Wine Pairing: Tacos de Carnitas
Editor's Note: Please welcome master sommelier Evan Goldstein to Serious Eats! Evan is the author of two fantastic wine books: Perfect Pairings and Daring Pairings. He'll be joining us with wine recommendations for our favorite Serious Eats recipes.
Conventional wisdom suggests that tacos are best enjoyed with beer or margaritas, preferably top shelf stuff, if you are going the boozy route. Alternatively, Coca Cola (Mexican bottling), Jarritos (orange-flavored), or horchata (that delectable elixir of rice, almonds, cinnamon, and sugar) are knee-jerk if your predilection is for something less heady. But you'd be missing out if you didn't consider wine as well.
This week's pairing targets those of you who crave that slow-cooked crisp and juicy porcine specialty, carnitas, tucked into soft tortillas and accompanied with lime wedges, salsa verde and, if you want, a little queso to boot.
Food For Thought: Slow-cooked pork has a wonderful mouth-coating texture, and the slightly crispy crust of carnitas makes it irresistible. Carnitas can be a bit on the salty side so keeping your wine's alcohol in check is important or the combination will taste overly hot.
The tomatillos in Kenji's recipe encourage us to choose wines that have an herbal quality and fresh acidity, while the cinnamon he calls for can be a nice link to a soft (but not too heavy handed) oak treatment on the wine. Avoiding the "big oak" factor is important here, otherwise the tacos will make the wine taste even oakier. The other factors to consider: the soft tortillas are a neutral push, but the condiments can change the picture considerably. If you're adding a squeeze of lime or a dollop of salsa fresca, those will affect which wines will work.
My go-to wine for this meal is a dry rosé. Why? It provides the freshness you crave with this tasty but casual dish. Rosé has the acidic cut of a white wine, which is necessary to hold the richness of the meat at bay, but also boasts nuances of a red wine's ripe black and red fruit (soft raspberry, plum, cherry, mulberry) and peppery spice (along with its own zesty note of watermelon and orange rind.) The berry notes of a rosé accentuate the savory flavors of the meat, while the bright zesty structure can cut like a knife and refresh the palate.
So, I'd recommend something spicy, pink, based on Rhone varietals like Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsaut, or even Syrah would be grand, as would be a pink wine based on Cabernet Franc with its soft herbal tones (which would bridge beautifully to the tomatillos and salsa verde).
If you prefer red wine, reds made from Cabernet Franc are another good option. Merlot and Carmenère have similar bay leaf, dusty mint, and tarragon notes that would make them work wonderfully, but be sure that they're not particularly oaky versions.
Finally, if you want white, go for a zippy wine with ample acidity (especially if you like a few squeezes lime on your tacos.) You can play off the green notes of salsa verde with a glass of Portuguese Alvarinho, a Spanish Verdejo or a milder Sauvignon Blanc. Alvarinho has electric acidity—flavors of limey citrus, tart green apple, and stony mineral will punctuate the condiments. Verdejo, a Spanish grape with elements of Sauvignon Blanc's grapefruit and grassiness, would be equally compelling.
One more option: a flute of fizzy Spanish cava. Refreshing yet rustic. Cava isn't Champagne, but that's just fine for this meal. Cheers!
A Few Picks
Bodegas Julián Chivite Garnacha Navarra Rosado Gran Feudo: this Grenache based rosé is a tad spicy, refreshing, and oh so good with soft tacos. ($8-10, find this wine)
Quinta do Ameal Vinho Verde: this zippy Portuguese white has a kiss of effervescence (a tip of the hat to the beer drinker) and the perfect limelike acidity that will work with the salsa while cutting the meat's richness. ($13-15, find this wine)
Jean-Maurice Raffault Chinon Rosé: A Cabernet Franc rosé with nice herbal notes to complement the dish. ($14-16, find this wine)
D'Arenberg "The Custodian" Grenache (Australia): Red plum and jammy berry flavors, with a touch of peppery spice, enveloped by a rich elegant structure. ($16-20, find this wine)
About the author: Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein, a four-time James Beard award nominee, is the author of Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier's Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food and Daring Pairings: A Master Sommelier Matches Distinctive Wines with Recipes from His Favorite Chefs. He is the President and Chief Education Officer of Full Circle Wine Solutions; you can follow him at winecouch.com.