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…

Perfect Pairing: French Onion Soup and Gewürztraminer

My last post – The Gewürztraminer Cheat Sheet – had me thinking about food pairings with Gewürz, which always leads me straight to French Onion Soup.  I rarely make soup at home  as my anh (adorable new husband) has a sort of primordial dislike of soup as a meal or even a starter course, as if it somehow pre-empts genuine sustenance.  French Onion Soup is one of the few he can abide, and certainly a dish we can agree on.  

Obviously, with all this talk of French Onion Soup (and the accompanying Gewürztraminer), I just have to make it for dinner tonight, so thought I’d share my recipe with you.

There’s one rather odd caveat about this version of the soup.  When we first got married and were still trying to figure out how to care for and feed each other, the anh mentioned he loved French Onion Soup but hated how hard it was to eat.  I had to agreed that I had been put off by stringy versions myself, so this recipe is custom-designed to avoid crouton-cracking splashes and stringy cheese arm-stretches.  I used to think such accommodations were silly, but as a Chef Instructor one of the things I have learned to teach my students is that a fanciful presentation or even delicious flavor cannot make a customer enjoy a dish that is awkward to eat.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound White Onions, large dice
  • 1 pound Sweet Onions, large dice
  • 4 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 T. Butter
  • 2 T. Olive Oil (plus more Olive Oil or Olive Oil spray for croutons)
  • 1 t. Sugar
  • 1 – 2 t. Salt, or to taste
  • 1 T. Flour
  • 1 t. Dried Thyme (or Oregano)
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1/2 cup Dry White Wine (By all means, you should use Gewürztraminer if possible)
  • 4 cups Beef Stock
  • 1 1/2 cups Water
  • 1/2 t. Black Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Sherry Vinegar
  • 1/2 Loaf of Italian Bread or Baguette
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Gruyère Cheese
  • 4 T. Grated Parmesan Cheese

Makes four appetizer, or two main course, servings.

1.  First of all, make the croutons without too much drama.  I like to cut the bread into one-inch cubes – that’s part of the “easy to eat” platform.  Simply spray (or toss) them with olive oil, place on a flat cookie sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.  Give them a quick toss, and continue baking until they are golden brown.  After they cool, wrap them in several layers of aluminum foil.  They will keep indefinitely.

2.  For the non-string-inducing cheese topping:  Mix the finely grated Gruyère with the finely grated Parmesan, set aside.

3.  In a large stock pot, melt the butter and add the olive oil.  Add the onions and season with 1 – 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, then stir.  Add 1 teaspoon of sugar, reduce the heat and cook for another 10 minutes at low heat.  Add the garlic.  Continue to cook the onion/garlic mixture for 40 minutes or longer, stopping to stir the mixture and check for browning every 10 minutes. Cook until they onions are very soft and a deep golden brown.

4.  Add the flour, thyme or oregano, bay leaves, and pepper.  Stir over medium-high heat for two minutes.

5.  Add the wine, stock, and water.  Stir until the mixture simmers, then allow to simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Check back and stir the mixture every 10 minutes.

6.  Remove the Bay leaves, and give the soup its final “zing” by adding a generous Tablespoon of Sherry Vinegar.

7. When ready to serve, heat the soup to a simmer and divide among two or four bowls.  Spread a pile of croutons out over each bowl, and top with your finely grated cheese mixture.  Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly, and serve your “easy to eat, non-string-inducing” delicious French Onion Soup with a chilled glass of Gewürztraminer.  Enjoy!

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

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Gewürztraminer

The Soundbyte:  Simply stated, Gewürztraminer is an enigma.  It is the one wine you either love or hate.  The wine has a tendency to have a flavor quite different than what is expected from its rather forward floral, fruit, and spicy aromas; and your first sip can be quite a “shock” to the palate, to say the least! This is not to say its not a delightful wine; it can be a delicious wine indeed, and in my opinion a fantastic partner for many otherwise hard-to-pair foods. 

The French region of Alsace has seen the most success with Gewürtraminer, and the name is obviously German, but the grape’s history began in Italy, somewhere in the Tyrollean Alps, near the village of Tramin in Alto Adige.  Like many grapes, Gewürztraminer tends to mutate based in its surroundings, so the grapes themselves may be golden yellow, light pink, or even pinkish-brown and spotted.  It also tends to be a difficult vine in the vineyard, being quite susceptible to poor fruit set, frost damage,and certain viral diseases.  However, the grapes, with their thick skins and blotchy colors, can attain very high sugar concentrations and those amazing aromas, which can lead to some pretty interesting wines!

Typical Attributes of a Gewürztraminer Based Wine:

  • The one thing that cannot be denied about Gewürtraminer is its spectacular fragrance.  Be prepared for a waft of rose petals, exotic fruits, and spicy perfume aromas that seem to leap out of the glass. 
  • Gewürztraminer’s Lychee aroma is legendary. It has even been reported that Gewürztramier and Lychee share a common chemical structure responsible for the aroma. If you’ve never sniffed a lychee, go grab a can from your neighborhood grocer’s Asian Foods section and prepare to be amazed!
  • Gewürztraminer is made in many styles, from bone dry to very sweet.
  • Guard your palate, and brace yourself.  Even in dry styles of the wine, Gewürztraminer’s aromas smell sweet, but the flavor can hit the palate with a bombshell of dry spice and perfume.  I’ve often compared it to eating pure ground cinnamon.  Not entirely bad, but kind of weird if you were expecting cinnamon cookies.
  • Gewürtraminer tends to be low-acid, which can be problematic in some of the sweeter wines.  However, at the same time the wine tends to have a bit of bitterness to it.  This can lend a needed balance to a low-acid wine, especially those of the off-dry or sweet styles. However, when pairing the wine with food, remember that acidity and bitterness react to food pairings in very different ways.
  • The amazing ability of Gewürztraminer to attain high sugar levels means that dry versions of the wine can be misleadingly high in alcohol…this is a wine to watch out for!
  • Sweet versions of Gewürtraminer are made from late harvest grapes and botrytis-affected grapes.  In Alsace, these wines might be called “VendagesTardives”or “Sélection de Grains Nobles.” 
  • Gewurz also makes a very nice ice wine is made as well.

 Typical Aromas of a Gewürztraminer Based Wine:

Fruity:  Pear, Lychee, Peach, Apricot, Guava, Pineapple, Passion Fruit, Mango, Grapefruit, Sultana (Golden Raisin)

Floral:  Roses, Rose Petal, Gardenia, Carnation, Jasmine, Honeysuckle, Honey, Perfume

Spicy:  Ginger, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, White Pepper, Allspice, Clove

Strange but True:  Coconut, Pond’s Cold Cream, Cheap Rose Perfume, Nivea Cream, “Cosmetics,” “Old Lady Perfume” (don’t try to deny it), Church Incense, Petroleum, Turpentine, Diesel, Gasoline.

Where The Best Gewürztraminer is Grown:

  • The Alsace region of France, which  many people consider to be the place where Gewurztraminer finds its “perfect expression”.  (By the way, in the French language there is no “ü” in Gewurz, so don’t let anybody tell you it is spelled wrong!)  In Alsace, Gewurztraminer accounts for about 20% of the vineyards, making it the second-most planted grape of the region.  Riesling, the number one grape, accounts for 23% of the vineyards.
  • Austria, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Luxembourg and many of the smaller wine producers of Eastern Europe also grow Gewürztraminer, but it may be going by any one of the following aliases:  Roter Traminer, Drumin, Pinat Cervena, Livora, Tramini, Mala Dinka, among others.
  • True to its history, the grape is still grown in the Trentino/Alto Adige areas in Italy. 
  • Areas of Canada, such as Vancouver Island, The Okanagan Valley, and Ontario, as well as New York’s Finger Lakes and Long Island Wine Country. 
  • The Cooler regions of Australia and New Zealand  
  • California grew Gewurztraminer back in the 1870’s; a well-regarded version was produced by Charles Krug in Napa and Jacob Gundlach in Sonoma.  These days, the cooler regions of California, including Mendocino County, Monterey County and Sonoma, also do quite well with small plantings of the grape.

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

Crab, Mussels, Shrimp, Salmon, Smoked Salmon, Sushi, Tuna, Sturdier Fish

Smoked Food  

Pungent Cheeses, Smoked Cheeses (Roquefort, Muenster, and Gouda among the favorites)

Chicken, Turkey, Duck

Liver, Chicken Liver, Foie Gras

Just about anything made with Pork

Salami, Paté, Bacon, Pancetta, just about any type of Charcuterie

 Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Tropical Fruits, Orange, Lychee
  • Ginger, Fennel Seed, Cinnamon, Clove
  • Onions, Garlic
  • Smoked Gouda, Smoked Mozzarella
  • Asian Flavors, Curry, Spicy foods
  • It seems that the pungency of many foods actually cuts the pungency of Gewurz, which does not always happen in the food-and-wine world but this is a great example of a “flavor bridge” being a good thing!
  • French Onion Soup and Gewurz is one of the best food pairings on earth! Click here for My Favorite French Onion Soup Recipe.

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

missjane@prodigy.net