Best Wines for Mexican Food

Get our top picks to pair with your favorite Mexican dishes, elegant ceviche to savory tacos

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Salmon Ceviche

Serve this fresh ceviche on a tostadita shell for a fun yet elegant appetizer.

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.

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Eggplant Salsa

Straight from the early-fall garden, eggplant with its skin on turns into a colorful, multitextured tostadita topping.

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.

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Easy Lamb Birria

The deep flavor in this long-braised lamb dish belies the minimal labor it takes to make it. You don’t even need to brown the lamb.

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.

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Mexican Mussels with Sausage, Mushrooms, and Chiles

The combination of fresh and dried chiles creates layers of spicy, herbal flavor.

Recipe: Mexican Mussels with Sausage, Mushrooms, and Chiles

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.

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Shrimp and Bacon Quesadillas

What's better than a shrimp quesadilla? One that has bacon, of course.

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).

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Whiskey and Triple Pork Black Bean Chili

Why make the same old thing when you can cook up a chili rich and smoky with bacon and Spanish chorizo, mellowed by whiskey, and fired up with chipotles?

Recipe: Whiskey and Triple Pork Black Bean Chili

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).

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Halibut Tostadas with Yogurt-Lime Sauce

That citrus zing keeps up with the marinade and spices in these tostadas too (consider it a lemon wedge on the side).

Recipe: Halibut Tostadas with Yogurt-Lime Sauce

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.

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Carne Asada con Mojo

Carne asada is a simple dish, but a well-balanced marinade and the right cut can make it memorable. Here we use easy-to-find skirt steak and a marinade combining orange and lime juices.

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).

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Tequila-Marinated Chicken Fajitas

Tequila, orange juice, lime juice, and chipotle peppers add kick to this Mexican outdoor dinner party favorite. Recipe: Tequila-Marinated Chicken Fajitas 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.
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Garlicky Shrimp-Cilantro Tacos (Tacos de Camarones al Mojo de Ajo)

Buttery shrimp and melt-in-your-mouth onions are all these simple tacos need. Cook the veggies ahead of time, and you’ll need less than 10 minutes to cook the shrimp, tortillas, and put the tacos together.

Recipe: Garlicky Shrimp-Cilantro Tacos (Tacos de Camarones al Mojo de Ajo)

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).

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Black Bean Chili

The addition of chipotle purée imparts a rich, 'tastes like it's been simmering for hours' flavor in this dish, which actually comes together in just about 30 minutes.

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).

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Cola Shredded Beef Tacos

This recipe is adapted from one in Amor y Tacos (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, May 2010; $19) by San Diego–based chef Deborah Schneider.

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).

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Salsa Verde Braised Pork

Braising the pork―simmering it for a long time in liquid under cover, with browning for flavor―makes it fork-tender. Serve with slaw. Add a little rice to fill out the meal, or pile the pork and slaw on tortillas for a scrumptious south-of-the-border dinner.

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).

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Burrito de La Calle

Enjoy our quicker adaptation of the amazing beef and bean burrito recipe from La Calle Asadero in Oakland.

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).

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Lamb Shanks Adobo

Jeff Smedstad, chef-owner of Elote Cafe ($$; closed Sun; elotecafe.com) in Sedona, Arizona, learned the secrets to great adobos (a type of chile-rich sauce) in the markets of central Mexico. This lamb dish is adapted from one in his book, Elote Cafe Cookbook (Elote Cafe Publishing; $30).

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).

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Stacked Chicken Enchiladas

This tortilla tower is a show-stopper: dramatic, delicious, and oozing with melty cheese. Though the sauce tastes complex, it's made with canned chile sauce embellished with sweet spices, raisins, pine nuts, and smoky chipotle chiles.

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).

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Grilled Skirt Steak (Arracheras)

Mexican arracheras, like Tex-Mex fajitas, are marinated skirt steaks cooked quickly over high heat to produce a nicely browned crust and pink interior. Serve with all your favorite fajita fixins.

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).

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Green Chile Pork Stew (Chile Verde)

This spicy, long-simmered pork dish is a fixture in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado cooking, and each state has its own version. New Mexicans use their famous green chiles, naturally. Ours is a bit of a combination.

Recipe: Green Chile Pork Stew (Chile Verde)

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).

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Salmon Burritos with Chile-Roasted Vegetables

We replaced the usual rice with pan-roasted sweet potatoes, onions, and poblano chiles, giving this burrito a healthy twist.

Recipe: Salmon Burritos with Chile-Roasted Vegetables

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).

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Baja Fried-Fish Tacos

Look no further for the ultimate fish taco: This is the one you’ve been looking for. These fast and fresh SoCal classics are served with a crisp cabbage-cilantro slaw and an an addictive chipotle tartar sauce.

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.

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Chile and Spice Grilled Turkey and Mole Gravy

A chile-rubbed bird cooked on the grill and served with mole gravy makes for a richly seasoned dinner.

Recipe: Chile and Spice Grilled Turkey and Mole Gravy

Pair with: Zinfandel. Besides being comfortable with a whole range of tangy, spicy Thanksgiving food, fruity Zinfandel also tames flavors of a Southwestern or Mexican Thansgiving menu. Recommended bottle: Scott Harvey 2010 Zinfandel (Amador County).

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Sauvignon Blanc–Poached Pears with Spicy Pepitas

The natural acidity of dry Sauvignon Blanc adds a tang that brightens up the sweet syrup on these pears.

Recipe: Sauvignon Blanc–Poached Pears with Spicy Pepitas

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.