POPULAR NOTIONS about wine command red wines to the table with red meats, white wines with white meats and pink wines with pink meats such as ham.
If ever the conventional wisdom and chromatic symmetry were to be ignored it should be in the last case, though not because ham and rose don't go together. In certain cases they do. Rather, the problem is that so many roses are just not good wines.
Such was the conclusion at the recent tasting of ham and wine combinations, where The Washington Post's panel of over a dozen people found nearly all of six imported roses very disappointing. For the most part the wines were either flawed by strange odors and tastes or were uninteresting or lacking tartness to give them zest. The roses selected came highly recommended by retailers to go well with ham; a few of them are also fairly popular. They ranged in price from about $2 to $6.
The wines were tasted double blind -- panelists did not know the names of any wines in the group being sampled -- along with hams. The panel's primary task was to decide which wines went best with this traditional Christmas dinner main course. The tasting was limited to mild-cured rather than air-dried and country hams, which would have warranted heavier wines. With these I recommend an Italian dolcetto, a red wine, of recent vintage. Two which I enjoyed recently were Dolcetto d' Alba, 1978, Vietti; and Dolcetto d' Alba, 1979, Scanaviano, but any similar dolcetto should do.They cost about $4 to $5.50 a bottle.
If you want a wine that is satisfying on its own as well as to complement a lovingly prepared ham, try one of the preferred whites described below. They are a bit more expensive than the acceptable roses, but their fine character, depth, complexity and good balance make them a better value for the dollar. If you want a rose, Mateus Portuguese Rose, non-vintage (NV), at about $4, and Chantefleur French Rose, NV, at about $3, were found acceptable. Even better would be Souverain North Coast Pinot Noir Rose, NV. This American wine, which the panel did not taste, is available in a 1.5 liter magnum for about $5.
Dry to slightly sweet white wines, particularly fruity ones, are also generally considered good company for ham. To see which combinations were best, the panel tasted five French and one German wine with the ham. The individual wines were not identified but the panelists knew in which of their glasses were a dry vouvray, an Alsatian riesling, an Alsatian gewurtztraminer, an entre-deux-mers, a dry French white and a rheingau kabinett.
Seventy-five percent or more of the panelists felt that the ham married well with the rheingau and the vouvray. These wines were less expensive than the Alsatian gewurtztraminer -- which was considered acceptable -- and the less acceptable Alsatian riesling. The Alsatian wines were from 1977, which was not a terrific year. The 1976s would be much better but they are now hard to come by. The panel definitely disliked the entre-deux-mers. The dry French white, Moreau Blanc, also did not go well with the ham.
The purpose of the white wine tasting was not to evaluate individual wines but to test how well each kind of wine went with ham. If one of the styles of wine mentioned here appeals to you and you cannot obtain the exact wine mentioned, ask a reliable wine merchant to recommend something similar of equal or better quality.
A Boal Madeira was also tasted with ham as an experiment. Over half of the panel liked the way this delicious, moderately sweet fortified wine (with about 50 percent more alcohol than most wines) complemented the flavor of the ham. But there was near unanimity that this was a wine for sipping, not drinking with the meal.
Here are the comparisons within each group. Evaluations were based primarily on how well the wines went with the meal, though some wines were rejected for their flaws. The Roses ACCEPTABLE
Portuguese Rose, NV, Mateus, about $3.50 to $4. It had a very flowery-fruity aroma and a pleasant, simple (some said interesting), slightly sweet taste; decently balanced. A few people detected objectionable tastes.
French Rose, NV, Chantefleur, about $3 to $3.50. This wine had a basically light, pleasant aroma. In the mouth it was pleasant, nondescript, slightly sweet, but the driest of the roses and, many said, boring.Some off aromas and flavors were noticed. DISLIKED
Anjou Rose, Chateau de Tigne, 1978, about $3.50 to $4.25.
Bordeaux Rose, NV, Cadet-Rose. About $4.75 to $5.25.
Spanish Rose Bodegas Bilbainas Brillante Vino Rosando, 1975, about $3 to $3.50.
Anjou Rose, Royal de Neuville, NV, sparkling rose. About $5.25 to $5.90. The Whites RECOMMENDED
Rheingau, Johannisberger, Klaus, Riesling Kabinett, 1975, Landgraflich Hessisches Weingut, about $5. This wine had a light, fruity nose. In the mouth it was slightly sweet, lightly fruity -- one panelist compared it to lichee -- well balanced and easy to drink. Many of the 1975 kabinetts may now be slightly sweeter, and may be a better choice.
Vouvray (sec), Domaine des Bidaudieres, 1976, $4.75 to $5.25. Moderately intense, pleasing and complex fruity aroma. Two panelists thought it smelled slightly oxidized, though this wine should have a very long life. It was mouth-filling, fruity, slightly flinty and dry with a good finish. ACCEPTABLE
Alsatian Gewurtztraminer, Leon Beyer, 1977, about $6. This wine had a moderately intense, flowery, spicy nose. It had good body and tasted lightly fruity, with a touch of flintiness and a slightly bitter finish. It was dry; but not a great example of gewurtztraminer. A good gewurtztraminer should have a flowery aroma and a spicy taste. Such a wine will not appeal to all people, particularly those with little experience with wine.
Alsatian Riesling, Hugel, 1977, $7. to $7.40. Very light aroma. It had a medium to heavy body but little character. It was thin, dry, tart, with little fruit. Hardly worth the cost. NOT RECOMMENDED
French White, Moreau Blanc, NV, $3.50 to $4. Light, nondescript aroma, tart, simple, dry, little fruit.
Entre-Deux-Mers, Chateau Toutegeac, 1979, $3 to $3.50. Very light aroma, smelled slightly peppery. It tasted light, simple, dry and tannic. Nearly every panelist did not like it with ham; some felt the flavor of the wine was off. MADEIRA RECOMMENDED
Welsh Brothers Boal Madeira, NV, about $6, to $6.50. Rich, nutty, caramel aroma with a hint of tartness. In the mouth it is rich, nutty, slightly sweet, complex and alcoholic. Some tartness comes through in the finish. This is an unconventional accompaniment to ham at a meal and most people would probably prefer it as an aperitif with some kind of ham hors d'oeuvers.
Note: Whites and roses should be served chilled; madeira at room temperature.