Here’s the thing about drinking wine with tacos: you can’t be too serious about it. After all, when you’re hanging at your local taqueria or ordering Mexican takeout, you’re more likely to crack a beer or sip a Margarita.
And that’s exactly how you should approach wine pairings with tacos, according to Lauren Feldman, wine director at San Francisco’s Cala and Tacos Cala. “Anything you would squeeze lime or lemon on is a great opportunity to drink a high-acid wine,” she says.
Tacos Cala focuses on high-quality, seasonal ingredients and is a casual spinoff of the more formal, seafood-centric, Mexico City-style parent restaurant Cala. Tacos Cala started with just a few beer options on its menu but, inspired by the success of the wine program at Cala, Feldman later curated a short list of wines that she thought would go well with the tacos.
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Lighter styles with personality, like rosés, sparkling whites, and chilled reds, complement the unique fillings of the tacos and add a bracing dose of acidity. Feldman is also a big fan of natural, minimal-intervention wines. “That kind of kombucha-like vibrance is super fun with tacos because it cuts through the fat,” she says.
Feldman’s favorite combinations follow a “what grows together, goes together” philosophy. “I look to places where people sit on the porch in the sunlight drinking wine,” she says. She features wines from Mediterranean destinations like coastal Italy, Croatia, and Provence. That may seem counterintuitive at first, but she finds many culinary similarities with Mexico.
“In Croatia, for example, a lot of the dishes they’ve cooked over their history are wood-roasted,” she says. “For wine, it’s a cool place to explore because the minerality and freshness that the region is known for go with the food so well.”
Her list nods to biodynamic producers based in Napa Valley and Lodi, Calif., too. “That’s an area where younger winemakers are creating wine that they want to drink,” she says. “It’s not stuff that’s for everyone,” she adds. The wines tend to have volatile levels of acidity and tannins, which taste unusual compared to conventionally made wines.
Tacos Cala’s menu features everything from roasted sweet potato with bone marrow and mole poblano with cauliflower, to sunflower buds with salsa and roast pork with radishes. These dishes attract adventurous customers who care about where their food comes from and are happy to try something unexpected in their glasses.
Whether you like your tacos filled with veggies, marrow, carnitas, or carne asada, Tacos Cala has you covered. Here are Feldman’s top tips for pairing wine with tacos.
Drink Light-Bodied Reds With Chicken
Instead of going straight for bold Cabernets and Merlots, Feldman prefers softer, unoaked wines. “If you’re having a little bit of heat, you don’t want to drink anything that’s too aggressive,” she says. “Tannins can aggravate the spice a little bit.”
Fruity Reds Add Balance to Rich Meat
For carnitas, al pastor, and steak ask for a red wine that tastes a bit like grape juice. Like having a spoonful of cranberry sauce with your Thanksgiving turkey, the tart, sweet flavor cuts through the richness of the meat and cleanses the palate.
“Especially with smokier meat, having something that’s dark and juicy is really fun,” Feldman says. To keep things from going in the Manischewitz direction, look for wines with a mineral finish, like Martha Stoumen’s Post Flirtation or reds from southern France or Sicily.
Rosé Loves Veggies
At Tacos Cala, Feldman loves pairing the roasted poblanos in cream sauce taco with berry-like Corsican rosé, such as this affordable bottle. “It brings out all the little floral details in the chiles,” she says.
Whether your veggie option is simple sautéed onions and bell peppers, or a high-end roasted squash with corn, the same rules apply. Use a dry rosé to highlight the ingredients’ subtle sweetness. And if you like packing on the heat with a fiery hot sauce, rosé can bring out the pepper’s complex — and sometimes hidden — fruity qualities.
High-Acid Whites Brighten Seafood
Bracing white wines are a great choice for everything from fried mahi mahi to spicy grilled shrimp. If she’s enjoying her tacos outside, Feldman likes this canned wine from Napa winemaker Ferdinand, which has notes of orange peel and lime zest.