Last Updated on October 4, 2023
Traditionally we don’t think of wine to pair with Mexican food. Most people choose a beer or Margaritas instead.
This to some extent strains from the fact that many people imagine Tex-Mex style meals when they think of Mexican cuisine. While Tex-Mex is similar, it’s a much more simplified version of traditional Mexican dishes.
Developed and evolved in the southwestern regions of the United States, it features simple combinations of meat, potatoes and refried beans covered in cheese and hot sauce to trick your tastebuds into believing you’re eating a complexly flavoured meal.
Tex-Mex cuisine was created by resourceful immigrant workers, who had little access to the various vegetables, meat, and spices that are enjoyed in traditional Mexican food. These humble styled meals deserve a humble drink to accompany them – such as beer.
Authentic Mexican cuisine, in contrast, is much more nuanced in flavour and just as complex as European cuisines. Mexican dishes are not as hot as people think, they’re just properly seasoned. A complex drink, such as a good bottle of wine, can perfectly accompany those dishes and bring out the vivid flavours.
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Key Rules for Pairing Wine with Mexican Food
Just like with any other cuisine, when pairing wine with Mexican food, you have to look for something that would bring out all the different flavours in the meal without overshadowing it. This can be a tricky task, particularly with the flavour intensity of Mexican cuisine. Here are a few general rules to follow when pairing wine with Mexican dishes:
1. Look for fresh wines with bright acidity
Wines with crisp, fresh flavours that are high in acidity are perfect to break through the layers of spice and complexity in Latin-American meals.
Good choices of white wines would be Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. A dry Riesling or a crisp, citrusy, Spanish Albariño can also be great pairs.
High acidity, however, isn’t found exclusively in white wines. There are plenty of reds with some crispness to them. Some great choices include Italian Chiantis, Spanish Riojas or the classic Pinot Noir.
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2. As an alternative go for wines with jammy mouth-feel and velvety taste
Mexican cuisine isn’t just intense and flavourful, it’s also hearty with tones of earthy flavours. Think of a hearty chilli with beans and meat.
A plush fruit-filled wine can be just what you need to compliment those flavours. A soft Zinfandel can be a great choice. Australian Shiraz with its deep berry flavours can also work quite nicely.
If this isn’t to your taste, a simple fruity Beaujolais might be a better option. Since it’s traditionally served chilled, this type of wine can also add a refreshing taste to your meal.
3. Avoid wines with high tannins
Wines that are high in tannins, such as Chardonnay, can be typically oaky and toasty in flavour, but their bold character can clash with the complex flavours of Mexican food. This makes the wine taste bitter and coarse and doesn’t add to the flavour of the food.
Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon aren’t much better options. Both have intense tannins that when mixed with the flavour of the chillies will leave a fiery sensation in your mouth and you’ll mic all the complexity of the food.
Wines to Pair with Popular Mexican Dishes
Mole Wine Pairs
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Reds with low tannins and sweet notes are the perfect pair for Mole, with its layers of tomato, sweet spices, ancho, and hints of chocolate. Shiraz, Zinfandel, or Malbec are some of the best wines to go with this meal.
Carnitas Tacos Wine Pairs
Translated from Mexican, carnitas means “little meat”. This dish prepared with braised, tender pork pairs well with soft red wines or whites with bright acidity. Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or Argentinian whites can work quite well. With their high-acidity and berry flavours, roses can also pair greatly. For reds, you can try matching the earthy tastes of the dish with an earthy wine such as Pinot Noir.
Fish Tacos Wine Pairs
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Fish tacos, much like any other fish dish, require white wines with high acidity to compliment the freshness of the meal. Any wine with zesty notes and a citrusy finish will be perfect to balance the saltiness of the fish. If you’re eating fried tacos, you simply cannot go wrong with sparkling wine. The bubbles in the sparkling wine can add some lightness to the fatty fried food.
Enchiladas Wine Pairs
A good pair for a chicken enchilada would be a light, dry white wine such as a Chenin Blanc or a young Chardonnay that hasn’t been aged in oak. With beef enchiladas, a medium-bodied red wine would be a suitable choice. A young Spanish Rioja, Cote du Rhone or Bonarda are some of the wines that fit this description.
What Wine Pairs with Mexican Food?
Pairing wine with Mexican food can be a delightful experience if you keep a few key principles in mind. You’ll want a wine that can stand up to the bold and complex flavors of Mexican dishes without overpowering them. Here are some general guidelines to follow:
Balance Spice with Sweetness: Mexican cuisine often features spicy elements. To counteract the heat, opt for wines with a touch of sweetness, like Riesling or Gewürztraminer. The hint of sweetness in these wines will help cool down the spice.
Look for Bright Acid: Mexican dishes frequently include ingredients like lime, tomato, and vinegar-based sauces. Wines with good acidity, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Albariño, can complement these flavors beautifully.
Consider Body and Tannins: The body of the wine should match the weight of the dish. For heartier Mexican fare like mole or carne asada, go for a medium to full-bodied red wine. Lighter dishes, like ceviche or fish tacos, pair well with a crisp white wine.
Now, let’s delve into specific recommendations for both red and white wines that go exceptionally well with Mexican food.
What Red Wine Pairs Well with Mexican Food?
Pinot Noir: A versatile choice, Pinot Noir’s bright acidity and red fruit flavors make it an excellent partner for Mexican cuisine. It works especially well with dishes featuring grilled meats or roasted vegetables. The soft tannins won’t overpower the spices.
Zinfandel: With its bold berry flavors and peppery notes, Zinfandel can complement the smoky and spicy elements of Mexican dishes, such as barbecue or carne asada. Look for one with moderate alcohol content to avoid overwhelming the palate.
Malbec: This red wine from Argentina is known for its smooth texture and dark fruit flavors. It pairs wonderfully with Mexican dishes that incorporate mole sauce or smoky chipotle flavors. The wine’s rich character complements the depth of these dishes.
Tempranillo: A Spanish favorite, Tempranillo’s earthy notes, and moderate tannins make it a great match for Mexican cuisine, especially dishes like enchiladas or tacos with grilled meats. It’s versatile enough to handle various spice levels.
What White Wine Pairs Well with Mexican Food?
Sauvignon Blanc: The zesty acidity and citrusy notes of Sauvignon Blanc make it an ideal partner for lighter Mexican dishes. It’s a refreshing choice for ceviche, shrimp tacos, or dishes with lime and cilantro. The crispness of the wine complements the freshness of these dishes.
Gruner Veltliner: Hailing from Austria, Gruner Veltliner offers a unique combination of white pepper and green apple flavors. Its crisp acidity and subtle spiciness make it an intriguing choice for pairing with Mexican dishes, particularly those with a touch of heat.
Albariño: A Spanish white wine, Albariño has a bright acidity and a hint of salinity that pairs beautifully with seafood-based Mexican dishes like ceviche, shrimp cocktail, or grilled fish tacos. Its coastal origins make it an excellent match for coastal Mexican cuisine.
Viognier: With its luscious stone fruit flavors and aromatic profile, Viognier can work well with spicier Mexican dishes, such as chicken mole or spicy pork. The wine’s slight sweetness and floral notes help balance the heat.
Other Mexican Drinks to Have with Mexican Food
While wine is a fantastic option, Mexican cuisine offers a wide range of beverages that can elevate your dining experience. Here are some traditional Mexican drinks to consider:
Margarita: A classic choice, the margarita’s combination of tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur is a perfect match for the tangy and spicy flavors of Mexican cuisine. Whether it’s on the rocks or blended, it’s a popular choice for a reason.
Michelada: If you’re a fan of beer, the michelada is a refreshing choice. It’s made with beer, lime juice, assorted sauces (like hot sauce or Worcestershire sauce), and spices, served in a salt-rimmed glass. It’s a fantastic companion to dishes like tacos and tostadas.
Horchata: A sweet and creamy rice-based drink infused with cinnamon, horchata is a soothing choice to counterbalance spicy dishes. It’s a delightful non-alcoholic option that’s popular throughout Mexico.
Tamarind Water: Tamarind water is a tangy and slightly sweet drink made from tamarind pods. Its unique flavor pairs wonderfully with the complexity of Mexican cuisine, especially dishes featuring tamarind-based sauces.
Conclusion Contrary to what most people believe, Mexican food can be paired with various different wines. You can apply the same rules of wine pairing that you would with most European cuisines. Pairing wine with Mexican food can be a delightful adventure that enhances your dining experience. Whether you prefer a red or white wine, there are plenty of options to complement the diverse flavors of Mexican cuisine. Remember to consider the spice level, acidity, and body of both the dish and the wine to create harmonious pairings. And if you’re feeling adventurous, don’t forget to explore traditional Mexican beverages like margaritas, micheladas, horchata, and tamarind water to add an authentic touch to your meal. Cheers to delicious Mexican flavors and well-paired drinks!