When it comes to pairing Mexican food with liquor, tequila and Mexican beer are usually the first ones to pop into the minds of a lot of people. But did you know that the vibrancy and spiciness of traditional dishes from Mexico, which, by the way, consists of seven distinct culinary regions, can be complemented by red wine, too?
Considering the core ingredient and dominant flavor in a particular Mexican food is key when deciding which red wine should be paired with it. Merlot, shiraz and other medium-bodied red wines, for instance, pair well with popular Mexican cuisine ingredients such as tomatoes, beans, thyme and chilies.
Got an unquestionable love for Mexican cuisine but your red wine-pairing skill is questionable? Read on.
Whether there are some hungry guests to usher into your dining area or you want to spend a quiet me-time in front of the TV, this post will give you a definitive guide to determining which red wine goes nicely with which Mexican food, thus allowing you to come up with a scrumptious and unforgettable pairing every single time.
Traditionally, birria is made from goat meat. However, in some instances, it is made from beef or lamb, too. No matter the meat used, birria remains a staple dish during traditional and special events, like weddings and Christmas.
Red wine perfectly pairs with birria regardless of which recipe you prefer the most.
Because of its dark fruit flavors such as blackcurrant and blackberries and low acidity, Cabernet Sauvignon makes for the perfect companion to a bowl of birria. Being a textbook full-bodied wine, it’s no wonder why this red wine is also often paired with an assortment of rich red meat dishes, Mexican or otherwise.
Medium-bodied red wines such as rose, Garnacha, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio can also be served with birria, all of which are suited for anyone who prefers fewer tannins.
Tequila, beer and even margarita are the top go-to alcoholic drinks for many people with a burrito in their hands. But if you want to class up the act of eating this extremely popular dish originating from northern Mexico but is widely accepted as a staple of Tex-Mex cuisine, reaching for red wine is also a possibility.
Rich and savory burritos go well with just about any red wine with crisp acidity, which is what all those beans and cheese require in order for them to be washed down.
And for this, the Italian red wine Barbera is hands down the best wine for burritos.
Barbera is made from the third most planted grape varietal in Italy, although it is also widely grown in California. It’s dry and can range from medium- to full-bodied, which is why it can make a burrito a more enjoyable treat.
Since it’s not too common, you may have a hard time coming across a bottle of Barbera. But fret not as it’s uncannily similar to Merlot, which is undeniably one of the most popular red wines all over the planet. Malbec, Pinot Noir and Gamay are others that you may also match with burritos.
One of the healthiest and most nutritious Mexican dishes around is calabacitas, what with all the wholesome ingredients it has such as squash, zucchini, corn and tomatoes.
It’s cheesy and highly satisfying, too, which is why Malbec is the ultimate red wine to have with this well-loved Mexican dish. Dry, full-bodied, jammy — practically everything about this alcoholic drink with a deep purple color can complement the richness packed in a bowl of calabacitas.
Despite being dry, a hint of sweetness makes Malbec ideal for those who are not too fond of the unmistakable dryness of either Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Malbec, by the way, is also known for its dark chocolate and vanilla notes.
Thanks to its moderate levels of tannins and acid, Malbec red wine goes well not only with the vegetarian calabacitas but also with a host of dishes with red meat or fatty fish, as well as foods with rich and vibrant sauces.
Originally, ceviche is from either Peru or Ecuador — no one’s 100% sure! But one thing is for certain: soon enough, the seafood dish, which is also sometimes called seviche, sebiche or cebiche, eventually spread into Central America and Mexico. These days, Mexican ceviche is one of the most popular forms of ceviche.
Since ceviche boasts of salty and citrusy flavors, some of the best red wines for it are those with light and fruity taste. Otherwise, you are running the risk of failing to fully bask in the seafood-y beauty of this work of art.
Pinot Noir is undeniably one of the top red wines for ceviche — its fresh and fruit-forward taste profile complements the characteristic tang of the Mexican dish and at the same time tones down its fishiness. Rose is another excellent red wine choice, what with its juicy red fruits flavor and lemon and floral tones.
Zinfandel, Merlot, Gamay and Grenache are also strong red wine contenders.
Chiles en Nogada
Because it commemorates Mexican Independence, chiles en nogada is garnished with the colors of the Mexican flag. So, in other words, the best way to enjoy it is in the most traditional and authentic fashion possible.
Some of the best red wines for the patriotic dish’s creaminess and richness include sparkling ones. And one total standout is blanc de noirs, which is made from either Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier red grape varietals. Lambrusco is another brilliant example, which can range anywhere from sweet to dry and from deep to light red.
Then there is also Brachetto d’Acqui, a bubbly Italian red wine produced in Piedmont, which is near Acqui.
If you are not that familiar with chiles en nogada and you want to pair it with something that your taste buds are more accustomed to, consider enjoying the Mexican dish with a glass of Shiraz — its medium body and medium acidity and tannin levels immaculately complement the flavors of chiles en nogada.
When it comes to figuring out the best wine with enchiladas, consider the sauce — the hotter and spicier it is, the more specific you should be when it comes to which red wine you should pair it with.
The vast majority of people, of course, love their enchiladas hot and spicy.
If you are a part of the statistics, then opt for a red wine with spice notes. One very good example is Shiraz, which is known for its spicy refinement. And since Mexican cuisine has a reputation of being primarily fiery, it’s no wonder why Shiraz is commonly served when culinary gems from Mexico fill the air with their piquant aromas.
Sparkling red wines are great for hot and spicy enchiladas, too, such as Lambrusco and some Pinot Noir blends. As a matter of fact, you can pair them with just about anything with a kick from Mexico or elsewhere on the planet.
It’s also a good idea to consider the filling when making an important gastronomic decision. It’s hard to go wrong if you pair beef-filled enchiladas with tannic red wines such as Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
About to enjoy enchiladas stuffed with chicken or turkey? Then go for Barbera, Zinfandel or Grenache.
Wine pairing with chicken fajitas need not involve a lot of guesswork — at any given time, all you have to do is grab a bottle of red wine that’s either medium-bodied or full-flavored and you are good to go!
Zinfandel is incontestably one of the best red wines for chicken fajitas. It has a medium body, bold flavor and a touch of spiciness. So, in short, it helps make every bite of this traditional Mexican dish that’s extremely popular worldwide a complete delight. As a matter of fact, Zinfandel is the go-to red wine for many Mexican cuisine aficionados.
For those who prefer red wines that are easier to drink, there’s Malbec and Merlot, too. While the former is more tangy and fruity and the latter is smoother and more full-bodied, both pair so perfectly well with chicken fajitas and many other Mexican delights with white meat and a fresh and vibrant flavor.
Cabernet Sauvignon, thanks to its dark fruit flavors with spice notes, is also great with chicken fajitas.
Also sometimes referred to as pancita, menudo is a popular soup in Mexico whose star ingredient is beef tripe — or meat from the stomach of a cow. The broth, which has a red chili pepper base, is seasoned with onions, oregano, lime and hominy. So, in other words, menudo is something that bursts with flavors.
To keep you from having a full menudo experience in your mouth, steer clear of full-bodied red wines. Light-bodied red wines are a no-no, too, because every sip of them is going to be bland and thus pointless. Needless to say, medium-bodied red wines are the perfect choice.
Each time menudo is served on the table, open a bottle of a rose or Tempranillo.
The brightness and crispness of both red wine types help balance the innate spiciness of menudo. And thanks to their low tannin levels, they help save the traditional dish from seeming spicier. Garnacha is also a popular choice among aficionados of both Mexican cuisine and red wines.
Simply put, machaca is either beef or pork that’s rubbed with simple spices, including especially chilies and those that are native to northern Mexico, and then allowed to dry outside under the sun. Afterward, it is shredded to a light and airy consistency, commonly consumed as a snack or a cooking ingredient.
No matter how you wish to enjoy machaca, red wine that’s dark and bold is the perfect partner for it.
One great recommendation is Shiraz. Made from a grape varietal originating from France but is now grown in many parts of the planet, Shiraz is known to have a fruit-forward flavor — one sip and you will right away pick up blueberries and blackberries, plus hints of licorice, tobacco and even black pepper.
With characteristics as such, it isn’t surprising why Shiraz is perfect with machaca, whether served fresh from the can or jar or incorporated into Mexican fillings or stews.
Barolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot — these are great with machaca, too!
Because of its popularity, quesadilla, which originates from central and southern Mexico, is served in almost 20% of all restaurants in the country. As a result, you can easily get your hands on it each time you crave it — or you can head to your kitchen instead of the nearest Chipotle and whip up one, which can be done in as quick as 10 minutes.
Whether takeout or made from scratch, quesadilla is best paired with red wine with enough acidity, which helps to bring balance to the saltiness of the melted cheese in it.
Tempranillo red wine, which is made from the most-grown grape varietal in Spain, is perfect with quesadilla.
Quesadilla isn’t quesadilla without onions. And since Tempranillo is dry, it won’t kill the taste of onions, thus allowing you to enjoy the most authentic quesadilla possible.
Fret not if a bottle of Tempranillo isn’t accessible — there are a few other red wines around that also pair nicely with quesadilla. Some of those that you might want to give a try next time are Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for they have pretty much the same taste profile as that of Tempranillo.
Checking out the ingredients, it’s plain to see that sopa Azteca is high in acid — besides being a tomato-based soup, it also has chilies, which, despite being primarily known as hot and spicy, is also very acidic.
It’s exactly because of the acidity of this simple and classic Mexican dish why it’s commonly paired with medium-bodied red wines. The goal is to match the acid levels of the soup in order to bring out its richness and savoriness as well as to keep red wine from tasting flat sip after sip.
There is no denying that Garnacha is the perfect cohort to a serving of sopa Azteca.
Made from a grape varietal that’s widely grown in the US, Australia, Spain and France, Garnacha has a signature taste profile that is primarily driven by juicy red fruits with cinnamon and floral notes. Pinot Noir and other red wines with fruity flavors and bright acidity will also pair kindly with sopa Azteca just in case no Garnacha is available.
What’s really nice about tacos is that you can fill them with an assortment of fillings. But this can be both good and bad news — there is a taco perfect for every taste and preference but it can be a bit of a challenge, especially for newbies in the world of food and wine pairing, to determine which red wine is great for which taco.
It goes without saying that the taco filling will determine which bottle of red wine you should grab.
For vegetarian tacos, rose that’s dry and has bright notes of fresh herbs is perfect. Pinot noir, which is another dry type of red wine, is an excellent choice, too.
Despite the fact that white wine goes well with fish, taco stuffed with grilled or fried fish can be paired with red wine, too. Merlot and Zinfandel pair pleasantly with the Mexican treasure. On the other hand, Gamay and Malbec red wines are superb for tacos stuffed with chicken — and so are Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Beef tacos or tacos with red meat filling, meanwhile, could benefit from a glass of Grenache, Malbec or Tempranillo right by its side, whether sweet or hot and spicy.
Like tacos, tamales can be filled with many different fillings, each one can be just as mouth-watering as the next. Naturally, each type of tamales calls for a specific type of red wine for the best possible Mexican experience.
Pork-filled tamales go admirably with just about any red wine with low tannins — something with a high tannin content will clash with the fat in pork, which can leave an unpleasant mouthfeel. Pinot noir is a popular red wine, and one reason for such is that it’s low in tannins. Needless to say, it’s perfect with tamales with shredded pork stuffing.
On the other hand, tannic red wines are great with beef tamales, spicy or otherwise. Some great examples include Barolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Malbec.
However, you might want to opt for an aged red wine with softened tannins for lean beef-stuffed tamales.
Practically any red wine that pairs flawlessly with an assortment of chicken dishes, Mexican or otherwise, also couples well with tamales with a chicken filling — Gamay, Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Just Before You Pair Mexican Food With Red Wine
There are approximately 50 key varietals of red wine, and many of them, especially medium-bodied ones, go very well with the many vibrant and complex dishes coming from the seven culinary regions of Mexico — the North, Yucatan Peninsula, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Puebla, Jalisco and Baja California.
It can be intimidating at first to pair traditional Mexican dishes, all of which have unmistakable flavor profiles, with red wine, especially if you are accustomed to reaching for tequila or Mexican beer reflexively each time.
But keep in mind the food and wine pairing tips above, and you’re in for the gastronomic treat of your life!