Gold-Standard Jamón

Wine Spectator


July 31, 2012

Owen Dugan

Jamón Ibérico is a magical name among ham lovers. It is uniquely Spanish, based primarily on the Ibérico breed of pig (also known as pata negra) used to make it, as well as on feeding and curing techniques. It's a must-have for food lovers, and there was fanfare when it became available in the United States five years ago.

Now there is reason to rejoice once more. The brand Cinco Jotas ("five j's"), owned by the Osborne wine family, has long been considered a benchmark in Spain and is now available here.

The pigs are raised in Jabugo, a town in southwest Spain near the Portugese border. The climate is believed to be perfect for raising the pigs, and for the acorns responsible for the hams' flavor. Most important of all, however, is the purity of the breed. The producers ensure that the pigs are 100 percent Ibérico; this distinction is considerable because a pig need only be 75 percent to get the storied label.

All of these factors conspire to deliver the best Ibérico legally available in this country. The meat is rosy and the fat shiny. It has nutty and complex aromas and is simultaneously earthy and tangy on the palate. The flavors persist long after. This is a must-try for ham lovers. Pour a sherry if you want to pretend you're in Spain, but a really great sparkling wine is better. - whole bone-in paleta (front leg, about 10 pounds), $750; whole bone-in jamón (hind leg, about 15 pounds), $1,600

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