Best Wines to Pair with Christmas Ham
By Michelle Stansbury, Eat, Drink, Be San Diego
Christmas ham, like the perfect handbag, can pair with just about anything. When thinking about the ideal wine to pair with your ham, start with the glaze. The flavor profiles of the pork will vary tremendously based on the type of glaze used, so consider all of the elements you’ll include in baking your ham before picking your wine.
Beyond the glaze, the most important consideration when deciding on the best wine to serve with ham is the production method of the ham. There are three major styles: salting (also called dry curing), wet curing and smoking. Many ready-made hams will use a combination of those methods, so if it isn’t labeled, choose a few varietals of wine so guests will have options to pair throughout the meal and enjoy.
For a glazed ham, one of your best wine pairing options is Lambrusco, a fun and festive, lightly sparkling red. Lambrusco is known as a sweet wine, but many better quality Lambruscos also have wonderful dry and off-dry options. The fizziness gives a fantastic holiday flair to the pairing, and the intense berry flavors complement ham well. Most grocery stores will have one or two options available, but they can be tough to find in a basic wine aisle. Ask a clerk or head to a wine shop for a bigger selection.
If you’ve opted for a smoked ham, such a juicy, intense pork pairs well with Grenache, a light red wine that cuts through the salt and smoke of the ham. It’s light and acidic, with full cherry notes. Grenache is an easy-drinking varietal that pairs well with almost everything, which makes it a great fit for a Christmas feast.
For the sweeter hams, like a Honeybaked, try pairing with a wine that also has a sweetness, such as a German Riesling. This refreshing aromatic white wine is juicy and delivers flavors of apple and apricot, a natural accompaniment to a meat perhaps also glazed with those fruity elements.
For a slightly “creamier” white wine, lean into Chenin Blanc, with its hints of honey which can bring out the flavors of a golden glazed ham. Look for a Chenin Blanc from the Vouvray region of France for elegant minerality in addition to the acid of the wine that will refresh the heavy meat main. Notes of melon and pear bring forward a slight sweetness from the wine which will be a wonderful accompaniment to your Honeybaked Ham.
If you’ve opted to grill your ham, a fantastic preparation choice in parts of the country with warmer weather, pair it with a wine that features lots of dark fruit flavors, like a rich Zinfandel. The hint of spice will accompany the grilled ham nicely, lending depth to the pairing.
For a bone-in ham, pair the rustic meat with a Beaujolais, a style of Gamay that is only fermented for a couple of weeks before being released in November each year to kick off the holiday season. The light-bodied, low tannin wine balances out a slow-cooked, bone-in ham that has more richness than a boneless ham.
Another light wine that easily pairs with nearly every Christmas dinner dish — including ham — is Pinot Noir. Try a less fruity version, like a Pinot Noir from Oregon vineyards. These relay a rustic, complex quality, with “Old World” aspirations. The acid in the Pinot Noir is refreshing and will play nicely with everything from salads to desserts.
Zesty Gewürztraminer, similar to a fancy Moscato, pairs well with sweet and salty ham, especially one with an herbaceous glaze. This aromatic white wine has a wonderful acidity with a touch of honey that will go great with your Christmas ham and fixings.
For a country style ham, pair the salty meat with a Rosé from the Côtes du Rhône region of France. The fuller-bodied Rosé pairs nicely with a cured ham that has more intense flavors. For a Honeybaked ham, look to a Rosé from the Provence region of France that finishes with a crispness that can balance the meat perfectly.
You can’t spell Champagne without ham! A light, sparkling wine will cut through a higher salt content, especially welcome when serving an aged ham. Champagne, while known for celebrations, is actually a very versatile wine that pairs well with rich, salty, and spicy foods. When enjoying a full Christmas feast, the light, acidic wine can act as a palate cleanser to take one from dish to dish. You’ll only have to decide between a Blanc de Blancs version, which is entirely Chardonnay, and a Blanc de Noirs, which is typically made from Pinot Noir.
Any way you slice it, a Christmas ham and a bottle of wine are a great combo for celebrating the holidays.