Pairing a Holiday Ham 101

During the holiday season, we tend to fixate on the turkey. But many family traditions also include glazed ham, and this year that was the meat of choice at my Thanksgiving repast. Some people serve both, which is lucky that most wines that pair well with turkey also pair well with ham. The main issue has to do with the style of ham… is it glazed? That will bring in a range of sweet and salty flavors that are different from a typical roast turkey. My Thanksgiving recap might give you some ideas on how to pair with the unique flavors of a beloved glazed ham.


Our meal started with Prosecco and cheesy apps. Bubbly always gets the juices flowing, cleaning the palate for what is to come. Since this was a sweet glazed ham, I wanted to include some acidity and mineral notes to cut through the sweet and salt that go hand in hand with ham. After conferring with my hosts, I chose a German Dry Riesling, the Valckenberg Liebfrauenstift. They liked the idea of a Riesling; a little fruity for general appeal and a dry German version to play up the minerality and cut through the ham’s richness. They were surprised at how dry this Riesling tastes yet enjoyed its bracing acidity. The fruity citrus notes lightened the candied yams as well as softening the salty sweet notes of the ham, without overpowering any of the sides.

I chose two reds that both included Syrah, and did a New World/Old World comparison. First I chose the Xavier Côtes-du-Rhône, a classic blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, because it has the acidity and minerality that I wanted to pair against the glazed ham. As for the white, I wanted some tart notes to help cut through that sweet saltiness. My second red was The Chook, Syrah and Viognier blend from Australia. Aping the style of a Northern Rhone Côte-Rotie, where they blend a little bit of white Viognier with their bold and peppery Syrah, The Chook was a little more jammy than the Xavier, but still had that black pepper spice we associate with Syrah/Shiraz wines. The juiciness brought in the flavors of the ham’s glaze as well as the homemade cranberry relish, and made an interesting contrast to the French blend. Both wines worked well, and it was down to personal preference for favorites. Those that preferred a New World “fruit bomb” went for the Chook, while those of us that like a little more acidic contrast preferred the French Côtes-du-Rhône.

Some other wines that would pair well with a glazed ham would include Italian Pinot Grigio, like the Collalto, or a New World version like Jules Taylor’s Pinot Gris. I want to keep some of that tart minerality and don’t want to go too fruity. A mild Sauvignon Blanc would also pair well with ham, so perhaps one from California like the Fly By Sauvignon Blanc, or maybe a French Sancerre from the Loire Valley.  Both are clean and brisk with just enough cleansing acidity. As other red options I’d consider an Italian Barbera, like the Pavia Blina, or a Spanish Garnacha like the Stylo. Both have some European rustic notes, but still plenty of bright fruit and zippy acid to cut through our ham’s hamminess.

Yes, we can pair our typical Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with holiday ham, as well as holiday turkey, but I might opt for a French Macon Chardonnay, with a little more acidity, and an Oregon Pinot Noir, which has more Burgundian rusticity than the usual Cali Pinot Noir. Both of these options would incorporate more of those mineral and acid flavors I set up against our sweet glazed ham. As always look to wines that you prefer and then find the option that pairs best.

For desert I paired Canadian Icewine (Jackson Triggs) with classic pecan pie and New York style cheesecake that my hosts make. In this case it was easier to pair the courses, rather than find one wine that worked with everything. If you are thinking of doing a ham then just tweak your pairings to balance out the extra sweet/salty flavors and you’ll have a great holiday recap as well. Cheers!

Daniel Eddy, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine & spirits supervisor

Follow me on Twitter @abcwineDanE

2 thoughts on “Pairing a Holiday Ham 101

  1. Tom Goodden says:

    In stocking up for the holidays, I was astounded to hear from my store (Gainesville, FL Newberry Rd) that ABC has stopped selling Italian Swiss Colony Port. Really? The wine that put California on the map? The best Port anywhere, bar none! Surely, there is a mistake somewhere in your system. Please advize.

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