Whether you're serving ceviche at a dinner party or are sampling a variety of salsas at a casual get-together, it's important to choose the right wine to complement Mexican food. The full, spicy flavors in these dishes can easily overwhelm delicate wines or clash with others. However, certain varietals will please your palate and enhance your meal.
Wine Pairing Chart for Mexican Food
If you're serving one of these traditional Mexican dishes, you can't go wrong with these suggested wines:
|Mexican Food or Spice||Dominant Flavors||Suggested Wine|
|Ceviche||Raw seafood with citrus and peppers||Sauvignon Blanc|
|Carnitas||Pork with citrus, spices, and smoky flavors||Pinot Noir|
|Mole||Chicken, beef, or pork with rich chocolate and peppers||Malbec|
|Dishes with chipotle peppers||Spicy and smoky||Zinfandel|
|Dishes with jalapeño||Spicy and tart||Gewurztraminer|
|Dishes with fruits, such as mango||Sweet with tart undertones||Riesling|
Wine and Mexican Food Pairing Guidelines
Depending on the region in Mexico where the recipe originated, the ingredients used, and the preferences of the cook, Mexican food can vary from mild and sweet to intensely spicy. Often, these dishes are complex, combining unexpected flavors to create a delicious meal. When choosing a wine, it's important to keep these dominant flavors in mind. There are no hard and fast rules, but a few guidelines can help.
Match the Sauce First
You've probably heard the old rule about matching red meats with red wines and white meats and seafood with white wines. While this guideline often works really well, it does not always apply to Mexican food. Because many Mexican dishes feature strong flavors and intense sauces, the sauce or spice of the food has to take precedence over the meat.
If you're serving a dish with a red sauces, a smoky dark chipotle sauce, or a similar flavor, choose a red wine with a low alcohol content regardless of whether the main component of the dish is red meat or fish. A nice Zinfandel would be a good choice. Conversely, if you're serving a dish with a light citrus sauce or a corn- or cheese-based sauce, consider choosing a sweet and bright white wine, such as a Moscato.
Best Wines for Spicy Food
Due to the intense flavor of spicy foods, they can present a challenge when it comes to wine pairing. As a general rule, it's best to stick to wines with low alcohol content. Higher alcohol content will intensify the spiciness of the food, possibly causing distraction and discomfort. The best choice for spicy dishes is a sweet, light wine. Riesling is a great option, as is Gewurztraminer. The citrus undertones in Riesling and the subtle spice of a Gewurztraminer can stand up to the spicy dish but won't distract from its flavors.
Wine for Rich Mexican Food
Some Mexican dishes can be very rich with white sauces, cheese, creamy corn accents, and other full flavors. The secret to complementing this type of dish is to create a contrast between the food and the wine. For rich sauces and dishes, choose a dry, semi-dry, or slightly sweet white wine with a low alcohol content. An unoaked Chardonnay would be a good bet.
Wines for Tex-Mex or Non-Traditional Mexican Food
If you're serving Tex-Mex food or an Americanized version of a Mexican classic, you don't have to limit yourself to beer or Margaritas. Instead, you can choose a Zinfandel or a Sauvignon Blanc. The key is to cut rich, cheesy sauces with bright, lighter-bodied wines.
Try Something New
Wine guidelines and suggested pairings really are just suggestions. Ultimately, the right wine for your meal will be the one that pleases your taste buds. If you're uncertain about what to choose, try a couple of different options. There's a wine out there that will take your Mexican meal from tasty to unbelievable.