A lot has been written over the years about pairing wine with French food, but not so much about pairing wine with Mexican food. One possible reason that Mexican food has been overlooked in discussions of wine is that we’re used to eating Mexican food with beer.
Understandably too, as beer tastes great with a lot of Mexican dishes. But Mexican cuisine often gets confused with Tex-Mex food that is usually simple combinations of refried beans and meat drowning in melted cheese that is then doused with hot sauce.
Tex-Mex (as the name would suggest) was developed in the southwestern United States by resourceful immigrant ranch workers, who no longer had access to the chilies, vegetables, meat, and fish they had eaten in Mexico.
Tex-Mex is delicious and humble, making beer the perfect beverage to accompany it.
However, authentic Mexican food is nuanced and is not so much hot as it is vividly seasoned. It deserves great wine to go with it! Besides, wine is having somewhat of a renaissance in Mexican cuisine.
A lot of the best Mexican restaurants have large wine lists. So what should you order when you dine at one of them?
Below, we’ll take a look at what type of wine goes best with Mexican food, and then pair up some classic Mexican dishes and ingredients with wines.
What type of wine goes best with Mexican food?
The best wines to accompany Mexican foods are fresh and crisp with acidity. Good white wine pairings would be Pinot Grigio (or Pinot Gris), a dry Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, or Albariño, a crisp and citrusy wine from northwestern Spain that perfectly complements green, tomatillo-chili sauces.
Generally, the spicier the food, the colder and sweeter the wine should be. Lower alcohol wines and moderate tannins also pair well with Mexican food, as they dissolve the burning sensation of capsicum.
For meat dishes, you can also generally match the color of the wine with the color of the meat. For example, red wine complements red meat like beef, and white wine complements white meat like chicken.
We can also apply this color rule to what herbs are used in the dish. Food with a lot of green herbs tends to go better with wines that have higher acidity and more herbaceous flavors, like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Tortillas with toppings
Tacos: These soft corn tortillas are hand-shaped and topped with meat, chopped onion, cabbage, radish, lime, and cilantro and go well with Dry Rosé.
With a salmon pink hue, Rosé comes from the hills of Provence in the south of France. It tends to combine soft, strawberry flavors with herbaceousness.
Chalupas: Chalupas are similar to tacos but made with small, crispy corn tortillas, so we recommend pairing them with Lambrusco wine which is a sparkling red wine from Italy. Lambrusco is a brightly colored grape variety from Emilia-Romagna, Northern Italy.
Sopes: These are thick, soft corn tortillas topped with seasoned meat and Mexican cheese, and are also sometimes topped with lettuce or pickled vegetables.
We recommend Spanish Garnacha wine with this dish. Garnacha is the second most-planted red wine grape variety, following Tempranillo. While it is grown throughout Spain, it’s most commonly grown in the north and east of the country.
Tostadas: Translated into ‘toasted’, the origins of the tostada may come from the crisping of day-old masa tortillas. We recommend Cannonau wine to accompany tostadas.
Cannonau wine has an intense flavor, and while it is not very acidic it has powerful, ample tannins. These tannins provide warm and bitter flavors reminiscent of licorice, rhubarb, and even coffee and cola.
Stuffed Masa Dough Dishes
Enchiladas: These are corn tortillas that are rolled around cheese, meat, or vegetables and covered in red sauce. For enchiladas, we recommend Cabernet Franc Rosé.
Lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc Rosé is a bright, pale red wine that lends a more peppery scent to blends with more robust grapes. Depending on where the wine is grown, additional aromas can include bell pepper, cassis, raspberry, violets, and even tobacco. A truly diverse wine!
Gorditas: A small, masa cake prepared and stuffed with cheese, meat, or vegetables, we recommend Tempranillo Rosé with this dish. Spanish Tempranillo provides contrasting flavors of leather and cherries.
The finer the wine, the more balance there is between these earthy and fruity flavors. The wine is typically smooth and leaves you with a lingering taste of the tannins.
Tamales: These are corn dough stuffed with meats, cheese, and vegetables that are wrapped in corn husks and then steamed or boiled. Try pairing tamales with Syrah Rosé. This is a bold, dry wine that has notes of olive and cherries.
If the dish is not too spicy, you can also try a slightly chilled Reserva Rioja or Tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero with any of these dishes.
Red Meat Dishes
Barbacoa: This is barbecued meat – often beef – cooked in Mexican spices.
Carne Asada: Grilled and charred beef cooked in Mexican spices.
For either of these dishes, we recommend Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is best known for its rich palate of black fruits like blackcurrant, black cherry, and plum as well other flavors like licorice, mint, cedar, and even eucalyptus.
We also recommend Carménère (“car-men-nair”), a medium-bodied red wine that comes from Bordeaux, France, and is now grown almost exclusively in Chile. It’s much loved for its supple red-and-black flavors and herbaceous green peppercorn notes.
You can also try pairing them with Douro red wine. Douro red wine comes from the most famous and respected wine region in Portugal. It’s full-bodied and has a terrific balance of fruit and acidity.
Finally, you can also pair these dishes with Malbec wine. This wine comes from grapes grown mainly in Argentina and is known for its plump, dark fruit flavors and smoky finish.
Spicy Meat Dishes
Chorizo: A guajillo and arbol chili seasoned ground fatty pork meat. Vegan alternatives to chorizo are also available.
We recommend pairing dishes that use chorizo with sparkling wines such as Cava or Crémant.
Cava is produced the same way as Champagne just with different grapes. In fact, Cava is a lot closer to Champagne (even in terms of flavor) than Prosecco.
Al Pastor: This is spit-grilled meat that is seasoned with chilies and slow roasted with onion and pineapple to make the meat tender. Al pastor is usually made with carnitas (pork) but is sometimes made with cabrito (goat).
We recommend pairing Al Pastor with a sparkling Brut Rosé like a Crémant d’Alsace for its fruity notes.
Crémant d’Alsace is made from a fresh and crisp Pinot Blanc, although you can also make the wine with Auxerrois, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir grapes. However, with Crémant d’Alsace Rosé the law states that it must be made with 100% Pinot Noir grapes.
Mexican Cured Meats
Cecina: Similar to prosciutto, Cecina is a marinated, dried, and thinly sliced meat made with beef or pork.
An earthy, bold red such as Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nero d’Avola, or Sangiovese would compliment this dish.
Nebbiolo is the grape variety found in the top-quality red wines of Piedmont, northwestern Italy. This wine is distinguished by its strong tannins, high acidity, and distinctive scent which is sometimes described as ‘tar and roses.’
Nero d’Avola is a red wine that is made from a grape variety of the same name. It is native to Sicily, a region that is known for producing wine that emphasizes dark berry flavors, plums, chocolate, spice, and a hint of tobacco.
Sangiovese is a savory wine but is also a bit of chameleon. Sometimes it can be very earthy and rustic, and sometimes it’s very round and fruity. Regardless of where it’s grown, you can always find cherry flavors and subtle tomato notes.
Arroz con Pollo: Similar to Paella, arroz con pollo is a long-grain rice dish made with achiote (annatto seed) oil, and sofrito made with cilantro, onion, garlic, a variety of peppers such as red peppers, sweet pepper, red bell pepper, as well as tomatoes, pickled capers, and olives. Arroz con Camarones is a similar dish but includes shrimp.
This rice dish goes great with Cava, Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, white Vihno Verde, or any very dry white wine that is high in acidity.
Sauvignon Blanc has a pungent, in-your-face aroma reminiscent of freshly cut grass, peas, and asparagus, but sometimes has the aroma of tropical passion fruit, grapefruit, or mango. It’s light-bodied with a moderate alcohol level.
Albariño has a similar flavor to Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s not as herbal as a typical Sauvignon Blanc. It tends to have notes of citrus fruits like lemons and grapefruit, and sometimes stone fruits like nectarines and peaches.
White Vihno Verde wine is a soft, fizzy Portuguese wine and is the ideal easy-drinking wine in summer. Vinho Verde is also a region, and usually produces wines that are minerally and dry, with notes of pear and citrus.