January 25, 2007

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Got milk?

Ham it up
These wines will make you squeal
By Tim Protzman tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

I’ve been thinking a lot about ham lately. I usually eat ham two or three times a year. This isn’t counting the occasional ham and cheese sandwich for lunch. I’m talking the full monte baked ham. The choices for a Sunday dinner baked ham are the somewhat moist Smithfield Ham, a spongy, hammy ham with a wet texture; the prosciutto-like Country Ham, with a dry texture, creamy fat content and nutty, salty flavor; and the spiral-sliced ham, sugary and sweet. I used to like ham salad, but I once saw it being made at the deli and I didn’t want it as much anymore. They used minced ham and the leftover end pieces from the Bolognas. Once it was ground up you couldn’t tell the difference anyway.

All this ham thought comes from a small sample taste of Jamón Ibérico de bellota. It was delicious — nutty, with bacon and ham flavors and a rich, butter-like rile of fat. These hams come from the patas negras or black-footed pigs that live in the mountains. The best ones are raised on the bellota, or acorn. This gives the ham its nutty flavor. These acorn-fed hams are only now being imported into the United States. The traditional conditions in which they were cured and stored weren’t up to FDA standards. So, like haggis, that Scottish dish of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs chopped into pieces and boiled with salt, cinnamon, oatmeal and suet in a sewn-up sheep’s stomach, they were illegal. Now some modern profit-minded Spaniards have brought their ham factories up to code and the hams are off the no-fly list. These hams go well with white or red wine.

Beaujolais and a modest Burgundy like a Volnay are the traditional wine partners for ham. Their fruitiness balances out the ham’s saltiness. With a light ham one might even go with a Riesling, a light chardonnay or even a chenin blanc, which has a touch of sweetness that reveals itself before the acidic finish. And there are plenty of light, fruit-forward pinot noirs from California that will go with ham, even the expensive imported hams where the little piglets are hand-fed, bathed daily and rocked to sleep. They grow up, become obnoxious and gorge themselves on acorns. Then it’s to the slaughter house and finally they’re air-cured in dry, pure mountain air. Once they get to this country, their value has risen to about $140 per pound. And if you’re enjoying a ham that costs $3.11 per mouthful (45 bites per pound at $140 per pound) then you don’t want a wine that distracts or tries to upstage the former pig.

Bogle Russian River Pinot Noir, $13.98;

Rex Hill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, $21.99;

Bouchaine Carneros Pinot Noir, $22.99.

All pass the ham test. They’ll be good with the porker, but won’t overpower it. Too bad we can’t go back in time to 2000, before that wine movie increased pinot’s popularity overnight, and pick up some inexpensive, delicious pinot noir that goes well with ham. Nowadays, everyone’s making pinot noir, the prices are up and most of it is mediocre at best.

Along with ham, I’ve been thinking about George Custer lately, too. General Custer liked a sweeter Madeira, like a Malmsey, with his ham. It was probably a country ham. Custer took cases of Madeira and many hams with him when he moved west after the Civil War. He probably even had a few bottles on hand for the Battle of Little Bighorn. The beauty of Madeira is that it travels well. It’s a sweet and spicy wine that’s had a little brandy added to it and it’s literally been cooked or heated to at least 100 degrees. The wine then takes on a pleasant, caramelized flavor. And it’s a little more powerful than regular wine. Perfect for an old saddlebag like Custer. We think about Custer a lot at work ever since we sent Tony to the services audit. It was an especially grueling audit so we gave him as little info as possible. When he got back his first words were, “Holy cow, General Custer, you didn’t tell me there were Indians in the ravine!!” Meaning he felt set up. The quote refers to the set piece battle of Greasy
Grass Creek, which is what Native Americans call little Bighorn. Here the combined forces of the Lakota Sioux Nation and Northern Cheyenne completed a classic pincer movement formation and encircled Custer’s divided forces while driving his relief column back. Was his canteen filled with Madeira? How come he divided his battalion into three separate columns instead of keeping it together, even in the face of a greater force? Was it hubris or just stupidity? And remember Custer wasn’t a real general; he was a colonel who got a quick battlefield promotion at Gettysburg. Most of his Army career was marked by feuds, infractions and political maneuvering. He did enjoy a good champagne and a nice claret, niceties provided by his wife’s inheritance, not his Army salary.

And while his diary notes what he drank and with whom, he doesn’t get more descriptive than “Had an enjoyable burgundy with Congressman Vallandingham….”

Here are two other wines I tasted this week.

2000 Marques de Vargas Rioja, $19.99. The very smart guys at Province Importers swear that the tempranillo grape which makes up Rioja is the kissing cousin to pinot noir. This wine serves up that evidence. It does have a pinot taste. But, alas, even that can’t get this wine rated higher than passable. Pleasant but forgettable.

2004 Panther Creek Pinot Noir, $23.49. This Oregonian from the Willamette Valley had the fruit and the rudiments of structure, but failed to impress. Wouldn’t buy it again, probably wouldn’t drink it again, except at a Battle of Little Bighorn reenactment.

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at tprotzman@sbcglobal.net.


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1/4/2007 New Year's hangover
12/28/2006 Sins of the vine
12/21/2006 Kissing frogs
12/14/2006 Wine for horrible friends
12/07/2006 Like dregs in the wine glass
11/30/2006 Gift of calmer shopping
11/23/2006 YouTube for YouWine
11/16/2006 Welcome to wine
11/9/2006 Fine art, supermarket wine
11/2/2006 The geography of grapes
10/26/2006 Please continue to hold
10/19/2006 The trouble with reds
10/12/2006 Making new friends
10/05/2006 TiVo-ing the wine
09/28/2006 From an unknown battle
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09/14/2006 Wine for life
09/07/2006 What are Malpeques, Alex?
08/31/2006 Hanging out wines
08/24/2006 Falling into new wine season
08/17/2006 Where has that wine been?
08/10/2006 Bringing out the dead
08/03/2006 The birth of a wine fop
07/27/2006 Slow process of maturation
07/20/2006 The pain of adolescent wines
07/13/2006 Nice day for a white wedding
07/06/2006 Scoring goals with booze
06/29/2006 Beer, it's what's for dinner
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06/15/2006 A summer of beer and fried clams
06/08/2006 Keep your cool, fool
06/01/2006 The social lubricant
05/25/2006 Water, water everywhere
05/18/2006 Big fat greek wine tasting
05/11/2006 Drinking to the end
05/04/2006 Schooled in the art of wine
04/27/2006 Make a wish
04/20/2006 Immigrant wines
04/13/2006 A pain in the glass
04/06/2006 Got milk?
03/30/2006 Throw a dart and there's wine
03/23/2006 A life of good wine
03/16/2006 Honoring the dead soldiers
03/09/2006 What once was old i new again
03/02/2006 The taste of sibling rivalry
02/23/2006 Wine travels, doesn’t sing
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02/16/2006 Love and vine
02/09/2006 A dog-drink-dog world
02/02/2006 The winos' mecca
01/26/2006 Date-nite drinks
01/19/2006 Touring eastern wine country
01/12/2006 Wine, Cheese and Granny Smith
01/05/2006 Resolve to try new wines
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Adventures in and past the Euro-Cave
A Do-It-Yourself Wine Tasting
A Red For Everything
A Red Wth Your Leftovers?
A Tasty Way To Put Wine To The Test
A Year Of Wine
An Around-The-World Holiday
A wine for every holiday

Basking In The Mondavi Light
Behind One Door Is Great Wine
Beware The Hot Bottle
Brandy and the nude beach
Champagne, The Other White Wine
Cheers And Whines Of The Vine
Days of wine and jelly beans
Deep in the heart of Texas
Drinking for your health
Drinking like a newspaperman

Drinking Whites After Labor Day
Finding A Great Medium-Weight Drink (I)
Finding A Great Medium Weight Drink (II)
Gifts for blood, love or money
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Grill and sip, sip and sip. Finding the perfect wine for barbecue
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How The Corleones Saved Wine

In Praise Of An American Wine
In search of the girl next door
Keeping it in the family
Keeping up appearances
Looking back at the heyday of cheap wine
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My Big Fat Greek Wine Tasting
The Best Drinks On A Budget
The Highly Drinkable (Mostly) Merlot
The Long, Strange Journey Of Wine
Old French grape in the New World
Olé! to a week in wine
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Our French friends — really
Our Northern Neighbor
Poker faces and wine

Presenting A New England Vodka
Presenting The Wines Of Spring
Rewarding Your Support Staff
Schooled In The Art Of Wine
Shopping for Wine Bargains

Sitting By The Fire And Dreaming Of Wine
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Spending the holidays in NYC
Spirit World Tales
Springtime calls for wine and ice cream
Sudden ugly mood swings
The new face of fine wines
The wines of fall
Thinking ahead to the holidays
Time To Stay Frosty
Tipples for turkey day
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What it means to miss N.O.
What To Drink When You Eat Wild
What's Your Wine Sign
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Wine Between The Season
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