Ham is a versatile entree, finding its place in everything from formal Easter dinners to relaxed summer picnics. Because of this versatility, ham also accommodates numerous wine pairings. The key to creating a perfect pairing lies in accenting the specific ham recipe -- for instance, a sweet honey-glazed ham calls for a different wine than a smoked ham.
If you're serving a wine with a sweet glaze, such as honey or pineapple, complement it with with the subtle, somewhat bitter fruit flavor of an Italian pinot grigio, or, for a bolder, richer combination, a French pinot noir. The salt in the ham really brings out the fruit flavor in wines such as pinot gris; as the sweet wine and glaze work against the salty ham, they strike a balance of flavor. For a more subtle pairing, try a dry German riesling with your sweet ham. This crisp, sparkling wine has just a touch of fruit flavor, allowing the sweet ham glaze to shine through.
Pinot noir and riesling also pair well with savory hams, such as smoked or baked entrees. To create a contrast of sweet and savory, go with Chilean, Italian or Californian moscato. This white, fizzy wine typically features hints of citrus, apricots or pears, which offsets the salty or smoked flavor with a refreshing sweetness. For ham served with tangy mustard, use the lightly sweet flavor of a Californian zinfandel to create contrast, or complement the mustard with syrah, which often has an earthy, peppery edge.
Though less common than sweet glazed or savory smoked entrees, ham sometimes lends itself to spicy dishes. In this case, French rose wines fit the bill, as they cool down the spicy dish with bright, fruity flavors such as strawberry, cherry and watermelon. For similar reasons, moscato works here as well, as do Chablais and light red Beaujolais varieites.
Some diners prefer beer to wine, and ham's versatility does not disappoint when it comes to beer pairings. Lighter beers with spicy yeast and roasted malt flavors pair nicely with sweet glazed hams -- hefeweizen and Belgian tripels serve well here, while German schwarzbier offers a complementary flavor for those who prefer dark brews. For more savory hams, malty, full-flavored beers such as Irish stouts and English browns intensify the ham's flavor, while lighter pilsners and pale ales help tone down salty ham.
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With a diverse professional background and a decade of experience as a freelance writer, Dan has contributed lifestyle content -- from fashion to travel to fitness and more -- to publishers including Chron, Fortune, Sony, GlobalPost, ModernMom, Moviefone, Salon.com, Techwalla and dozens of others.