By Terry Sweeney
Around this time of year, all I can think about is a big old country ham … No, not Paula Deen, but you were close. A dry-cured Easter ham with that uniquely scrumptious combination of tender smoked meat cooked over hickory wood and aged for months; and the sweet sweet crust that just crackles with down home goodness and melts in your mouth. It always reminds me how lucky I am to be a Southerner (well … actually a Southern Long Islander — close enough!). But, still, the greatest challenge of this Easter holiday for a happy wino like myself is what wine do I drink with it?
Talk about your “Salt Life.” Smoked ham is exceedingly salty which can really be a wine killer, especially for most of your reds. Don’t believe me? One wrong sip and Miss Piggy will be reading you the riot act: “Nay to Cabernet!” “No to Bordeaux!” “Go to Hell, Zinfandel!” You can almost hear her indignantly stamping her pig’s foot. Luckily though, through trial and error, I think I have found not one but two perfect matches for this hard-to-please porker. Both Riesling. One Alsatian Trimbach Riesling and the other from Washington State, a Chateau St. Michelle Riesling.
The Trimbach family has been in the wine business since 1626. If they haven’t gotten it right by now, they never will. But good news, they did! Maybe it’s the limestone-flecked soil around Ribeauville where their Maison Trimbach vineyards are located. Or maybe it’s the Vosges Mountains that protect the vineyard’s plain from too much rain, giving it the perfect Alsatian microclimate. Or maybe it’s the fact I drank two bottles one Easter Sunday with a luscious Honey Baked ham that had me hippity-hopping around my house. I don’t know, but I do know I’m crazy about this wine. The Trimbachs say their Riesling is “long-living, fruity, and elegant” and that’s everything I strive to be.
Back home in Washington State — which my Happy Wino readers know I love — I return once more to Chateau St. Michelle known for its fine value wines. Their 2009 Riesling received a rating of 89 points from Wine Spectator, but the best part is this bargain basement beauty can often be found for under $10 dollars. The Wine Spectator described the wine as “bright and jazzy with lively pear and floral aroma flavors.” I second that. The good people at Chateau St. Michelle were nice enough to make us 647,275 cases. I just hope that’s enough!
Riesling is often the go-to wine when pairing a wine with traditional Thai food which often uses smoky, salty and sweet flavors in its preparation, very similar to the characteristics of a traditional Southern baked ham. There are some fantastic German Rieslings to be found out there too that could also be pleasingly paired with a Southern country ham since, as we all know, the Germans, like Southerners, love pork.
Not in the mood to pig out? Well I suppose you could always have lamb this Easter, but then where would you be? I’ll tell you in next week’s Happy Wino column: “Wines That Are Cheap and Go With Sheep.”