Thousands of articles, books, and even academic papers have been written about pairing French food with wine. On the other hand, there isn’t too much written or explained about pairing Mexican food with wine even though Mexico has a long tradition with wine.
Not many people know that the oldest winery in the North American continent, established in the distant 1597, is in Coahuila, Mexico.
Now that we’ve established that Mexico and wines go way back in time, it’s time to put our thoughts into combining Mexican food with wine. Here are some recommendations from a few established sommeliers.
Mind the Spice and ABV (Arthur Hon, Sepia, Chicago)
As a general rule of thumb when it comes to pairing Mexican food with wine, one should keep away from wines high in alcohol. The thing with Mexican cuisine is that it’s very diverse, and very often, proteins can range from heavily charged to raw.
Stick with dry and bright style if you intend to pair it with Verde sauces and Marisco sauces. On the other hand, if you need something to pair with grilled proteins, go with a toasty sparkling and richer style. Rosé bubbles are recommended to bring balance to tomato-based dishes.
There is also a consensus on combining Champagne with corn and eggs. As a result of that, Huevos rancheros and chilaquiles quadruple their appeal.
Mind the Garnishes (Chris Horn, Purple Cafe in Bellevue/Seattle)
Another exciting way to approach combining Mexican food with wine is the garnish. The omnipresent squeeze of lime is unavoidable in pretty much every Mexican restaurant. Because of that, a lime-driven and refreshing dry Sauvignon Blanc or Muscadet should always be taken into consideration. Even a dry Riesling should be considered as well. The trick here is in the acidity of the wine that will turbo-boost the flavors and will create a mouth drama that will set you on the path to the next bite.
In case there is pineapple or mango salsa included, seek out a white wine featuring strong tropical flavors. You can consider going with a tropical style of Chardonnay or maybe even a new-world Viognier.
When it comes to red wine lovers, skip anything with strong tanning. If you have a carne asada burrito, avoid anything tagged Crianza. Instead, consider getting a Spanish Tempranillo or maybe some new-world Garnacha.
Mind the Preparation (Caryn Benke, Andina Restaurant in Portland, OR)
Many sommeliers base their wine recommendation on the cooking technique and the use of spices. Dishes featuring lime juice, cilantro, and jalapeños are good matches with white wines with high acid levels. For example, Ned Sauvignon from New Zealand is considered the perfect match for prawns. Then there is Gewürtraminer that pairs nicely with foods that contain richer species such as chili pepper, coriander, and cumin. Lighter red wines such as the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir can also be quite the match for such combos.
For carnitas, you should consider a wine featuring ripe fruit to match the sweetness that the meat draws with the standard cooking technique used to prepare this dish. A wine featuring high acid also fits the bill as the acid can go through the fat. To that end, a fruity Grenache/Syrah blend or a Vouvray from Loire Valley is to be considered.
If it is a dish such as carne asada burrito that contains red meat with spice, go for a refreshing and fruity wine such as Malbec or Susana Balbo’s Crios Line.
It is “mole” that is hardest to pair with wine from all Mexican dishes because of its diversity. Mole dishes feature dried and smoky peppers such as pasilla or ancho. Thus, it is a smart play to go for fruity wines to complement the smoky flavor. Most of the Sicilian wines are up to scratch as they contain excellent ripeness and offer herbal undertones. Nero d’Avola is all that and then some more as it feels very fresh on the finish. Nero d’Avola comes from the Cusumano winery.