Omniboire has absolutely nothing whatsoever against a good Bohemia or Negra Modelo with Mexican food. We’ve been known not to be opposed to several on occasion.
But when Central Market’s wine muse, Heidi Holcomb, suggested we consider a panel on wines with Tex-Mex food, we — though admittedly skeptical at first — agreed to pick up the guante. It required soliciting opinions from a number of wine folk and, equally importantly, finding a host willing and able to supply space, glassware, and appropriate food. Let’s all now give it up for Blanca Aldaco of Aldaco’s Stone Oak; she, too, is not one to turn down a challenge.
Panelists, including La Blanca, Bonnie Walker of SavorSA and Taste San Antonio magazine, the aforementioned Ms. Holcomb, and Omniboire, were met with an array of wines, from white and sweet to red and robust, presenting yet another challenge: adjusting the palate to wide swings in wine styles. We decided to rate the individual wines on a simpler scale than usual in order to concentrate on their affinity for foods. Would the “best” wines in the lineup (all under $20, many under $10) also be best with the food? Vamos a ver …
The winning wine, pairings not considered, was Argentina’s 2008 Colomé Estate Malbec from “the highest vineyards in the world.” Most tasters found it oaky (not necessarily good for food-pairing), but Walker detected “blackberry and spice”, and Holcomb considered it both “funky” (apparently good in her book) and “meaty”, while loving the nose.
The number-two wine was the 2009 Kenwood Vineyards Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc. “It was exactly everything I don’t like in a white wine — at first,” claimed Aldaco, while both Walker and Holcomb found it “refreshing” with perhaps an herbal, sweet-pepper edge.
Two wines tied for number three. One Omniboire had expected to be a perfect Tex-Mex food match (some sweetness is usually a good foil for spiciness): the 2008 Diva Rheinhessen Spätlese from Gunderloch. “Pretty,” said Holcomb, “not fancy but good balance,” thought Walker, and “an all-person pleaser,” summed up Aldaco.
Though not a favorite at first, coming in at the same number of points as the Diva was a big California zinfandel, the 2008 Cline Ancient Vines. “It had lavender and floral notes with wild berry flavors,” announced Holcomb. Omnboire detected a ripe, Kool-Aid quality, while Walker thought it “almost candied.”
There was also a tie for number four between California’s 2008 Spellbound Petite Syrah and Spain’s 2009 Picos de Montgó Tempranillo Vino de la Tierra de Castilla. “It has an earthy undertone,” said Walker of the petite syrah; “refried beans came to mind!” offered Holcomb. Oaky vanilla thought Omniboire. “Smooth,” said Aldaco, who also found the tempranillo “smooth and suave”. “Tight and tannic,” was Omniboire’s first opinion of the Picos, followed later by pleasant smoke and berry qualities.
Another tie at number 5: a non-vintage Bourricot Rosé Vin de France and the 2008 Red Guitar Old Vine tempranillo/garnacha blend from Spain’s Navarra region. Initial comments on the rosé (“bitter, medicinal, tart”) would seem to indicate a no-show, but it apparently grew on tasters. The Red Guitar, a sentimental favorite for its fun label and low price, also started out slow but gained with time. “It’s appealingly versatile with a structure that’s not overpowering,” decided Walker.
“Stewed fruit” and “fuller fruit,” were what two tasters detected in the 2008 Durigutti Bonarda Mendoza, but Aldaco called it “vinegary — forget it.” Coming in at last place was the 2009 La Yunta Torrontés from Argentina’s Famatina Valley La Rioja. “I had mean thoughts at first,” admitted Walker, while Holcomb thought it “a good varietal with nice fruit.” But then the pairings began.
In general, most of the reds, especially the tempranillos, worked with both the beans and cheese, and the nachos even improved the Colomé malbec—which was already number one. “The light went on as I sipped the `Durigutti Bonarda` with the nachos,” admitted Aldaco — who had said “forget it” of the wine earlier. The Kenwood SB and the corn in the chips also played well together.
Tacos al Pastor
The marinated pork was beautiful with the otherwise under-appreciated La Yunta Torrontés, but the sauvignon blanc killed the food. The Riesling was “a non-entity” until the toasty Salsa de la Señora was added — and then, wham! The Cline Zinfandel showed well here, too, pitting earth against earth, and the soft Spellbound was sharpened up by the pork.
The torrontés was again the winner here, but the also-less-popular rosé seemed to love the blackened fish, which in turn gave the wine new stature. Try any dry rosé.
The acid in the tomatillo sauce made the Diva Riesling unacceptably cloying, but it sent the Kenwood SB soaring. The olive/herbal quality of the Picos de Montgó Tempranillo was surprisingly compatible with the food as well.
Pacific Shrimp Tamal
This was perhaps the most rewarding pairing, with the Diva doing her best work in a duet with this dish — the sweetness of the corn, the spice of the chipotle cream, the mildness of the shrimp all making for a perfect back and forth. The SB bombed here, but the low-ranking Red Guitar ramped up its rhythm, perhaps due to the corn masa.
This traditional poblano with beef, potatoes, white cheese, and toasty salsa was all smoothness and suavity with the Kenwood Sauvignon blanc (which bonded with the poblano), while the Cline Zin punched up the spice in the dish, and the dish, in turn, changed the tannin structure of the Durigutti Bonarda for the better. “It’s play with, play against” said one taster — and both aspects worked.
Fajitas/Steak al Comal
The fancier comal steak is a pumped-up fajita plate with mushrooms, rajas, and more, so we tried it both with and without the adornments. The straight steak was great with big reds such as the bonarda, the unfiltered malbec and the petite syrah. Adding in the mushrooms made the zinfandel zing. And taking the rajas into account, some felt the riesling was a winner, others preferred the sauvignon blanc. Wherever there was avocado and guacamole, by the way, there was also the unblended Picos tempranillo — an odd couple, but one that worked.
It just now occurs to us that we should also have tasted at least a couple of the wines with Aldacos’ famous tres-leches cake — the original, please. Diva might have done well, but we’ll leave that up to you to try.
Conclusion? You gotta be kidding. But here’s a stab at it. Beer will always be the sentimental favorite with Tex-Mex, and rightly so. Too, the “best” wines are not always the best partners: witness the under-appreciated torrontés (it worked with many dishes) and the top-scoring malbec (it worked with far fewer). As in life, flexibility and an ability to give and take are rewarded. But so is distinctive character. Omniboire’s flexible favorite? The Diva. You go, girl! •