When one thinks of Mexican food, such as quesadillas, burritos, or hard shell tacos, one immediately thinks of tequila or beer as the go-to drinks to compliment the dishes, but are there any good red wines to drink with Mexican food?
Tequila comes to mind for obvious reasons – this Mexican liquor has been popular for so long and is deeply rooted in Mexican culture that it’s a no-brainer to have alongside Mexican cuisine. Mexican beer, on the other hand, is just a cheap, refreshing drink that washes the food down really nicely, so no surprise there either.
But tequila and beer aren’t the only good drinks that go well with your favorite Mexican dishes. Wine, and in particular red wine, offers a sweeter and fruitier alternative to the flavors of beer and zing of tequila and can be great for either a homemade Mexican dinner or a meal at a fine Mexican restaurant in town (if they serve wine).
To many, it may sound like an odd pair, but red wine does surprisingly well with Mexican food, and you won’t know ‘till you try it out for yourself.
So if you’re looking to try something a little different for your next Mexican Mondays, we’ve got 5 different red wine varietals that go so well with Mexican food you’ll wonder why you haven’t tried them out before in the first place. But first, a few general tips to help you choose your own wines if you’d rather not follow our recommendations (which you probably should).
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What’s The Best Red Wine For Mexican Food?
It’s quite tricky to pinpoint the best red wines suited for Mexican food. You see, some people claim that fruity, low alcohol and sweet red wine with low tannins make consuming Mexican food a lot easier, while others argue full-bodied flavors match the strength of the cuisine. It all boils down to personal preference, and how you want your wine in general, really.
The element of Mexican food that makes wine tricky to pair with in the first place is the spiciness of it. Sure, you could find some mild Mexican dishes, but a large majority of Mexican food is spicy, or best served spicily – and that spice comes from capsicum, an element in chili peppers. Some wine experts have found that moderate tannins with low alcohol content help negate some of the effects of capsicum.
Other than the negating properties, many sommeliers and experts argue that lower alcohol wines are a lot easier to drink, which is important if you want to wash down that spiciness in your tongue. If the only drink available to cool your mouth after a spicy meal is, say, Cabernet Sauvignon, you’re going to have a bad time.
This holds true for the tannin levels as well. The dry, earthy, and overall bitter flavors of tannins are, at the very least, unwanted – it doesn’t help at all when you’re starting to sweat from the food. So hold back on your Malbecs and other tannin-rich red wines when eating some Mexican.
Finally, no matter what wine you decide to pair with your food, it’s always a good idea to chill it and serve it as cold as possible. It’ll soothe your tongue a lot faster, and who doesn’t love some chilled wine every now and then anyway? There are situations where strong wine may be better for you than the sweeter, low tannin varietals, however.
For those who are a bit more daring, full-bodied dry red wine with high alcohol levels are unexpectedly a good pair for the food. Instead of serving as a drink to cool your tongue down, the flavor of these full-bodied red wines complement the intensity of Mexican spices.
This combination may not be for the faint at heart (or tongue for that matter) so we recommend going for the first option – the sweet, low alcohol red wines with low tannins – instead unless you’re really up for a challenge.
In summary, look for wines that are easy on your tongue and are helpful with soothing away the spices – you don’t want the flavor of the food to be overpowered by your wine. That is, of course, unless you’d rather have a strong finish to your meal. With that out of the way, let’s look at some examples of red wine so you can get an idea of what’s best with Mexican food.
Best Red Wines With Mexican Food
Beaujolais / Gamay
Among the red wines with low tannins and alcohol levels, Beaujolais wine stands as one of the best candidates for spicy Mexican food. Beaujolais wine is light and has very fruity flavors reminiscent of cranberry and raspberry. The wine comes from Gamay Noir grapes, which are most popular in the Beaujolais region of France.
One sip of Beaujolais wine is enough for you to know why it’s so good with Mexican food – the low alcohol levels combined with the fruitiness of its flavor make it easier to drink than other varietals – and when you need something to help soothe the spiciness of Mexican food, you’ll need something that’s light enough to drink often and in larger sips.
And for those who aren’t familiar with this particular varietal, don’t be confused with Beaujolais and Gamay – Beaujolais wines are varietals that come from the Beaujolais region of France, whereas Gamay wine is wine made from Gamay grapes. Beaujolais just happens to use Gamay most commonly in their wines, which is why the two terms are often used interchangeably.
Zinfandel is a grape that’s known to be grown most commonly in the United States – however, it goes by the name of Primitivo in Italy and has a decent following there as well. While Zinfandel isn’t the most popular varietal out there, this grape makes for a great partner with your favorite Mexican food.
One can distinguish a Zinfandel by its light body and surprisingly high acidity. And though it’s not as tannin-high as other varietals, it has moderate amounts of the substance. It’s also extremely fruity, and you’ll be happy it is once you sip a glass of it after dining on some chili con carne.
If sweetness is what’s best for your palate, then Zinfandel should serve you quite nicely.
Shiraz / Syrah
What was once a name for the wines made in the ancient Persian city of Shiraz is now more commonly associated with the Syrah grape born from the Rhône region of France. A little heavier on the tannin side, this red wine varietal isn’t always as the other options on this list – but makes for a good pair with Mexican food nonetheless.
The wine is not only aged in oak, but also sports one of the darkest colors in the spectrum of red wine. Those who aren’t really a fan of the heaviness of this wine can opt for varietals blended with lighter flavors, such as the Côtes du Rhône blend.
“Wait, didn’t you just say that Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t that great for soothing your tongue?” is what you’re probably asking at this point. And yes, we did mention that full-bodied wines with higher tannin levels aren’t great for washing down the spice. But we also did mention that sometimes full-bodied wines can be great in certain situations. Let’s talk about that a little bit more.
If you really love your full-bodied wines, you’ll probably have them with your food regardless of cuisine. But what about those who aren’t as picky? While we did mention earlier that spicy foods pair well with low alcohol and tannins, you have a lot more freedom when your meal doesn’t have too much hot sauce in it.
So you can have your Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots with Mexican food – just tone down on the spice levels, because it ruins both the wine and the meal with the two competing for flavor.
Finally, we’ve got an option for those who just don’t like tannins in general. To a lot of people, tannins are a nuisance at best, and with spicy food they can cause even more of a problem with how it interacts with capsicum. So if you’re like many who aren’t big fans of the substance, Pinot Noir should be a no-brainer.
Pinot Noir is very light and sweet, with very low tannins due to the grapes that come from it. It also goes well with very many dishes, so whether you’re having a spicy burrito or some mild cheese quesadillas, Pinot Noir serves as a one-size-fits-all option to your meals.
While it is not very common to have wine with Mexican food (especially due to the many other alcoholic drinks that work well with it already), there are definitely varietals out there that make for a surprisingly good pairing.
In particular, red wines with low alcohol and sweet flavors fit the bill perfectly with how easy they are to sip on. But if you can handle the spice, then full-bodied wines can do the job just as well – just make sure you know you’re up for them.