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Matching Wine to Mexican Food

Matching Wine to Mexican Food

A margarita with Mexican food? Absolutely! How about an ice-cold beer? No Doubt! But what about wine? Believe it or not, wine goes beautifully with Mexican food. Jill Gubesch, a certified sommelier at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago, offers these 10 tips for pairing wine with “classic” Mexican food.

  1. Pair wine with the sauce, not the meat, poultry or fish on the plate. The classics of Mexican food are always defined by their sauces.
  2. Start your wine-sauce pairing by focusing on the chile featured in the sauce
  3. Sauces that feature fresh green chiles typically pair best with white wines.
  4. Sauces that feature dried red chiles typically pair best with red wines.
  5. Sauces that feature tomatillos as background to the chiles typically pair best with fruity Syrahs or New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.
  6. Sauces that feature tomatoes as background to the chiles typically pair best with Italian varietals like Sangiovese or Barbera.
  7. Match a wine's acidity to the characteristic lime, sour orange and fruit vinegar found in any classic Mexican sauces. Good acidity in a wine is frequently appreciated.
  8. Match a wine's fruitiness to the characteristic fruitiness of many classic Mexican sauces: chiles are botanically fruits (clearest in the flavors of dried chiles), but many Mexican sauces weave other fruits in as well, such as plaintain, pineapple or mango. Matching these fruits with an off-dry wine works beautifully.
  9. Match a wine's fruitiness to the spiciness of the sauce. Spiciness doesn't detract from a wine's flavor,unless (1) the wine's fruitiness doesn't match the spice, or (2) your palate is overwhelmed by the spiciness because you're not used to it. Matching fruitiness to spice doesn't mean matching sweetness to spice. Pairing sweeter wine with spicy food can lack the finesse offered by using wine rich in fruit.
  10. Sparkling wines, when matched with spicy food, lack the depth of still wines. Sparkling wines often give more of a tactile match than flavor match, but will work in a pinch.

To help illustrate her points, Gubesch selected three dishes prepared by Frontera and Topolobampo's famed chef, Rick Bayless, to explain what wines she would match them with and why.

Nac Cum de Mero
This dish features seared achiote-marinated Gulf grouper braised with roasted tomatoes, green chiles and onions; accompanied by green chile rice and pickled red onions.

For this dish I would use an Italian red such as the 2001 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico. The Sangiovese grape works well with the earthiness of the achiote, and the bright red raspberry fruit in the wine is beautiful with the tomatoes.

Borrego en Mole Negro
The key ingredient in this dish is roasted Crawford Farm leg of lamb. It's served with a classic Oaxacan Black Mole (made from chilhuacle chiles and 28 other ingredients), black bean tamalon and braised local spinach.

One of my favorite matches with the Mole Negro is the 2002 Tikal “Patriota” (a blend of 60% Bonarda and 40% Malbec) from Mendoza, Argentina. The rich, blackberry fruit compliments the deep, dark chile flavors, while the velvety, chocolate finish holds up to the complexity of the Mole.

Camarones en Salsa de Elote Verde
This dish consists of grilled Gulf shrimp in a sauce of roasted tomatillos, fresh corn and epazote.

The roasted tomatillo sauce works really well with fruit-forward white or red wines. I like to use Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Try to find a current vintage such as the 2003 Artisan from Marlborough, New Zealand. This wine is filled with fresh passion fruit and hints of pink grapefruit, which works well with the fruitiness of the roasted tomatillo. The tangy finish pairs well with the natural acidity.