Cinco de February (Or, Why Wine & Tacos Work)

After a 60-degree January, winter has finally arrived in NYC and I’m 100% over it and thinking of summer already.

Since Cinco de Mayo and all the body shots that go with it  is the official start of the celebratory summer season, and nothing is going on in February, I decided to spice up the snowy city a little Margarita-Free Mexican Madness and a lot of wine this week.

Sadly (in my opinion) tequila and beer tend to dominate fiestas and Mexican-inspired meals, despite a rich wine history in Mexico dating back to Cortes.  Mexican wine, especially from the Baja Peninsula, was so good back in the day the king of Spain actually outlawed winemaking except for religious purposes in order to spare the domestic market.

And who said Corona was better with tacos? Not our taste panel. To discover the best fiesta wines, we sampled a smattering of American, Spanish, and French wines aimed to pair well with cumin-, tomatillo-, and cilantro-infused traditional dishes. And to represent Cancun we naturally threw in some curve balls à la Taco Bell and whatever we could find in the Trader Joe’s dip section.

Read on and dare to pair your enchiladas, burritos, and Doritos Locos Tacos with wine amigos.


The Classic: Tilapia Tacos with Avocado Mango Salsa

The Surprise: Doritos Locos Tacos


The Wine Winners: Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc. This unexpected gift from Bobby was surprisingly delightful with these light fish tacos. A dairy/gluten/guilt free change from the fare served up at most fiestas, this Napa Sauvignon Blanc had surprisingly mild fruit aromas and a gentle feel on the palate that was like a subtle caress.

Memorable Tasting Panel Quote: “Did you get the party pack?!?!?! I’ve been dying for the party pack!”


The Classic: Pork & Black Bean Enchiladas with Tomatillo Salsa 

The Surprise: Taco Bell Classic Crunchy Beef Taco


Wine Winners: Fuga 2010 Mencia from the Ribera Sacra region of Spain was undoubtedly the best pairing of the night. I’d go so far as to call it heaven in my mouth.  The smooth black beans and peppery pork were in perfect balance with a wine that had strong aromas of dark fruit, chocolate and serious testosterone. It packed a double-punch with a sensitive,  fruity I’m-Hot-Like-Ryan-Gosling finish. Tomatillo salsa added freshness too, and creamy cheese rounded out the picture. (DELICIOSO.)

Ravenswood 2011 Vintner’s Blend Zinfandel–a veritable steal at $9.99 and always available at Trader Joe’s–was our second choice.  Earthier and more round than the Mencia red, it provided a great contrast for the pork, and is definitely something I’d pick up again.

Memorable Tasting Panel Quote: “I would normally love a Taco Bell pairing more than this. Though normally, this would probably be at 5 am.”

The Classic: Guacamole

The Surprise: 5-Layer Dip, & Leftover Tacos (chicken, tomatillo salsa, and whatever else you can find)


Wine Winners: Martin Codax 2011 Albariño was stellar here. Bright citrus flavors and a clean mineral finish cut through the heavy dips deliciously.  (Read: The bottle, chips, and all assorted dips disappeared quite early.)

Memorable Tasting Panel Quote: “You tomatillo-ed all over that chicken. It was awesome.”

Margarita-Free Mexican Uncorked:

Laura Loves:The Doritos Taco! Everything about fast food one can love and abhorr in the same instant. Mmmmmmmm….

These articles on Mexican wine pairing.

Mexican MagicWhy do so many people automatically assume that Mexican food is better suited to beer than wine? Well, you’re probably thinking, Mexican food is spicy, and beer is refreshing — case closed. There’s just one problem with that assumption: It’s not exactly true. Mexican dishes aren’t so much hot as they are bold and complex.


Mexican WineDiscover Mexican wines the wine-lover’s way. Explore its unique characteristics through reviews, discussions, and one of the largest inventories of wine from Mexico.


Fun Facts: Winemaking was illegal in Mexico from 1699-1821.

Today, Mexican authorities charge a crippling 40% tax on imported wines.

Why Wine Works: High acid levels in white wines like Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc, and Crianza reds keep seafood feeling light, and they double as great spice reducers to beat the burn with some furious chiles in classic Mexican dishes.

Rich, fruity reds like Zinfandel can do the same thing!

Why It Seems Like Wine Doesn’t Work: Taco Bell+Chipotle+Q’Doba+South of the Border≠Traditional Mexican flavors (And Corona is cheaper).

Final Memorable Moment: “Drinking this Port is like throwing gasoline on a salsa fire.” (Tawny Port+Spice=Sadness+Pain)



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  • February 5, 2013
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