By Nils Bernstein
Both powerful and delicate, prosciutto invites a range of wine-pairing options.
When you’re selecting a wine to drink with this decadently silky cured meat, the options can feel as complex as the ham itself. Fortunately, there are lots of delicious options to highlight it in different ways.
Prosciutto is any Italian dry-cured ham. Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele are two giants of the category. These are salted and left to age for about a year, minimum, and sometimes more than three years, at which point they are sliced paper-thin and served uncooked. Other prosciutto-adjacent hams include French jambon de Bayonne and Spanish jamón Ibérico.
While it’s often served wrapped around fruits or veggies, draped over pizzas or flatbreads, crisped for a soup or salad topper or sliced in thin ribbons to weave into pasta, good prosciutto is an elegant snack or appetizer on its own. It has several distinct flavor components that invite creative wine pairing, depending on which ones you want to highlight.
Salt: Salt loves sweet—just think of prosciutto’s affinity with figs or melon. A lightly oaked, off-dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire (e.g. Vouvray) or South Africa has hints of ripe pears, honey and smoke, all of which are naturals with ham.
Fat: Prosciutto is marbled with fat, which melts on the tongue. Lambrusco— much of which hails from Italy’s Emilia- Romagna region, just like Prosciutto di Parma—offers both cleansing bubbles as well as gentle tannins. Tannins can lessen the richness, while fat mellows tannins’ astringency.
Nuttiness: A sweet, creamy nuttiness permeates most prosciuttos, especially Prosciutto di Parma, whose pigs are fed the whey from Parmigiano-Reggiano production. Friulano from Collio in the northeast Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, which is the home of Prosciutto di San Daniele, is full-bodied and offers prominent nutty notes.
Funk: An appealingly gamy aroma is a sign of great prosciutto. Malbecs from Cahors in Southwest France feature similar aromas of vintage leather and undergrowth, along with ripe black fruit and spice. Try it with an antipasto plate of prosciutto, soft blue cheese and long-aged Gouda.
—Nils Bernstein for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, April 2019 issue