By Rick Riozza

I just can’t believe all the urgency plastered on many of my in-coming emails this week as to what wine to pair and match with the right tamale!

For sure, The Indio International Tamale Festival that is being held this up-coming weekend, December 6-7, 2014 may have something to do with it; but really—it’s a crazy foodie thing to have “to be in the know” as to the most sacred of pairings: that greatest match-up in tamale heaven.

Recently, the Food Network-TV ranked the Indio International Tamale Festival in the top 10 “All-American Food Festivals” in the nation! And I hear that more than 125,000 people will be attending with probably most of them toting a tamale or two. So that’s a lot of tamales being prepared and served.


Of course, any good thinking gourmand, will quickly ask, what’s drinking fine with tamales?  André’s Cold Duck Sparkling Wine?!  Ay! Caramba!  Well—if the spicy tamale you are eating registers over 300 on the Richter Scale, I say, “Yeah”, drink all you can now!!

(Of course you foodies already know, there’s indeed a “scale” of hot pepper spiciness—those Scoville units assigned to the average chili pepper: New Mexico peppers at 1,000; Jalapeño at 5,000; Serrano at 23,000; Thai at 100,000; Habenero at 350,00; and the valley’s latest craze, the “Ghost Pepper” that clocks in around half a million. I know there’s the Naga Viper and the Trinidadian Scorpion out there that go even way beyond, but anyone preparing tamales with those chilies will become persons of interest—so let’s not go there.)

But, an iced cold beer traditionally downs that stodgy masa stuck in your throat and tapers down the spicy sauced meat, cheese, and/or fruit content. And it’s a cold Mexican beer, of course: Here you are in the Corona Camp squeezing limes, or the Dos Equis enclave with that most envied and interesting Mexican champion of all as your leader, or the Bohemia bunch, that beer, light, full flavored, slightly bitter, is the best result of a German-Mexican collaboration since Raquel Welch.

To us wine enthusiasts, you no doubt recoiled in disgust when André’s Cold Duck was mentioned (and hiding the shame of when you enjoyed a glass or two back in the day). It was the purple stuff that made housewives giddy at five o’clock back in the 80s. The recipe was based on a sparkling German sweet wine known as “Sekt”. (And I know you readers just can’t wait for my up-coming article titled, “the Joys of Sekts”). Anyway, the stuff was a cheap high that made for great headaches, thusly, we’re crossing that one off the list.

Entering the progressive year 2015, we know there are now more tamales recipes and versions that we can dream about—or maybe not. I understand that tamales are a fabulous blank canvas for the creative cook’s culinary adventure, but strawberry marshmallow tamales—really?

My wine pairing suggestions for the following traditional tamales are:

Cheese and Jalapeno Tamales: Rioja Crianza—it’s the youngest of the aged Riojas, inexpensive but with tasty fruit that matches perfectly with soft cheeses and has its own green note to match the pepper.

Beef Tamale with Red Sauce:  California Central Coast Pinot Noir/young light Merlot, or, go the other way with a chilled-up Fino Sherry. The Pinot and Merlot fit like a soft shoe with this tamale. The dry fino Sherry is the sexy choice and puts you at the head of the class.

Pork Salsa Verde Tamale:  A Mâcon-Villages or red Malbec. The MaconV is a Chardonnay from Burgundy. The famed Pouilly-Fuissé is very good one with the tamale-salsa combo and you can have fun at the table by mispronouncing the name. Malbec always goes with leaner-type meats and is a good red wine surprise with pork tamales.

Sweet Tamales:  A sweet Oloroso Sherry. This sweet Sherry adds rich flavors of caramel and cocoa and a holiday nutty note to the dish.

These are pairings in a perfect world.  However, if you only have the time to make a mad dash to the market, by all means, grab a really chilled bottle of Brut Champagne or a decent dry sparkling wine.  Cold, cleansing, bubbly, and satisfying, it’s the go-to drink for the holidays and for hot tamales.

For real wine snobs, party kids and every interested vino lover around, perhaps the quintessential wine to go with the “real hot tamale” is the German Riesling, which include the Kabinett—this can be dry or off dry and goes with everything!; Spatlese for the spicy tamale; and, Auslese for extremely spicy.

German Riesling is amazing with spicy foods because the sugar in the wine helps to counteract the spice. The wine’s fruit flavors are set off by the corn and meat filling of the tamale.  The pairing is a beautiful contrast between savory/spicy and sweet.  The wine also has incredible acidity that helps to wash the food off your tongue and refresh the palate.

Now the serious drinking folk among us will no doubt assent to the cold beer—but perhaps only as a chaser: The authentic drink for those Mexicans and Gringos alike, who eat their tamales with an attitude—an agave attitude that is—isTequila

Now that everyone seemingly has a Mexican grandma somewhere, while eating her tamales, one might OD on her Mexican Hot Chocolate—which is pretty good.

And lastly, my own mother with her Italian roots, chimes in on this tamale pairing and states, “Dry Lambrusco, is the definitive choice!”  Ok—well that settles that.

Buen Provecho!! Salud!