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 Pairings: Wines for Thanksgiving

When pairing wines with a big turkey dinner, it’s time to take sides. 

By “taking sides” I mean that you need to choose your wines with a mind to the varied tastes and flavors of your side dishes.  Turkey – the main event –  is actually quite neutral in flavor and can pair nicely with a variety of wines.  Side dishes for turkey, however, include the sweet (think yams topped with mini marshmallows), the spicy (sausage stuffing),  the salty (gravy), and the tangy (pickles, olives, and cranberry sauce). 

It takes a fruity, acidic wine with no chance of clashing flavors to match that schizo of a meal.   

I know this subject has been talked to death, that opinions on the matter run hot, and what the world needs now is hardly one more blog post on what wines to serve on Thanksgiving.  So, it is with humility and a bit of trepidation that I offer the following “Bubbly Professor Rules” on wines for Thanksgiving.

Rule #1 – Choose a Wine with Lots of Crisp, Lively Acidity:  Tangy foods, such as cranberry sauce, citrus, or anything from the relish tray, need to be paired with wines that can stand up to the challenge.  To be safe, serve a wine that has lively acidity to begin with and your wine will maintain its balanced flavor even in the presence of acidic foods.

Rule #2 – Choose a Wine with Lots of Fruity Flavors:  Cranberry Sauce, Sweet Potatoes, Creamed Corn and Yams…due to the fact that they have a degree of sweetness, these foods require a wine that has a very fruit-forward style. A wine with a hint of sweetness is ideal, as any sweetness in a food will diminish the fruitiness or sweetness of a wine.  It’s best to start with a wine with a good deal of fruit flavors, and maybe even sweetness, in order to preserve the wine’s balance with these types of foods.

Rule #3 – Choose a Wine that is Low to Moderate in Tannin:  Tannin is an integral part of the taste, flavor, and structure of most red wines, and the component that gives many wines their “grip” and a “velvety” feel in others.  So, even though we love it, we must be careful with tannin in the wines we serve on Thanksgiving, as too much tannin can clash with salty tastes or spicy flavors.  To avoid a clash of the titans that might end up with a metallic or bitter taste in your mouth, keep those red wines low in tannins and smooth!

Rule #4 – Choose a Wine with Very Little, if Any, Oak:  Oak is a beloved flavor enhancer of many wine styles.  However, highly oaked wines can clash with some food flavors.  Flavors that are slightly sweet, a bit fruity, or a tad spicy can all spell trouble when combined with oak!

Rule #5 – Choose a Wine that is Moderate in Alcohol:  Alcohol, while part of what makes wine so delightful, has a tendency to clash with certain tastes and flavors, and with all the flavor mingling going on at Thanksgiving, a clash is likely.  If at all possible, keep your wine choices in the moderate alcohol range.  Let’s face it…turkey already has enough drowsiness-inducing tryptophan to put you to sleep.  We don’t need any help from excessive amounts of alcohol!

Bubbly Professor’s Wine Suggestions For Your Turkey Dinner: 

  • Riesling from Alsace, Germany, or Washington State
  • Viognier from Texas, California, or The Rhône Valley of France
  • Unoaked Chardonnay
  • Bubbly – Any dry or semi-dry Methode Champenoise Sparkling Wine
  • Prosecco
  • For the adventurous…Sparkling Shiraz
  • For the less-than-adventurous…Moscato d’Asti
  • Dry Rosé – an all-around great choice!
  • Zinfandel from Lodi or Sonoma
  • Pinot Noir from Burgundy, California’s Central Coast or Oregon
  • Malbec from Argentina
  • Shiraz from Australia
  • Beaujolais
  • Or, of course, you can use this philosophy:  Serve anything you like…it’s just one day out of life!

Happy Holidays, Everyone!! No matter what you serve, enjoy the day and give thanks for all the good things in your life! 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Pinot Noir

The Soundbyte:  The Pinot Noir grape has been grown in the Burgundy region of France for centuries, and, unblended, makes the region’s world famous red wines.  Pinot Noir is also grown in Champagne, where is the most widely planted grape and makes its way into many “house blend” Champagnes as well as Blanc de Noirs and Rosé Champagne.  Pinot also growns in the Loire; Sancerre Rogue is Pinot Noir!

Pinot Noir has also found a home in the Willamette Valley Region of Oregon State, so much so that the region is often referred to as “Burgundy West.”  The grape also does well in the cooler growing regions of California. 

However, the grape is incredibly finicky in the vineyard, and any other growing region is taking a chance with Pinot Noir.  Pinot Noir is often called the “heartbreak grape”, as it is also a difficult grape to handle in the winery, Pinot Noir can be “the best of wines…or the worst of wines.”

Typical Attributes of a Pinot Noir-Based Wine:

  • Light Garnet to Dark Ruby in Color…sometimes the lightness of the color belies the flavor intensity of the wine!
  • Medium Body, Medium Tannins
  • The finest Pinot Noir wines combine juicy fruit with good, zingy, balanced acidity.
  • Pinot Noir is potentially one of the most delicate, complex, and food-friendly red wines.
  • Pinot Noir has a signature aromas (imho) of floral notes at the top of the glass, cherry-berry at the bottom, both circling a core of “earthy-wet dirt” hints.
  • Save Pinot Noir for an occasion when you have at least 25 dollars to spend…bad Pinot Noir can be disappointing indeed. (The “New World Hope” exception to this rule just might be Pinot Noir from Tasmania…time will tell.)
  • Pinot Noir makes fantastic sparkling wines and is the most widely planted grape in Champagne.  If you are drinking a Blanc de Noir, chances are, you are drinking Pinot.
  • Rosé of Pinot Noir is a beautiful thing.

Typical Aromas of a Pinot Noir-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Black Cherry, Dried Cherry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Cranberry, Plum

Earthy:  Mushroom, Wet Dirt, Wet Leaves, Barnyard, Smoke

Floral:  Rose, Violet, Dried Flowers

Wood-Derived:  Vanilla, Smoke, Oak, Hints of Spice from Barrel Aging

Where The Best Pinot Noir is Grown:

  • The Burgundy Region of France
  • Champagne
  • France’s Loire Valley…Sancerre Rouge is actually Pinot Noir
  • Oregon State…sometimes called “Burgundy West”!
  • California, particularly in and around the Central Coast, Los Carneros and The Russian River Valley.
  • New Zealand
  • Australia has an up-and-coming cool-weather Pinot Noir region in Tasmania
  • Be very wary of Pinot Noir from Other Regions…it is a finicky grape in the vineyard!

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Poultry, Pork
  • Heavier seafood such as Salmon and Tuna…this is truly a wine that can pair with both red and white meat (depending on the preparation…)  
  • This is an ideal wine for the typical American Thanksgiving menu, as well as most other “everybody brings a dish” type of holiday meals.  

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Mushrooms, Truffles, Black Olives  
  • Earthy Flavored Cheeses, Blue Cheese, Soft Cheeses
  • Tomatoes, Garlic, Shallots, Onions
  • Basil Pesto, Fresh Herbs
  • Eggplant, Beets, Roasted Red Bell Peppers
  • Cherries, Cranberry, Plum – as with most dry wines, careful with the sweetness level.

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