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When you think of pairing your favorite Mexican dish with a beverage, most think of beer rather than wine.

It’s not that wine and Mexican food are at odds, it’s just that fashionable varietals such as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay often come to mind first and are not good partners. Big full-bodied cabernets and other tannic reds usually clash because the large amount of tannins can exaggerate the food’s spiciness instead of soothing the palate. Oaked chardonnays can also clash because the oaky flavors often taste bitter and harsh when paired with Mexican fare.

But there are plenty of matches that work well with the spicy, bold flavors of Mexican dishes.

When selecting a wine to serve with Mexican food, start with the sauce. Whether hot and spicy or cool and refreshing, the sauce defines most of the classics of Mexican cuisine. This approach of pairing wine with the sauce and not the meat, poultry or fish in the dish offers a range of versatile pairings.

Cool and refreshing such as green tomatillo-chile sauce: Albarino or sauvignon blanc

Hot and spicy such as red chile adobo sauce: zinfandel or shiraz


  • 2008 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $13 retail)


  • 2008 Bonny Doon Ca’del Solo Albarino, California (about $25 retail)

The taco can be filled with practically any meat, fish, vegetable or other filling, which allows for much versatility and wine pairing. Unless the taco’s dominant flavor comes from a sauce, consider the filling.

Seafood: pinot grigio, Riesling or sauvignon blanc

Beef: pinot noir, sangiovese or malbec

Chicken: pinot noir, merlot or sangiovese

Pork: sangiovese or tempranillo


  • 2007 Angeline Pinot Noir, California (about $15 retail)


  • 2008 Tohu Marlborough Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $28 retail)

Rich cheese-filled enchiladas, burritos or Mexican dishes topped with heavy sauces: chianti, zinfandel, Riesling or malbec


  • 2007 Banfi Chianti Classico, Italy (about $15 retail)


  • 2007 Kunde Estate Reserve Zinfandel, California (about $32 retail)