How to pair wines with Mexican food

Reach for these if you can't have a beer

Photo by Dan Clapson.
Photo by Dan Clapson.

Mexican food and beer go together like peas and carrots (or tremendous flatulence and Taco Bell©). So what if, for whatever evil reason, you need to find something else to wash down your enchiladas? Does wine go with Mexican cuisine?

Summing up Mexican cuisine is like summing up Canadian cuisine–it’s a pretty broad brush for a range of dishes, flavours, and ingredients, which also varies by region. For most Canadians though, Mexican cuisine is about the classics. A few words of warning: heat–sexy, spicy heat–can vary wildly in Mexican-style cuisine and the hotter you like your food, the more you would want to lean towards aromatic or off-dry whites, or lower tannin reds. Much of Mexican cuisine can be quite earthy, while a lot of dishes use cilantro or lime to brighten up the flavours. Like a lot of cilantro? Reach for the chenin blanc or sauvignon blanc.

Mexico does in fact make some wines, though they haven’t quite broken into the mainstream yet and, to be honest, aren’t really there yet, as they chase international styles rather than trying to create wine that works for the locals.

Taco Tuesday!

Beef or pork tacos can handle a little tannin, so inexpensive (less than $20) malbec, grenache from Spain or France, or pinot noir from the new world all work. If you favour the exotic, such as beef tongue, you can look to some fun Rhone blends (syrah grenache) from France, which shouldn’t overwhelm the flavours.

Poultry filled tacos should probably be matched with the fuller flavoured whites like unoaked to lightly oaked chardonnay, those grüners, or even a slightly off-dry white, such as riesling or ehrenfelser. These would also work with fish tacos.

And no, I am not going to talk about the breakfast burrito.


Guacamole is an odd beast. I don’t enjoy it that much, but I know people that use it so much it could be the entree rather than the dip or complement. Generally, the creamy textures and flavour can work with something like a big, grassy New Zealand sauvignon blanc, but can also work well with a sparkling wine such as cava. Feeling a little funky? Try a grüner veltliner. Austria and Mexico, together at last.

Mole sauce

This comes in such a wide range of flavours and styles that we might as well give up. In general though, fruitier examples can work with wines like zinfandel (or even darker beers such as porters), while yellow or green mole sauces are going to be best with those off-dry whites like riesling, or even those grüners or sauvignon blancs.

Enchiladas with refried beans

It’s a good idea to follow the same sort of guidelines as for tacos and mole sauces. Like those refried beans with your enchiladas? They work pretty well with a “greener” style of red wine. Look for things like carmenère from Chile, or cabernet franc.