Tiritas, marinated fish strips

Tiritas, marinated fish strips. Photo by Catherine Krantz.

Castilian Spanish uses the word maridaje (marriage) to talk about the association between a dish and a wine.  This word is inspired by the French term mariage, “marriage” in English.  As in a marriage between two people, the goal in culinary maridajes is to achieve total harmony. 

To come to a fair balance we must analyze the fundamental characteristics of the two elements.  Under no circumstances should one dominate the other, rather each of the two elements should support the other.  The maridaje is thought of in two ways: The maridaje of Completion, which seeks a wine of the same flavor and aroma as the dish, or the maridaje of Opposition, which seeks a wine that balances the dish.

Traditional Mexican food is characterized by its salsas and stews into which are mixed a multitude of aromatic herbs and spices.  In addition to taking into consideration the wide range of flavor, we must base our reflection on the integration of chile into the maridaje.  The extent of a dish’s spiciness is the key element to finding the wine that makes the best match.

Red wine results from the maceration of grape juice fermented with their own skins; the result of which is a high tannin content.  Tannins are responsible for the body of a red wine but can also make the wine dry, bitter, or rough.  The relation between the chile of a dish and the tannins in a wine is very complicated.  Indeed, the spice in a dish increases astringency.  Therefore, white wine and sweet wines are more comfortably associated with Mexican food.

Below, I provide some recommendations to accompany a few classic Mexican dishes.  Try the following maridajes, perhaps they will surprise you!

Mole Negro

With this dish, we are looking to match the potency of the cuisine or to refresh the mix.  Mole is a sauce that contains a multitude of nuts and seeds (sesame seeds, almonds, peanuts), spices (anise, pepper, clove, oregano, nuez de moscada, cinnamon, and others), all sweetened with a touch of chocolate.  Each mole is unique and there exists a wide variety of recipes from many pueblos throughout Mexico.

To compete with the complexity of this dish, we need a powerful red wine with a wide range of aromas (such as cocoa, pepper, and others).  An Argentine malbec such as Catena Alta (from the Catena Zapata winery) is a good example.  However, if the mole is very spicy a maridaje with a red wine can be fatal.  Why not then look to lighten the dish with something fresh?  A Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut champagne can be an excellent choice.  Or more economical, a bubbly Domaine Ste Michelle from Washington State is a fine choice.

Zihuatanejo Style Tiritas

A typical Zihuatanejo dish, tiritas are simple but fresh and delicious when made with a good Dorado fish.  If you crave a touch of lime with your tiritas it is because the dish requires something refreshing.  Logically then, we are looking for a fresh white wine.  Try a Chablis de Louis Latour (100% Chardonnay) or a Dionisos Rias Baixas (100% Albariño).


Blanco (white), rojo (red) or verde (green) pozole is the most popular soup in the whole of the Mexican republic.  The base is pork head and corn.  The blanco is the most simple, the rojo is defined by its content of guajillo chiles and the verde has seranno chiles and pumpkin seeds and/or pipian.  Besides being very strong in flavor, it is customary to add oregano, raw onions, radishes, piquin chiles, avocado, lettuce and a variety of other things to this traditional soup.  For those who are not familiar with pozole, close your eyes, think of all these ingredients and imagine the complexity of this aromatic soup.

After many attempts (I love my job as a sommelier) I have found a good maridaje for pozole rojo: The red wine Carmenere, like that from the Baron Phillippe de Rothschild Winery in the Rapel Valley, Chile.  In addition to being moderately tannic, this wine speaks with many spices.  We do not risk, then, hardening the tannins with chile and thus further complement the aromatic spiciness of pozole.

For pozole verde, whose seeds give it more body, I recommend a fresh and aromatic Savignon Blanc such as a New Zealand Villa Maria.

Buen Provecho…