Pairings for Tex-Mex: Wine not?
March 5th, 2012
08:00 AM ET
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Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.

Friday was Texas Independence Day, which, if you grew up in Texas like me, will bring back memories of endless hours in 7th grade, drilling into your brain the crucial minutiae of Texas history: What years was it an independent nation (1836-1845), where was Dr Pepper invented (Waco), and what is Texas’s official flying mammal (the Mexican free-tailed bat, of course - what else?).

But what Texas Independence Day reminds me of most, and what I long for as an expat Texan is great Tex-Mex food. Beer and margaritas are ideal partners, of course, but it would be a shame to leave Lone Star (or other) wine lovers out in the cold, with nothing to drink along with their fajitas. So, a quick guide:

This category is the realm of pure cheese: chile con queso, queso fundido or flameado, quesadillas, your basic cheese-slathered baseball nachos, and so on. Go for white, but something with both substantial body as well as firm acidity. An unoaked California Chardonnay would be a fine choice. Morgan’s citrusy Metallico bottling helped start this trend, and the 2010 is up to form ($20).

Dishes in this realm fall into the “it’s the sauce not the protein” realm - whether you’ve got beef or chicken in that enchilada, you’re still looking at a dish covered with salsa - ranchera (red) or verde (green) - and an ocean of melted cheese. For chicken enchiladas with a verde sauce, go with a crisp white, like Albariño from Spain; beef enchiladas with red sauce, a juicy red Zinfandel. The 2010 Burgans Albariño ($13) is a good choice; for zin, look for the dark, spicy Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel ($15).

Classic Crispy Tacos or Chalupas
There’s beef (or chicken, or pork) here, but there’s also lettuce, mild cheese, that crunchy fried shell, maybe pico de gallo; a whole range of flavors that meld into something not quite as robust as straight meat, but mighty tasty. Choose a medium-bodied red, like Pinot Noir. Finding inexpensive Pinot that actually tastes like Pinot Noir can be a daunting task, but the strawberry-scented 2009 Redtree ($10) is pretty darn good for the price.

Fajitas or tacos al carbon
Protein and more protein, plus some smoke. Generally speaking, for meat dishes with few trimmings, a red with reasonably substantial tannins is a fine idea. Malbec from Argentina would serve, and also offers some of the best quality-for-price possibilities in wine. Three good choices are the substantial 2011 Bodini ($12), the cherry-inflected 2010 Crios from winemaker Susana Balbo, and the rich, intensely flavorful 2010 Layer Cake ($15).

Anything crazily hot
Seriously, if you’re into salsas that will make your taste buds cover in fear, or like to snack on raw habanero peppers, drink a beer. Your life will be better. And if you’re in Texas, something from St. Arnold’s Brewery in Houston, like its crisply hoppy Elissa IPA, would be a fine choice (not that a bottle of that Texas classic, Shiner Bock, would hurt you either).

I would be remiss if I didn’t add two important references to this rundown. Those who want to cook should check out Robb Walsh’s excellent The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos; those who want to drink (wine, that is) ought to take a gander at Russell Kane’s authoritative and engagingly readable The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine.

More from Food & Wine:

50 Best Bars in America

World’s Best Cities for Street Food

Best Fried Chicken in the U.S.

Delicious Tex-Mex Recipes

Easter Recipes

© 2011 American Express Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

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Filed under: Content Partner • Food and Wine • Sip • Wine

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soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. BigAl

    WHAT? wine with mez, are you insane? its BEER!

    March 6, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  2. Guy Carver

    The author isn't very imaginative. No mention of Gewurtztraminer or Torantes, or even a tart reisling. These are my gotos for spicy food.

    March 6, 2012 at 4:38 am |
  3. fretlessbass

    Just stop.

    March 5, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Billy Bass

      I can't unless you pull my Battery.

      March 5, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  4. RichardHead

    I always have about 6 shots of a smooth top shelf Tequila, or and Ice cold Lone Star or Shiner Beer to go with my Brisket enchiladas. Nothing Better in the Food Universe.

    March 5, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  5. Terry

    The best thing to drink with texmex is beer.

    March 5, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • jzaks

      Thank you. Ice cold beer and Tex-Mex equals heaven.

      March 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
      • BigAl


        March 6, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • ForReal

      Please read the article before you troll.

      The author clearly states "Beer and margaritas are ideal partners, of course, but it would be a shame to leave Lone Star (or other) wine lovers out in the cold, with nothing to drink along with their fajitas."

      Which means that yes, beer and margaritas are great. This doesn't mean that everyone should drink wine with Tex-Mex, but that there are options out there for the wine drinker.

      March 5, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  6. Nex5

    If you gotta have Wine with your Tex-Mex, make some Sangria. Some foods just aren't made for Wine. Tex-Mex is definitely one of them.

    March 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  7. Nancy

    Couldn't he have come up with some of the great Texas wines to go with TexMex? Driftwood, Fredericksburg, Messina Hof, Becker, Spicewood Vineyards...just to name a few wineries with excellent wines.

    March 5, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • monah


      March 5, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  8. Meyer C. Dhoates

    Boones Farm Mango Grove, chiiled, goes well with soft and hard tacos made with beef or chicken. Easy on the palette with a tropical flavor and has quite a kick after a couple of bottles. Boones Farm Strawberry Margarita compliments most enchilada dishes, especially those dripping with cheese and sour cream. Its bright, tangy flavor is reminesant of that cheerleader you almost had back in high school. An all around best buy is MD 20/20. Goes down hard and comes back up easy. Certain to please even the most discriminating dishes.

    March 5, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • Bottom of the line stuff

      Yeah boy! There's nothing quite like a quality wine such as Boones' Farm, Mad Dog, Ripple, or Mogen David to make your TexMex meal a forgettable experience. And such a headache you'll have the morning after the night before... It almost makes me giddy thinking about your misery.

      March 5, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  9. Sam

    Wine with Tex Mex is stupid.

    March 5, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • pvfrompv

      The best wine with Tex Mex is.......NOT! Dos Equis por favor....

      March 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • A voice of reason

      Thank you. Beer and/or margaritas. End of story. Any wine drinkers will immediately be sentenced to a lifetime of veganism.

      March 5, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
      • CriticalThinkingRequired

        LOL... As a vegetarian, I MUST AGREE! I was just thinking, 'but we veggies don't have the heaviest part of the meal – if vegan, not even the cheese – SOME wines might work. Can't imagine Tex-Mex otherwise.' Good call!! :) ....

        March 5, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
        • CriticalThinkingRequired

          Additional thought: I STILL do a good beer, though. It's Tex-Mex, so it's just better that way...

          March 5, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  10. monah

    Margaritas! Mexican Martini. Wine? No way Jose!

    March 5, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  11. Ghost of Vapor

    Is it proper to sniff the cork when drinking wine with Mexican food?

    March 5, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      Forgot about that guy, lolz!!!11!

      March 5, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  12. N. Feagan

    Drinking wine with Mexican food is ridiculous, but to each his/her own. As for me, mas tequila!

    March 5, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  13. What The

    People want to drink wine with mexican food and want to know WHICH wine goes best with mexican food? This is so weird to me that I don't even know what kind of comment to with mexican food!

    March 5, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  14. Bob in LG

    Only an alcoholic would drink wine with Mexican food.

    March 5, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Chris, Austin

      As an alcoholic, I find that remark very offensive. Wine with Mexican food? Dos Equis!

      March 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  15. RichardHead

    Good Morning Ray...As an Expert Texan myself,just wanted to make a small correction to your article.There is no period in Dr Pepper. Don't want to get the people in Dublin,TX mad this early in the week, since Snapple shut down the Dr Pepper plant in this fantastic small town. Good article and Thanks.

    March 5, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • RichardHead

      Just wanted to clarify that the Dublin Plant is still open.....just not producing Dr Pepper with REAL pure cane sugar.They still make NuGrape,Triple XXX Root Beer and I think Big Red though that is a Dr Pepper product also.

      March 5, 2012 at 9:48 am |
      • RichardHead


        March 5, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • Patrick

      I'm from the northeast and I remember spending summers in Houston as a kid all through the 80's. They didn't have Dr Pepper in TX back then. The drink of choice was Mr Pib....Is that stuff still around?

      March 5, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
      • Sam

        I grew up in Texas with Dr Pepper LONG before the 80s.

        March 5, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
      • N. Feagan

        Unfortunately, yes. I'd rather have a Dr Pepper.

        March 5, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
      • jay

        Dr Pepper has been in Texas since the 1890's...

        March 5, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • ray isle

      I know! I suspect a vigilant proofreader somewhere along the line 'corrected' the absence of a period. Ah well.

      March 5, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
      • RichardHead@ray isle

        You may now have your Official Texan License back. :)) Thanks for the article.

        March 5, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Gramma

      Like my Great Gramma, there hasn't been a period there since 1950.

      March 5, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
      • texan

        Thanks for the laugh!

        March 6, 2012 at 1:11 am |
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