic.  So…if your ham is coated with a sugary or sweet glaze, this rule cannot be ignored!  Don’t worry about having sweet wines on the dinner table ….the sweetness in the food will make the wine taste dry.  Trust me on this one!  Besides, don’t forget that your open-door policy on holidays most likely means that your guests have a broad range of preferences in wine, and this is one case where the Moscato drinkers and the sweet wine lovers may just have an edge.  Hey, a few bottles of Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui never hurt anybody!

Rule #4 – Choose a Wine with Moderate Amounts of Alcohol – This is a good rule on many levels.  For one, ham usually contains a good deal of salty flavors.  And, the sad fact of the matter is that salty flavors can clash with the taste of alcohol, as well as with high tannin wines, which is the reason behind the moratorium on heavy reds. And don’t forget that high alcohol wines can lead to drunken holiday family feuds, at least in my recent experience.

Rule #5 – If You Like Spicy Foods, Match Spice for Spice – If you like spicy flavors in your holiday ham, you can build a flavor bridge by pairing your dinner with a wine with natural spice flavors.  As mentioned earlier, the result of flavor pairings are hard to predict, but generally spicy flavors in food and wine enhance each other. For a spicy feast, try a Riesling, a Gewürztraminer, or a Rosé made from Sangiovese.

Bubbly Professor Wine Suggestions For Holiday Ham

  • Riesling from Alsace, Germany, or Washington State…for the wine adventurer, try finding a single winery that offers wines in varying levels of sweetness.  Tasting them along with the meal will make for an interesting feast!
  • Vouvray, either sparkling or still, or any other Chenin Blanc-based wine from the Loire.
  • Rosé…just about any Rosé would be lovely, and this might be a time where Rosé d’Anjou with its slight hint of sweetness will absolutely shine.  A rosé made from Sangiovese, which to me always seems to have a charming little hint of baking spice in the flavor would also work.  If you have a rich uncle, tell him to bring Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, and save a bottle for me!
  • Pinot Gris from Alsace or Oregon – this is an under-appreciated wine if ever there was one.  For less than $20.00 a bottle, grab a bottle of Adelsheim Pinot Gris from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  For a bit more dough, try just about any Pinot Gris from Alsace – I guarantee you will love it!
  • Gewürztraminer…my favorite “love it or hate it” wine will really shine with the flavors of a holiday ham feast.  Germany and Alsace make terrific dry varieties, and some of the versions from California have a slight hint of sweetness.
  • Rosé Champagne might just be the perfect choice.  Go for broke and load up the table with Laurent Perrier Brut Rosé, or buy Cristalino Cava Brut Rosé by the case (at around $6.00 a delicious bottle you can afford it.)   Or, buy the Cava for your guests and keep a secret stash of Laurent Perrier in the bedroom mini-fridge just for you and your bestie.
  • Prosecco is a good choice, but then it just about always is!
  • For the wine adventurous…try a Cabernet-Franc based red wine from the Loire, such as Chinon and Bourgueil.
  • Red Burgundy, Cru Beaujolais or Oregon Pinot Noir.  You just can’t go wrong with these food-loving wines.
  • Barbera d’Asti, Dolcetto d’Alba, or a nice Chianti. Sure to please the lovers of earthy red wines.
  • For the sweet wine aficionados in the crowd, grab a few bottles of Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui.  These sweeties will work for the whole meal from spiced cashews to pecan pie!

Remember to relax and enjoy the holidays, and don’t stress over the wine choices.  Choose something you love and something that your guests will be comfortable with, whether they be wine newbies or wine adventurers!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Tales of the Vine: Champagne Charlie

Charles Camile Heidsieck was a successful French merchant who founded the Champagne firm Charles Heidsieck in 1851.  Soon thereafter, he visited the United Statesfor the first time, and immediately saw the potential for the American market.  He retained an American agent to facilitate import sales, and in a matter of months the mass import of Champagne was a hit.  In no time, Charles became a fixture in New York high society and earned the nickname “Champagne Charlie”.

In 1861, Charles received news of the impending Civil War in theUnited States.  With over half of his company’s assets tied up in unpaid American accounts, Heidsieck made a hasty trip to try and collect the debts owed him.  Upon his arrival, his U.S.import agent told him a grandiose lie concerning a supposed new law passed by Congress which absolved Northerners from having to pay debts to the South.  This new law, the agent claimed, also absolved him from having to pay his debt to Heidsieck.

In a last-ditch attempt to seek repayment directly from the merchants that had received the Champagne, Charles set sail for New Orleans  With the war now in full-force, he had to travel in secrecy, going as far north as Kansas to avoid detection by the Union Army.  When he finally arrived in New Orleans in 1862, he found the city to be nearly bankrupt and his debtors penniless.

One merchant offered to give Heidsieck a warehouse full of cotton in exchange for payment.  The cotton was very valuable but would have to be smuggled out of Mobile,Alabama with the use of two blockade runners. Despite Heidsieck’s best efforts, both ships were intercepted and all the cargo destroyed.

By this time, all routes to the North were completely sealed, so in order to return to Europe, Heidsieck had to go back to New Orleans to charter a boat toMexico or Cuba.  To facilitate his passage, the French consul in Mobile gave him a diplomatic pouch with a request to deliver some documents to the consulate in New Orleans.  Arriving in New Orlean son May 5, 1862; he found that the city had fallen to Union forces.  As his diplomatic pouch contained documents from French textile manufacturers about supplying the Confederate army with uniforms, “Champagne Charlie” was immediately seized, charged with spying, and imprisoned.  His imprisonment sparked a diplomatic incident between France and the United States government which would later become known as The Heidsieck Affair.

By the time he was finally released from prison, he was in frail health and his business was bankrupt.  He returned to France in November of 1862, demoralized and broke.

In early 1863, Charles Heidsieck was approached by an American missionary with a letter from the United States.  The letter came from the brother of Heidseick’s former agent inNew York.  The man was ashamed of how his brother had swindled Heidsieck out of his obligations and offered him a stack of deeds to land in Colorado as means of repayment.

As it turned out, the deeds were for one-third of all the area of a small town known as Denver, Colorado.  Denver (as we all know) was soon to become one of the wealthiest and largest cities of the American West.

In a few years time, Heidsieck was able to sell the land, repay his debts, and re-launch his Champagne House, becoming the wealthy and debonair “Champagne Charlie” once again.