Mexican food is famous all around the world, and tacos belong to the most iconic Central-American dishes. They come with many different ingredients and very versatile flavor profiles. As a wine lover, you might wonder: Can you pair tacos with wine? And yes, you definitely can match tacos and wine.
What Are Tacos?
A taco is a traditional dish from Mexico. It’s a small, folded pancake made from corn or wheat, called “tortilla”. Traditionally, the tortilla is soft and easy to fold, but you can also find hard, crispy variations nowadays. Both can be filled with various ingredients, including meat, seafood, vegetables, cheese, and different dressings to create very versatile culinary experiences.
Tacos and Wine Pairing Rules
Tacos are richly seasoned dishes that feature many different flavors, and it’s not unusual that they are very spicy. To find a wine that matches this flavor profile, follow these guidelines:
- Match the wine to the taco’s main topping. If it’s red meat, consider red wine. For white meat, fish, and veggie tacos, look out for white wine.
- You need a wine with a good level of acidity to cut through intensely seasoned meat and fish tacos.
- Tannin clashes with spicy meals. So if your tacos are very hot, stay away from high-tannin wines.
- Also, avoid oak-aged wine. They tend to be too heavy and will overpower the tacos.
With these rules in mind, let’s discuss the most popular taco preparations and the wines that match them best.
Tacos Al Pastor and Wine
Tacos al Pastor belong to the most popular of all tacos. Interestingly, they were created by Lebanese immigrants in the 1930s. They introduced a classic dish from their home country to the region: Shawarma, a roasted lamb preparation, served on a flour tortilla. Like Arab kebab, the meat came from a vertical, slowly rotating grill. Over time, local chefs replaced the lamb with spicy marinated pork meat and added onions, cilantro, and Mexican salsa to the recipe. Usually, you also find roasted pineapple in these tacos.
Depending on the marinade, the meat can range from mildly spicy to extremely hot. With the intense aroma of the onions, cilantro, and sweet pineapple, this spiciness creates a unique flavor profile.
The best wine pairing for this flavor is a fruity red wine. It needs a medium to full body and a decent acidity level to stand the tacos’ rich aromas. For mildly spiced preparations, try a Zinfandel from California or another New World region. This juicy, fruity red is just perfect for a succulent taco and wine pairing. Remember to stay away from oaked wines.
Mexican Chef Grilling Meat for Tacos al Pastor
Steak Tacos and Wine
Another standard preparation goes by the name “taco de carne asada” (English: grilled meat taco). It is made with small slices of grilled steak, typically from a lean cut like a flank steak. Before grilling the meat, chefs rub the steaks with a sophisticated marinade, including olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, cilantro, chilis, garlic, and juice from limes and oranges. Carne asada tacos also contain diced onions, sprinkled cheese, and a dressing such as guacamole, sour cream, red chili salsa, or pico de gallo (a sauce from tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and cilantro). A splash of fresh lime juice rounds up the recipe.
The steak offers a variety of rich flavors, especially smoky notes. Nevertheless, carne asada tacos are not too bold. Your choice of toppings defines their heat, but they are mildly spicy at best in most cases. And when prepared with fresh lime juice, they offer a fantastic fresh note.
Malbec is an excellent wine to pair with steak tacos. It can easily stand the rich meat, and it is not too strong in acidity or tannins. Furthermore, its fruity aromas are a delicious add-on to the dish’s flavor profile. If you serve your taco with a light topping, you can choose a slightly lighter red wine. Think of a Spanish Garnacha wine.
More Steak and Wine Pairings: HOW TO PAIR WINE WITH STEAK – 6 GREAT MATCHES
If your steak taco is very hot, better go for a New World Pinot Noir. It has a lighter body and a lower tannin level, so it won’t clash with the spices.
Chicken Tacos and Wine
Of course, the Mexican cuisine has some chicken tacos to offer as well. In particular, chicken tinga tacos are worth trying, although it takes a little more time to prepare them than steak tacos. The main ingredient is shredded chicken. It is cooked in an instant pot or a crock-pot, together with onions, garlic, chipotles, tomatoes, and chicken stock. Some chefs also add a bit of honey; that isn’t a traditional ingredient, though.
Besides the chicken tinga, these tacos feature the usual ingredients: red onions, cilantro, crumbled cheese, and one or more dressings. Especially guacamole is a good fit.
The chicken meat deliciously combines the fruity tomato aromas with spicy onions, smoky notes, and subtle sweetness. With the onions and the cilantro, the chicken tinga makes a light yet flavor-bursting dish.
Chicken typically pairs well with white wine. But as chicken tinga is so richly seasoned, light red wine is better in this case. The fruity aromas of Pinot Noir add another layer to the culinary experience, and the wine has sufficient acidity to cut through the rich chicken meat. On the other hand, you can be sure that it won’t overpower the meal. Alternatively, choose a Gamay wine.
Fish Tacos and Wine
Especially in the coastal regions of Mexico like Baja California, people love “tacos de pescado” (English: fish tacos). Chefs use all types of light white fish to make fish tacos, for example, cod, haddock, or tilapia. They either grill or fry them and add shredded cabbage, red onions, fresh cilantro, crumbled cheese, and a light dressing.
When made fresh, fish tacos are very tasty and light enough to make an excellent snack for a day at the beach. The secret MVP of this dish, however, is the cabbage. It adds an incredible freshness that pairs superbly with the fish.
The best wine pairing for white fish is white wine. And fish tacos are no exception. Try pairing them with Vinho Verde. This light white from Portugal is high in acidity and offers a delicious combination of citrus flavors and mineral notes. Just like a splash of lemon juice, it’s just perfect with fish.
More Fish and Wine Pairings: HOW TO COMPOSE THE BEST FISH AND WINE PAIRINGS
Shrimp Tacos and Wine
The Mexicans have one more great dish to offer for seafood lovers: tacos de camarones (English: shrimp tacos). This traditional variation from the Pacific coast region features spicy grilled shrimps seasoned with chili powder, cayenne pepper, and onions. The shrimps come together with green cabbage and the mandatory taco ingredients: cilantro, crumbled cheese, guacamole, and a splash of lime juice. You can also add some sour cream.
Shrimp tacos are light, salty, and spicy, although the cabbage and the sour cream tune down the heat. The lime juice adds fresh fruitiness and a sour note, resulting in a flavorful, healthy meal.
Enjoy your shrimp tacos with a crisp white wine such as Pinot Gris. Make sure to pick a dry style from France, for instance:
Another good pick is Chardonnay, given that it’s unoaked:
You can also try a fruity Rosé wine, for instance, from the Côtes du Rhône region in France. These wines are light, fresh, and full of fruit flavors, just perfect for seafood dishes.
Veggie Tacos and Wine
Wine lovers that follow a vegetarian diet can enjoy tacos without meat and fish. Vegetarian tacos are becoming more and more popular, and you can find hundreds of great recipes. They contain the same ingredients as non-vegetarian tacos, just without the meat: Onions, cilantro, cabbage, cheese, and guacamole.
Of course, you can add whatever vegetables you like: Roasted cauliflower, eggplant, or summer squash are great options with smoky notes, and with portobello mushrooms or black beans, you can add earthy aromas. If you like a hint of sweetness, consider fruits such as mangos or jackfruits.
The perfect wine pairing depends on the extra ingredients you choose. In any case, stay away from bold, high-tannin wines as they will overpower your veggie tacos. A safe pick is a dry white wine with high acidity, such as Sauvignon Blanc. Check out the wines from the Loire Valley. Grüner Veltliner is an excellent wine pairing for vegetarian tacos, too. Its peppery aromas work very well with crunchy vegetables.
Without a doubt, tacos are one of the most iconic dishes of Mexican cuisine. With the many options and dressings that you can use to prepare them, they are extremely versatile and also challenging to match with wine. With the details from this article, this problem is solved, and you can easily create the best taco and wine pairings. Provecho!