Best Wine to Pair With Honey Baked Ham

I never knew that The HoneyBaked Ham Company had the monopoly on honey-baked hams for many years until spiral cutter inventor Harry Hoenselaar’s patent finally ran out in 1981. At that point other companies, such as Smithfield, joined the game. These other companies used cutters based on the same principle as Hoenselaar’s, creating one continuous slice around the bone. However, Hoenselaar wasn’t only known for the cutter, but he also devised a secret marinade, smoked each ham for hours over assorted hardwood chip types, then sealed the ham with his sweet, signature glaze, resulting in a crunchy, crackly wrapper. The Honey Baked Ham Company started in 1957 as one store in Detroit and has grown to over 400 stores run by his children and grandchildren.

Home cooks attempting this dish tend to use bone-in ham with brown sugar, honey and cinnamon. Some use pineapples or corn syrup, butter, nutmeg and clove. Interesting twists include the use of ginger ale and Dijon mustard. Some recipes don’t call for honey at all, and get their “honey-ness” through other sugars and syrups.

Such discussions of honey, sugar and spices don’t readily summon visions of wine, but our contributors below manage to conjure inviting imagery with their expert suggestions. Two chefs, one sommelier and I, a wine writer, explore the possibilities for ham with wine.

Ham (honey-baked) goes really well with California pinot noir. I tend to go for Russian River pinots because they are loaded with sweet fruit. These lush, cherry-fruit beauties contain the acid and seductive complexity to cut the fat from the ham and add the sweet, exotic, magical multiple layers to this savory solid. So far, the best pinot that I have had was from a home winemaker’s own batch. The result is sweet, lush, complex and alluring. After numerous suggestions from his friends, the wine was dubbed “Louvier”. – Chef Sir Roy J. Salazar, Certified Master Chef, Sommelier and Taster; Chef Instructor, San Francisco, CA.

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Frog's Leap LabelTry a nice rosé without too much acid, alcohol or oak. Honey-baked ham is sweet, and sweet foods can make a wine’s rough edges come out. I like Frog’s Leap 2009 La Grenouille Rouganté, also known as ‘Pink’. Purpose built from zinfandel and valdiguie (no saignée here), the bright fruit and soft acid should pair well with the ham. – Matt Bennett, Chef, MattCooks, St. Helena, CA.

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Josmeyer Pinot Gris LabelFor an oven-baked, honey-glazed, salted ham, I recommend the 2005 Josmeyer Pinot Gris “fromenteau” from Alsace. The wine shows aromas and flavors of spiced pear, golden apples, clover honey, sliced white button mushrooms and baking spices. The body is medium plus, with a nudge of residual sugar, balanced by acidity. The attributes of the ham dish displays a tension of sweet vs. salty over a hammy flavor in a meaty texture. In preparations where sweetness is detectable, it is essential to mirror the level of sweetness in the wine. Counterpointing the sweetness with a snappy, dry wine will make the wine even more austere.  That being said, we don’t need too much residual sugar because the ham possesses an internal balance between salty and sweet. This off-dry example from Josmeyer displays the right flavor tones, depth and body/weight to descend into the dish.   Additionally, the spice notes of the wine add complexity to the combination.  – Yoon Ha, Head Sommelier, Benu, San Francisco, CA.

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BV Reserve Carneros LabelAccompanying a traditional ham on my table is a pinot noir. Specifically, BV’s 2007 Reserve Carneros version will augment the salty-sweet and slightly crispy texture on the glaze surrounding the ham from the renowned HoneyBaked Ham Company. I can’t help but salivate when I think of the dark fruit of the pinot noir penetrating the meatiness of the pork, while the characteristic lighter quality that any pinot noir will exhibit harmonizes with the ham better than heavier reds. The violet, cocoa and truffle notes of the wine could be demanding more than what we would expect from an ordinary ham, yielding interesting results. But it’s nice to have surprises with our old-fashioned dinners. – Paula Barker, Wine Writer, IntoWine.com, Santa Ana, CA.