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August 8, 2010

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Wine to pair with Mexican food

There are those who would claim that the best beverage to enjoy with Mexican food is beer, but I beg to differ. Many people outside of Mexico confuse real Mexican cooking with the more modern and Americanized version referred to as Tex-Mex. Mexican cuisine is actually as diversified and complex as European cuisines and likewise meets its perfect partner in fine wines. Though Mexico has been making wines for centuries and has good producers, these wines are not readily available in Shanghai. Instead, I'll suggest some wines from the old and new worlds that pair beautifully with Mexican dishes.

Successful food and wine pairing is fundamentally an act of clarity of purpose. First, decide if you want to pair similarities or contrasts. In other words, should the wine have similar qualities to the food or contrasting qualities? In the 1300s, the tomato was already an important food in the Aztec culture, a position it retains today. From salsa to gazpacho, tomato adds flavor and texture to dishes along with acidity. In cold dishes and seafood dishes with lots of tomatoes, I suggest a lively, acidic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from top producers like Forrest Estate or Kim Crawford. Mexican meat dishes with tomato sauces are excellent with medium-body, Italian red wines like the Lungarotto Sangiovese IGT from Umbria or the Benti di Batasiolo Barbara d'Asti from Piedmont.

For over 1,000 years, chilies have been essential ingredients in many Mayan, Aztec and modern-day Mexican dishes. They add a zesty spiciness to dishes that may overwhelm some delicate wines. Structured red wines like Cabernet Sauvignons or Merlots are not good choices as their tannins accentuate the spiciness of a dish and overwhelm the palate. Instead, to contrast the spiciness of chili dishes, pick a robust white or red wine with ample fruitiness to sooth the palate while adding fruity notes to the dish.

Mexican meat and cheese dishes with chilies are lovely with robust Californian zinfandels or Ausi shirazes as the abundant, almost sweet red and dark fruit flavors in the wines act as a palate soothers and are not easily overwhelmed by spiciness. Great picks in this category include the Kendall Jackson Vinters Reserve Zinfandel and the Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz.


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