Spain is famous for its ham and its wine. The importance of these two customs is intertwined, spills over the national borders to the whole Iberian peninsula, and can be seen by just a glance at the national culture. But what is the best companion for a good pata negra ham? What wine will go best with a ham that has been carefully cured over a long period of time, derived from only the finest pigs?The answer to this question seems obvious.
Many will say, following obvious simple logic, that pata negra ham of the finest quality should be accompanied by a reserve or grand reserve wine, aged in an oak barrel for years. The reasoning is flawed, though: today, there are many alternatives, and this isn't necessarily the best. Being guided by tradition is fine, but there are other ways, just as good, to achieve a perfect pairing between pata negra ham and wine.
In Spanish, the art of pairing food and wine is called "maridaje," meaning marriage. But before you go looking for the perfect suitors, ask yourself this question: is the same pairing right for both sliced ham and diced ham? Generally speaking, the answer is yes, but keep in mind that the slices offer a much more delicate taste experience, so you can "marry well" with other drinks than red wine, though this certainly works perfectly as a companion for diced ham.
Most sommeliers and experts agree that the best pairing between ham and wine is with fortified wines, like Fino and Manzanilla. These wines are recognizable by great body and subtle flavor that complements, rather than overwhelms, the ham. A drink of Fino or Manzanilla after tasting good pata negra ham makes a combination of subtle flavors that is even better then either on its own, perfectly blending and bringing out the best in pata negra ham.
We must put aside the generous sweet wines and those that are stronger in flavor, because they are too powerful, overwhelming the flavor of the ham. Ham has a strong presence but the flavors are subtle, nuanced; the right pairing would bring out those flavors, not cover them up. The same goes for fruity, sparkling wines. Dry and Brut champagne are also popular options, and both have become fashionable pairings with pata negra ham. The reality is that they are suited to perfection, with their strong yet subtle flavors combining while leaving each space to be experienced. Rose wines are usually to weak in flavor, being overwhelmed by the ham.
The same thing happens with most white wines. Sweet white wines especially are too cloying, weakly flavored and unstructured to stand up to pata negra ham. Reserve and grand reserve red wines seem the obvious choice but their big personalities can be a little too boisterous, their strong flavors a little overpowering. The reaction can be less like complementing each other, more like canceling each other out. The red wines that work best with pata negra are the young, light reds that are more playful and bring out the lighter side of pata negra too.
Finally, older red wines that have been aged in wood, but not for too long, can be fantastic partners for pata negra. It's good to make sure that they're not too acidic or too alcoholic, though. Find an older red with ow acidity and you're in for a treat as the full body of the wine and the delicate flavor of the ham create a true treat for the palate.
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