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Cinco de Mayo Wine Pairing Guide

For those of you who don’t feel like tequila or Mexican beer with your tacos this Sunday – have no fear! There are plenty of wines which go with Mexican cuisine and which could make you view your favorite dish in a whole new light...


Rule 1: Whatever Grows Together, Goes Together.

Whenever I do wine and food pairing I always go by the fundamental rule: Whatever grows together, goes together. This is why Mexican beer or a Margarita (or several) is always a satisfying combo. I myself have never tasted Mexican wine – but I would be very up for trying some if I ever saw it on a menu!

Rule 2: Pair Like for Like.

The next rule one can use for hedonistic guidance is: Pairing like for like.

Seafood Ceviche pairing   Albarino Ceviche Pairing

For light, fresh, herbaceous dishes like guacamole or seafood ceviche you want to match it with a wine which is equally as refreshing and which doesn’t blanket the delicate flavors. Your safest bets would be an Albarino, Vinho Verde ( that little spritz will add some pizzaz to the guac!) or a New Zealand / Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, both of which veer on the herbaceous, aromatic side.

Steak taco wine pairing  Chenin Blanc Blend Pairing

For dishes with more meaty, smoky or earthy flavors, you will need a wine which is fuller in body and fruit concentration to hold its own. Dishes like steak tacos or refried beans would be great with something like a South African Chenin Blanc which tends to have ripe apple flavors,  a fleshy, heavier body and which can definitely stand up to red meat or the warm spice in refried beans. Unoaked Chardonnay or Pinot Gris from the New world would also have the bolder fruit and supple texture which you need with characterful ingredients.

In regards to red you want to go for fruity, juicy and not too high in tannin so as not to cover the subtlety of smoky meat or cumin infused beans. Pinot Noir from New Zealand or Oregon with its fruit forward nature and lighter body is the safest bet. If you want a fuller bodied red option then Zinfandel and definitely Cotes du Rhone would be a fun way to go. Both have the juiciness and concentration of fruit that you want and yet the warm spice in Zinfandel, and the rustic and savory flavors of the Rhone, would complement the earthiness found in many Mexican dishes. My personal favorite would be Carmenere – a native grape from Chile. It essentially is Merlot on steroids with its plush feel, brilliant core of fruit combined with an enticing underbelly of cacao and coffee spice. If it is not picked too early it is positively umamish as well as moreish! I just invented two words but this grape encourages me...


Rule 3: Contrast with Elements on Your Plate.

Another rule is to contrast your wine with the other elements on your plate. For hot spice in dishes, you do not want a big, bold, tannic wine. Spice will only exacerbate the alcohol, tannin as well as any oak on a red.  Monster reds will also only fan up a monster spice on your palate.  Due to this tempestuous relationship, many people opt for Mexican beer which calms down the jalapeno in your tostada.

However, wine lovers do not be put off by this daunting challenge. There are at least two routes you can turn to for palate pleasure. One option would be to match the spice with a white wine that is super fruity and has a little bit of residual sugar. This will take away the heat and this spice warrior is able to face any bold flavors head on. Off dry Riesling or Gewurtztraminer are always a great shout with spicy or fusion food. If you want to make the beer drinkers jealous however, opt for a Cava. It has the structure of Champagne which makes it fantastic with food.  The bubbles and acidity will turn down the flames and the warm fruit as well as earthiness  ( not found in Champagne) will go perfectly with whatever dish comes your way -  fried, meaty, veggie, smoky or spicy.

Wine pairing is so much more than just the protein. The spices, condiments, sauces and the way a dish has been cooked makes far more of an impact on your tastebuds and the wine. That being said, ultimately wine is meant to be fun.  Whether your want to try something new this Sunday or you simply can’t face Tequila induced dreams before Monday – hopefully this will give you plenty of options.




Photo credits for Instagram images used in this article:

Main image: @theendlessmeal

Ceviche: @lemonblossomsblog

Albariño: @hjo68

Steak Tacos: @theoriginaldish

Heart of Silence: @chicagowineselect


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