"Wine tastes of the earth; it has the finesse of nature. So I'm committed to pairing it with real Mexican food, which is both sophisticated and elegant."
―Rick Bayless, Mexican cuisine expert.
Mexican food has always been associated with beer and cocktails, and rarely do people think of pairing it with wine. However, Mexican cuisine is complex enough to handle wine very well, with many of them complementing the heat and flavors of this cuisine excellently. If you haven't given them a try, it's time you embark upon this new journey and find out for yourself how good these two taste together.
Then again, there's no need to get intimidated by the thought of pairing wines with this spicy cuisine. Just remember the simple rule―while pairing it, make sure you pair the wine with the sauce used in the food. Moreover, it's important to remember that spicy cuisine calls for wines with good acidity, but low tannin content. This rules out high alcohol and high tannin wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, etc., which tend to accentuate the spiciness of the food. Moreover, the all-time favorite oaked Chardonnay is also not a good combination because its rich oaky flavors leave a harsh and bitter taste when combined with this cuisine. So, let's take a look at which wines marry well with Mexican dishes.
Wines that Pair Well with Mexican Food
This medium- to full-bodied wine comprises light to medium tannins, and comes with medium acidity that complements spicy Mexican dishes well. Zinfandel bursts with flavors of black fruit and notes of spices and jasmine. It is the classic combination of heat, fruitiness, and earthy flavors. You can try pairing it with dishes that contain pasilla chiles. While some find this combination a complete no-no, others love the way the fruitiness in the wine balances the heat.
✦ It marries well with dishes containing achiote paste or red-chili adobo sauce.
✦ It also pairs wonderfully with cheesy Mexican dishes.
✦ A juicy red Zinfandel goes well with Mexican dishes containing beef like steak burritos, grilled or smoked red meat, etc.
Known for its food-friendly nature, Riesling contains a lower alcohol content and a lightness that allows it to pair well with spicy Mexican dishes. The good level of acidity and residual sugar balances the spiciness well, and even helps in acting as a wonderful palate cleanser, thereby, preparing your palate for the next bite of flavorful Mexican food. A sweet Riesling is mostly preferred for this pairing, and as they commonly say, the sweet complements the heat and brings about perfect harmony. So, if you're looking for a wine that will help you enjoy your hot Mexican dish without searing your taste buds, then this is the one!
✦ The flavor of spicy chicken or pork tacos, corn tortillas, and burritos are brought out beautifully with this wine.
✦ It also cuts the fat in cheesy enchiladas and brings out perfect harmony on the palate.
This high acid, low tannin, light red wine goes well with most Mexican dishes. The array of flavors owing to the fresh ingredients used in Mexican cuisine like chilies, tomatoes, lime, cilantro, etc., call for a high acid wine that can balance the flavors of the dish well. Then, there are the dishes that are prepared with meats like pork, beef, chicken, etc., that call for a subtle red wine with earthy flavors, for which Pinot Noir is simply perfect.
✦ Grilled Mexican foods, foods doused with rich, smoky sauces, food with jalapeños, etc., are complemented well by a Pinot Noir.
✦ It also goes well with shrimp dishes, bean tacos, etc.
Yet another crisp, light-bodied, white wine, Pinot Gris is a medium-bodied fruity wine that bursts with flavors of pear, apple, lime, melon, mango, pineapple, and notes of honey, vanilla, and nuts. With fruity flavors and floral aroma, this wine is also a good palate cleanser. Since the wine is high in acidity and low in tannins, it has a natural affinity to spicy food, and it pairs wonderfully with Mexican spices. However, make sure you get the heavier styles of this wine.
✦ If you're serving spicy chicken tacos, then go for this wine.
✦ It also pairs well with tangy and spicy Mexican seafood delights, guacamole-based dishes, and dishes involving the Mexican sauce―pico de gallo.
This crisp, dry white wine comes in different versions from mineral-, citrus-, herb-, or oak-based forms. The herbaceous and citrus ones are favored for Mexican cuisine, because they complement fresh ingredients added to this cuisine exceptionally well. A dish with herbs always calls for a wine with good acidity, and since this is a fruity wine with high acidity, it marries the herb-infused Mexican dishes extremely well.
✦ It complements the acidity of a smoky, tomato-based tinga sauce well.
✦ If you're serving empanadas, tomatillo salsa, escabeche, cheese quesadilla, chile rellenos, chicken fajita salads, or prawn dishes, this wine should definitely be your pick!
Malbec, Rioja, Chianti, Gewürztraminer, Shiraz, etc., are some other wines that you can try out with Mexican food. Overall, just remember that whites pair well with citrus, herbs, tomatillo and epazote, while reds go well with dried chili sauces. Prepare your favorite Mexican dish and try different wines with it; find out which one pairs best. Who knows, you may discover an unusual, but excellent pairing.