I’m always filled with fear when I’m going to a dinner party, and I don’t know what they’re serving. The issue isn’t that I’m a fussy eater, far from it. The problem is that if I don’t know what they’re serving, then I don’t know what wine to bring!
Pairing wine is an art form. There’s a whole career based around it, after all! However, you don’t need to be a sommelier to make basic pairings.
In this article, we are going to talk you through some of the best wine pairings for different ham cuts. This will give you all the information you need to make perfect pairs.
Ham isn’t a universal flavor, it ranges from salty, to smokey, and finally sweet. Naturally, with such a diverse range of flavors, there isn’t one simple wine pairing.
You need to establish the flavor of your ham before you choose your wine. We’re going to talk you through the different colors and flavors that pair with different ham flavors. This way, whether you’re having an Easter dinner or smoked ham slices, you’ll know exactly what wine to bring.
It’s important to remember that ham cuts have to come from the rear leg of the pig. Bacon and shoulder pork are not ham cuts and won’t be discussed in this article.
Dry Cured or Salted Ham
Prosciutto ham, Jambon ham, Serrano ham, and other thin sliced deli hams tend to have a salty flavor because they are salted as a way of preservation.
Also, in this category you’ll find Gammon or Virginia hams. These are also salt cured, but not sliced up like the other hams. This kind of ham is typically roasted before serving.
With these super salty hams, you need something to lift the dry, salty flavor. For this reason, you’re going to want to try sparkling wine.
Sparkling whites are probably the most common pairings, but you can also get away with a sparkling rosé or even a sparkling red.
The key to pairing wine with salty ham is to find light, fruity flavors that will contrast with the saltiness, but not overpower it.
If you’re looking at a white wine, choose something light and zesty, like a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. For a sparkling white, consider a Lambrusco or a light prosecco.
If you prefer a rosé, choose something with a light fruity flavor. Melon and peach flavors go particularly well with salted hams. They are sweet but not overpowering.
In the reds, again look for something with a light, sweet flavor. A light Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, or Sangiovese are ideal for salted hams.
Stay away from heavy bodied reds like Malbecs or Cabernet Sauvignon. These are full bodied wines that will completely over power the salty flavor of the ham.
Smoked and Savory Hams
Hams in this category are typically medium to thick cut ham. They are cut thicker than the salty hams because the flavor isn’t so overpowering. Things like Black Forest Ham, Irish ham, and Westphalian ham fall into this category.
A lot of on the bone hams tend to be in this category. They are often pre-smoked during the curing process. This means that you can simply place them in the oven to bake and release that smokey flavor.
Country hams without a glaze are classed as savory or smoked hams. These aren’t hugely common at deli counters, but they are a delicious hunk of meat!
Processed ham like spam is also in the savory ham category. It isn’t salted or smoked, but it also doesn’t fall into the sweet category.
Because these hams have a milder, more neutral flavor, you can go for a wine with a bolder flavor. In this situation, the ham is supporting the wine instead of the other way around.
You’ll want to go for a light to medium bodied red wine. Something with a bit of a fruity flavor, but also some acidity.
IF you prefer a white wine, again look for something with a full body and bold flavors. Peachy whites are a good place to start, but try to find a white that builds on the peach flavor with some citrus zest.
Rosé is trickier to pair with smoked ham. If you can find a balanced rosé without too much sweetness, then you’ll be ok.
Like we said, the key to pairing a smoked or savory ham is to choose a wine with a medium body and a bold flavor. You want a flavor that is strong enough to stand out but will be supported by the ham.
In reds, look for a Cabernet Franc or a Grenache based red. These wines tend to be bold but balanced.
If you’re looking for something that will really dazzle, look for a GSM blend which combines Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvedré. This blend comes from the Côtes de Rhône region.
For whites, look for something fruity like a Riesling or a Chenin Blanc. These go particularly well with glazed hams that have a bit of a sweeter hint to them.
For rosé you want to head back to the Côtes de Rhône region for a balanced wine. The blending of the different grapes makes for a full, rounded wine.
Sweet hams are typically medium or thick sliced and have a succulently sweet texture that replaced the natural saltiness of ham.
Many sweet hams are glazed hams with popular flavorings including honey, maple, or brown sugars. These hams are often used for holiday dinners, particularly at Christmas or Easter.
Also in this category, you’ll find Canadian bacon. Despite the name, Canadian bacon actually has more in common with ham than bacon.
Traditional, American bacon is cut from the belly of the pig and is usually smoked. It is thin, crispy, and not what we’re talking about.
Canadian bacon is cut from the loin of the pig. It is thicker, sweeter, and generally sold unadulterated. If it has been preserved or flavored before sale, it will have been brined.
Sweeter pork cuts tend to have a chewy texture, which means they stay in the mouth longer. This means that you are more aware of the flavor compared to the thin, salty prosciutto slices.
For sweeter pork you want to pair it with a sweeter wine. This means choosing a white over a red.
There are lots of white wines that will accentuate the sweetness of a glazed ham. You just need to be careful not to make the pairing sickly sweet.
Rosé and sparkling wines like Lambrusco are acceptable with glazed hams. Again, try to match the glaze flavor.
Reds can be paired with glazed hams, but you’re going to want to choose a new world red. They tend to be lighter and fruitier.
With white wine, make sure you look for fruity flavors that support the glaze flavor. For honeyed hams, look for bolder, sweeter fruits and citrus zests. If you’re cooking a maple or sugar glazed ham, choose something softer, like apricot. This will prevent it from becoming too sickly.
Rieslings, White Zinfandels, and Chenin Blancs are great choices for white wine.
In the reds, look for a light, fruity flavor. Something like an Australian Shiraz, American Shiraz, or a Merlot.
Again, look for something with a smooth, light body and a fruity flavoring.
The key to making a successful ham and wine pairing, you need to identify the key ham flavor. This is going to point you in the right direction in terms of wine.
As a summary, salty hams need a light, fruity wine to help lift the salty flavor. Sparkling wines are a great choice because the bubbles pair really well with the saltiness of the ham.
Smoked, savory hams are the middle ground. The flavors are more subtle and tend to play a supporting role. For these you want to choose a bolder, sweeter wine that will take center stage.
When it comes to sweet hams, you need a wine with fruity flavors that complement the sweet glaze of the ham. You do need to be careful not to make the pairing too sweet, or it will become sickly.
For general pairings, choose a Riesling or Chenin Blanc if you like white wine. These are fruity, but not overly fruity.
For reds, a Pinot Noir or a Grenache are perfect for most hams. They are light and fruity to support most ham dishes.