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A Beginner’s Guide To Pairing Wine and Tamales For The Holidays

There’s no denying that food is a key part of the holiday festivities in a Latino family. Now that preparations are underway for Nochebuena and New Year’s, it’s time to start thinking about your dinners. It might just be time to break out the big steel pot for tamales, and recruit your friends and family to help make them!

If you’re planning on presenting a bountiful spread of tamales this year, we got you covered with help from Jessica Yañez, the host of The Wine and Chisme Podcast. We’ve put together the perfect wine and tamale pairings that’ll leave your guests impressed. Be sure to also check out their directory of Latino-owned wine brands from across the country, if you’re interested — they also make great gifts!

Wine pairing tips and tricks

Pairing a wine with a dish is generally a complex process. Some wines can overpower the taste of your food, and vice versa. The ideal pairing maintains a good balance of flavors, and it requires matching the wine with the element of a dish that stands out the most.

Start out by trying your wine, and make sure to implement the four S’s: see, smell, swirl, and sip. Seeing and smelling the wine helps prepare you for the taste. Swirling the wine in the glass a few times will “open” the wine by exposing it to oxygen and lifting the scent. Then, you can sip, try your food, and then sip again to determine how they taste together.

“The only true way to figure out if you like the combining flavors is by trying them,” says Yañez.

An important thing Yañez says to remember is that everyone has different taste buds, meaning that tastes may differ across the board. 

Pork with red

You can’t go wrong with a classic pork tamale, that’s why they’re the most popular kind! The pork is traditionally combined with a red chile sauce, and bundled up in the corn husk with masa. 

The red chile makes these tamales most compatible with red wine, like Pinot Noir (this one from El Potrillo also pairs well with red pozole and enchiladas), Zinfandel, or a Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you’re having Guatemalan pork tamales, Yañez recommends a Sangiovese.

Chicken with rosé, light red, and white

@jennymartinezzz

Chicken Tamales – de Pollo en Salsa Verde #parati #tamales #chicken

♬ original sound – Jenny Martinez

“Chicken tamales tend to be lighter and lean towards green chile, which pairs well with wines that are less tannic, and even citrusy,” says Yañez.

A variety of wines would go well with chicken tamales and the classic salsa verde, including rosé, light reds, and whites. Yañez recommends Aldina Vineyards Rosé, Final Girl Wines Chenin Blanc, or Reynoso Family Vineyards 2019 Red Blend.

Veggie and cheese tamales with white or rosé

Tamales can be filled with a variety of veggies — like corn, carrots, and green onions — or you could go with a simple and yummy cheese filling. 

“​​Red wines can overpower veggie or cheese tamales,” says Yañez. “It’s best to pair them with white or rosé wines that will still allow the flavors of the tamal to shine.”

A Sauvignon Blanc is a great option for these types of tamales, like this one from Honrama. If you’re looking for something full-bodied, a Chardonnay is your best bet. Try this one from Ceja Vineyards or one from Scielo NY.

Sweet with dessert

If you’re ending your meal with a tamale for dessert, don’t worry, there’s a wine that’ll go with it! These tamales feature a sweetened masa packed with raisins, pecans, or other fillings. Flavors can vary, although strawberry and pineapple are pretty common. 

Yañez says it’s important to consider the acidity, intensity, and sweetness of your tamal while picking a wine. Her recommendations are Ceja Vineyards’ Dulce Beso, Valcan Cellars’ 2017 Tempranillo El Torero, and Cesar Toxqui Cellars’ Hugh Oliver Blanc de Noir Sparkling Wine or Dulce Paloma.

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