Best Wines to Drink with Your Easter Feast

Some of these pairings are traditional, others a little offbeat, but all will enhance your holiday meal

Flickr/Magnus Reuterdahl/CC 4.0

On the assumption that you, like so many others, are indeed going to be sitting down to lamb or ham for Easter, you might well wonder what wine(s) would be the most amiable companions to the main course. (Photo Modified: Flickr/Magnus Reuterdahl/CC 4.0)

If you sit down to a big Easter lunch or dinner, chances are pretty good that — depending on your budget, your tastes, and your religious beliefs — the centerpiece of your meal is going to be one of two meats: lamb or ham.

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Why lamb? That's easy. First of all, lambs born in late winter or early spring and milk-fed by their mothers have long been considered, especially in Mediterranean countries, to be at prime eating weight (15 to 20 pounds) by Easter; to this day, Rome's famous abbacchio (milk-fed lamb) is served at that size. Perhaps more important, though, the sacrificial lamb was an early Christian symbol for Christ crucified ("the Lamb" or "Lamb of God" is a biblical epithet for Christ), and hence, by extension, a vivid symbol of the season.

Ham is a little more difficult to figure out. There are various theories as to why it has become associated with Easter. Some say that, since the consumption of pork was forbidden to Muslims and Jews, eating ham on the occasion of this most sacred of Christian holidays was simply an expression of belief. Others suggest that the custom has its roots in the pagan notion that pigs portend good fortune, and that pork was thus associated by post-pagan peoples with what they considered the fortunate miracle of the Resurrection. Quite possibly the most reasonable explanation is simply that pigs are traditionally slaughtered in the cold months of winter and their flesh preserved in the forms of ham and various sausages to last through the harsh weather — and since Easter corresponds, more or less, to the beginning of spring, it would be a suitable holiday on which to finish up whatever cured meat remained.

Enough with the history lessons. On the assumption that you, like so many others, are indeed going to be sitting down to lamb or ham for Easter, you might well wonder what wine(s) would be the most amiable companions to the main course. It depends on what you like, of course, and on how the meat in question is prepared.

Baked ham with a sweet glaze

Chehalem

An obvious choice is a dry riesling, a wine that will offer a mere suspicion of sweetness to blend with the richness of the glaze and of the ham itself, offset by good acidity and forthright fruit. Australia's Clare Valley produces splendid examples at fair prices. Or try a spicy, mineral-tinged Chehalem Dry Riesling from Oregon's Willamette Valley.

Baked ham with a spicy glaze

Trimbach

Gewürztraminer is a fragrant, floral, mouth-filling kind of wine. People tend to love it or hate it (I'm in the former camp). While often vinified with some residual sugar, softening its sometimes aggressive character, the best examples for spicy food — and gewürz, incidentally, is German for "spice" — are dry wines, like those made by Oregon's Sineann Winery or Navarro Vineyards in California's Anderson Valley, or by any number of top Alsatian producers, for instance Trimbach

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