Mexican food often gets a bad (or good, depending on your take) rap for being ultra spicy. The fact of the matter is that authentic Mexican food — that is, Mexican food prepared and seasoned in the ways of Mexico — is extremely flavorful, bold and complex. Authentically prepared Mexican food is not uber-spicy.
That is not to say that Mexican food lovers do not love the heat of a good pepper. We love our chilies However, hot peppers are not the foundation of good Mexican food. Authentic Mexican food stands on its own, and because of its vivid flavors, it can be paired beautiful with wine. Say good-bye to the ol’ Mexican food and beer standard, and say, “Hello, Mexican food and wine!”
Why the change of heart? Why are wine connoisseurs now touting the pairing of Mexican food and wine? The article below from Sunset explains.
Beyond beer: Wine with Mexican food
Varietals from around the world can complement flavors from south of the border
Long articles ― even books ― have been written on pairing wine with French food, but exciting matches for Mexican food have been given short shrift: We drink beer.
This is pretty understandable. Beer tastes good with a lot of Mexican dishes. The fact is, however, what many of us think of as Mexican cuisine is really Tex-Mex food: simple combinations of refried beans and meat smothered in melted cheese, then doused with enough hot sauce to fool your mouth into believing you’re eating something more complex. Tex-Mex evolved in the southwestern United States by necessity ― the resourceful creation of immigrant ranch workers who had little access to the array of chilies, vegetables, meats, and fish they had enjoyed in Mexico. In all its humbleness, it demanded a no-frills drink ― beer, not wine.
But authentic Mexican food is every bit as complex and nuanced as the great cuisines of Europe. Moreover, it’s not so much patently hot as it is vividly seasoned.
All of this became clear to me last November at the 1999 Worlds of Flavor Conference devoted to the regional cuisines of Mexico, organized by the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley. In a tasting session on pairing wine with Mexican dishes, we found some startlingly delicious matches.
“Wine is the human race’s most refined beverage,” said conference chairman Rick Bayless, acclaimed cookbook author and chef-owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago. “So I’m committed to pairing it with real Mexican food, which is both sophisticated and elegant.”
Bayless’s insights, the conference, and my own subsequent experiments have left me with three guiding principles for great pairings.
1. The most successful wines are fresh, sleek, and crisp with acidity. Good white choices include Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio (also known as Pinot Gris), dry Riesling, and Albariño, a crisp, citrusy knockout from northwestern Spain that’s phenomenal with green tomatillo-chili sauces. Acidity, however, isn’t the exclusive domain of white wines. High-acid reds include Spanish Riojas (based on the Tempranillo grape), Italian Chiantis (based on Sangiovese), and Pinot Noir.
2. A second group includes wines with a plush, thick, jammy mouth-feel. Soft, juicy Zinfandels with massive fruit flavors can be sensational with earthy red chile adobo sauces, and supersupple Shirazes and Shiraz blends from Australia, with deep berry flavors, can cushion robust seasonings. If you’re not a lover of such powerhouses, try a simple, overtly fruity beaujolais (made from the red grape Gamay); since it’s often served chilled, it’s refreshing with highly seasoned dishes.
3. Avoid Chardonnay. Its typical oaky, toasty character fights with bold, complex Mexican flavors, and the wine ends up tasting coarse and bitter. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot don’t fare much better. Both have a lot of tannin, and when tannin hits the flavor of chilies, it sets your mouth on fire and you miss all the complexities of the food.
Tuck these guidelines away and experiment without fear. Accompany our recipes from Tijuana and Ensenada with a couple of wines. You’ll be glad you saved the beer for another time.
Wine is complex with intricate layers of aroma, flavor diversity, and spirit. And Mexican food is complex, vividly seasoned, earthy, and bold. It is no wonder that pairing wine with Mexican food creates a beautiful marriage of flavor!
The limes, chiles, tomatoes and Mexican spices that are the foundations of Mexican food just beg to be paired with Sauvignon Blancs, Rieslings, Zinfandels and Pinot Noirs. For a guide to specific Mexican food flavors and wine pairings, check out this chart put together by Rick Bayless, Executive Chef in Chicago, and Jill Gubesch, Sommelier.
In fact, if you want to get serious about wine and Mexican food tastings, print out the chart and keep it in your wallet for the next time you visit us at Mexicali Fresh Mex Grills in Massachusetts! Our Mexican food is 100% authentic and the rich flavors of every dish will be begging you for the right wine pairings. We currently have 2 locations — Spencer, MA, and Holden, MA (previously Playa del Carmen) — with a 3rd Mexicali opening soon in Ware, MA. Come join us for some fresh authentic Mexican food and wine pairings. We’re here for you 7 days a week!
Do you regularly drink wine with your Mexican food? If so, what are some of your favorite pairings? If not, do you plan to begin experimenting?