Best wines for Mexican food
Get our top picks to pair with your favorite Mexican dishes, elegant ceviche to savory tacos
Recipe: Salmon Ceviche
Pair with: Ceja 2012 “Bella Flor” dry rosé of syrah. Beautifully crisp, this pink handles the tangy citrus of the ceviche, and its bright red fruit tames the chiles and sets off the wild salmon.
Recipe: Eggplant Salsa
Pair with: Ceja 2008 Pinot Noir. The earthy berry fruit in the wine makes the sweetness of the fresh eggplant pop; a hint of sassafras doubles the effect.
Recipe: Easy Lamb Birria
Pair with: Ceja 2009 Syrah. This pungent lamb needs a dark, meaty red wine. The Ceja Syrah has a matching earthy soul from its cool-weather vineyard site.
Pair with: Ceja 2009 Pinot Noir. The dried chiles in these mussels like the earthiness of the Pinot. The wine’s warm spices stand out, but with enough vibrant red fruit to handle the heat in the dish.
Recipe: Shrimp and Bacon Quesadillas
Pair with: Sémillon. It has delicate citrus and pear flavors that treat seafood right. But it also has a wonderfully big and rich texture that can take on fattier (and smokier) foods. What could be better than to put shrimp and bacon together to enjoy the full effect? Recommended bottle: Brokenwood 2010 Sémillon (Hunter Valley, Australia).
Pair with: Syrah. It's often a very textural wine, uncannily reminiscent of black beans. Our bottle pick also happens to be fruity enough to tame the robust heat in this chili and juicy enough to link to the three kinds of tender pork. Recommended bottle: Twisted Oak 2009 Syrah (Calaveras County).
Pair with: Chardonnay or Pinot gris. Both the corn in the tortilla and the fish call for a mouth-filling wine, but the tangy yogurt-lime sauce here needs the Chard to be lively and crisp. Alternatively, creamy-textured Pinot Gris loves meaty fish like halibut, but it also has a crisp acidity that is a great counterpoint to fried foods like tortillas.
Recipe: Carne Asada con Mojo
Pair with: Malbec. It's generally a concentrated, dark-fruited wine that works beautifully with some smoky char from the grill. And since the grape has taken on a South American connection as the signature red of Argentina, we’ve gone with the Latin vibe for this match. Recommended bottle: Tertulia 2008 Malbec (Columbia Valley).
Pair with: Chardonnay. Set out fajitas, and people might be thinking Corona or margaritas. Shock them instead with a good Chardonnay, with enough crisp citrus to handle orange- and lime-marinated chicken with lots of onions and sweet peppers.
Pair with: A crisp but rounded white blend with a touch of oak. In our bottle pick, Sauvignon Blanc’s racy citrus-and-herb edge, plus Sémillon’s rounder pear flavors, make this wine a good foil for sweet shrimp laced with zippy green chiles. Recommended bottle: St. Supéry “Virtú” White Meritage 2006 (Napa Valley).
Recipe: Black Bean Chili
Pair with: Merlot. Its soft tannin structure makes it work really well with legumes. And with our bottle pick's dark-fruited cherry-berry flavors accented with mocha and mint, it’s a wonderful partner for black beans. Recommended bottle: Trace Mount Oso Vineyard Merlot 2007 (Tracy Hills).
Recipe: Cola Shredded Beef Tacos
Pair with: A meaty red blend with sweet berry fruit. Jammy berries and black pepper from Zinfandel are happy with the Coke the beef is braised in. Syrah's gamy, herbal side takes it from there and covers the chiles and herbs in these rich-flavored tacos. Recommended bottle: X Winery “Red X” Winemaker’s Blend 2007 (North Coast).
Recipe: Salsa Verde Braised Pork
Pair with: A white blend that balances sweet aromatics with herbal crispness. It can take on a hearty dish, in this case a Mexican stew with aromatic spices and sprightly green chiles (the wine’s fruitiness tames their heat). Recommended bottle: X Winery “White X” Winemaker’s Blend 2008 (North Coast).
Recipe: Burrito de La Calle
Pair with: Zinfandel. The jammy fruit can tame a substantial amount of spicy chiles in Mexican dishes. Here, it handles both jalapeño and serrano chiles, with a rich texture that echoes the double protein of steak and beans. Recommended bottle: Haraszthy 2007 “Solus Sto” Zinfandel (Amador County).
Recipe: Lamb Shanks Adobo
Pair with: A Cabernet blend. An aromatic quality loops beautifully into the warm spices in the adobo. And with plenty of sweet fruit, the wine keeps up with the tangy heat in the sauce as well. Recommended bottle: Jana 2005 “Cathedral” (Napa Valley).
Recipe: Stacked Chicken Enchiladas
Pair with: Merlot. Deep blackberry fruit plays off the tangy sweetness and the heat of the sophisticated sauce for these enchiladas. With gentler tannins than its Cab cousin, a fruit-forward Merlot can handle a little more spice. Recommended bottle: Palumbo Family 2007 Catfish Vineyard Merlot (Temecula Valley).
Recipe: Grilled Skirt Steak (Arracheras)
Pair with: Syrah. A wine that often has peppery, spicy notes balanced with lush fruit, it's a good match for meaty Mexican dishes. Recommended bottle: Eberle Steinbeck Vineyard Syrah 2004 (Paso Robles).
Pair with: Zinfandel. Lacking the firm tannins common in other big red wines—which can fight with spice—big-fruited Zinfandel is a good match for mildly hot Southwestern food. This bottle pick in particular, with its cool-weather herbal edge, works well with the green chiles in the stew. Recommended bottle: Dutton Goldfield Zinfandel 2005 (Russian River Valley).
Pair with: Merlot. The very soft tannins make it a great date for hearty fish. The wine’s juicy dark berry flavors play off rich salmon, and its crushed- herb side even works with chiles. Recommended bottle: Trig Point 2007 Diamond Dust Vineyard Merlot (Alexander Valley).
Recipe: Baja Fried-Fish Tacos
Pair with: Dry Riesling. Crisper and drier, it’s an incredibly interesting food wine―cutting through fried foods like our favorite fish tacos and bringing enough citrus to the match to act like a spritz of lime.
Pair with: Zinfandel. Besides being comfortable with a whole range of tangy, spicy Thanksgiving food, fruity Zinfandel also tames Southwest flavors. Recommended bottle: Scott Harvey 2010 Zinfandel (Amador County).
Pair with: Ceja 2008 “Dulce Beso” Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. This sweet version of the wine the pears are poached in extends the flavor package. Like the pear dish, it has beautiful acidity to cut the sugar.