Easter is a time for new clothes, going to services and gathering the family for Sunday dinner with all the compli-mentary dishes. Although our tables will be filled with many different foods, ham and lamb will take center stage on many American tables.
It seems that the American tradition of having a ham may date back to Colonial America. It was typical of many families to slaughter their hogs in the fall so as to not feed them during the winter months. The curing and smoking process lasted five to six months over the winter, making springtime the perfect time to serve up that ham for a special family meal.
For wine to go with ham, a Riesling or Rose is recommended. Many hams are glazed and the sweetness pairs well with the sweet and tart style of the Riesling. A Riesling can range from dry to sweet depending on when the grape is picked. The later the picking, the higher the sugar level and the sweeter the wine. Germany is where you will find the biggest selection of Rieslings, with a price range to fit most budgets. The combination of a touch of sweetness, a floral bouquet and a crisp level of acidity to round it out makes for a wine that does well with food or just for sipping.
If you are looking to buy an American version, look at the state of Washington. Their Rieslings easily rank at the top of the class for style and structure.
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If you want to move away from that little bit of sweetness, consider a dry rose. The pink color definitely offers a nice addition to the table and its flavors still match the meal. A rose from Tavel, France, would be my first choice. The light floral nose and initial berry flavor that finishes dry would be wonderful with a glazed ham and Joy's "Halfway House Green Beans" side dish (above left).
The other typical Easter dinner, lamb, has more Eastern European roots. My first thought is to go the Southern Rhone Valley of France and pick up a wine that is typically a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. Together, these grapes produce a dry red wine with good fruit and a touch of pepper. The Rhone Valley produces some of the world's greatest wines in an area called Chateauneuf-du-Pape. These wines can be very pricey and need some aging time or decanting before serving, but are well worth the effort.
On a budget? A Cotes-du-Rhone offers the same blend at multiple price points from several different areas that make a good choice with lamb.
Within that Rhone blend are two grapes that stand on their own and would also be good for your lamb. A well- produced Syrah from northern Rhone or California is medium to full bodied, has good upfront berry flavors and a rich smooth flavor. You can also look at a Grenache from Spain. A little lighter, it still offers a nice mix of fruit and structure and a splash of spice.
If you are looking for a Kosher wine for Passover, you may have gotten tired of the typically sweet Mogen David and Manischewitz brands. There is a nice selection of wines from Israel. The problem is they are hard to find and can be pricey. For best results, start your search early, as a store may have to do a special order for items they do not stock.
This is the time we celebrate the renewal of life. Let us also celebrate a renewal of our taste buds. Celebrate the day, enjoy the wine, the food and the time with family.