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.
I associate fajitas with being outdoors, possibly because the first time I had a fajita was at a rodeo in Texas sometime in the mid-’70s, I fully remember some guy in a cowboy hat behind a stand yelling “Fa-HEE-tas” with great regularity and wondering what the heck they were. Those particular fajitas turned out to be beef, of course; since that time, chicken has made substantial inroads into the realm of the fajita, and, Lord knows, there are probably tofu fajitas, too.
But when it comes to pairing wine and fajitas - a situation that might occur for some people only after every last margarita on earth had been drained - here’s a general thought. Fajitas, which are typically served with onions, grilled bell peppers, cheese, pico de gallo, possibly guacamole, maybe sour cream and who knows what other fixings, fall into the broad pairing category of “It isn’t the meat, it’s the sauce (or condiments).”
Essentially, you’re picking a wine to go with a mass of wildly different flavors. So you want one that goes with, more or less, anything.
There’s also a general pairing rule of thumb that suggests matching weight with weight - with a delicate piece of sole, pour a lighter wine; with something like a fajita, pour a wine with more heft. It’s a handy guideline, especially when you don’t want to think about nuances of flavor.
With fajitas, following these two guidelines, there are a number of reds out there that would work just fine - Monastrell from Spain, Malbec from Argentina, a Grenache-based red from the South of France - but from California, I’d go for Zinfandel, for instance one of the following:
2009 Alexander Valley Vineyards Temptation Zinfandel ($12)
Red fruit rather than black (think raspberries rather than blackberries) is at the core of this peppery Sonoma County wine.
2010 Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel ($12)
Big, dark and rich but balanced nevertheless, this red comes from 35 to 80-year-old vines (the name describes the look of ancient grapevines).
2010 Sobon Estate Amador County Old Vines Zinfandel ($13)
Juicy and full of ripe berry flavor, from a longtime Amador County producer.
2009 Ravenswood Lodi Old Vines Zinfandel ($13)
Lodi’s warm climate gives this substantial red a lot of plummy richness; a substantial percentage of Petite Sirah adds structure and spice to the blend.
2010 Quivira Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($22)
A bit more expensive but worth the higher price: Quivira’s wines, like this boysenberry spicy red, became even better with the arrival of talented winemaker Hugh Chappelle.
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