Pairing Off: Tamales versus Riesling
Monterey County Weekly
By Dave Faries
It’s the time of year when treasured family recipes are consulted, when there are siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles around to help with the tedious masa process, when you just give up and order tamales from a convenient location, in this case Mariscos Puerto Nuevo in Seaside.
Pairing wine with Christmas tamales is not so far-fetched, at least until salsa enters the fray.
“You want something with lots of fruit and mild tannins,” says Kerry Winslow, a wine educator working with Windy Oaks in Carmel Valley.
A heaping of fruit on the palate helps prevent the wine from capturing any bitterness from the tamale, in this case filled with shreds of pork. His options include Zinfandel and Carignan. Rosé is a more common choice.
But Winslow pivots away from red or a versatile Rosé.
“If you’re looking for a good local wine and want to do white, the off-dry Riesling from Morgan,” he adds with an expression of “Eureka!” on his face. “That would be fabulous.”
Now, a little etymological aside is in order here. You see, the word serendipity has had a hard life. For starters, a clever linguist derived it from a fairy tale. Just the sound of it is exceedingly precious.
To make matters worse, business consultants pounced on the concept, seeing in it a “principle of chance” that could be dangled before management for $650 an hour. One pundit held it up as a major Generation Y consumer trend for 2014.
Sorry times, indeed. But when I visited the Morgan Winery tasting room in Carmel to pick up a bottle, staff member Rafael Perez smiled broadly behind his mask.
His mother had done a tamale practice run the previous weekend. And guess which wine Perez had on hand? The 2020 Morgan Riesling, an organic, single vineyard bottling.
The wine is fruity and floral on the nose, flaunting tart apple, but with a soft undertone of lemon and honey. A sip provides richer fruits—fresh cut peaches, skin peeled from a pear, honeysuckle and a trace of bitter zest. It’s elegant throughout, with a dry finish that subsides into must.
“It has a little natural sugar and good acidity,” Perez notes of the Kabinett-style Riesling. “It will cut through fat.”
Tamales from Mariscos Puerto Nuevo carry a rustic, natural sweetness in the masa. The pork is equally humble, with an earthy heft. Against this, the wine takes on a velvety feel—more opulent fruits, as if peaches had been baked down. Hints of whole orange and sliced apple emerge, along with a spicy tingle. The tamale benefits from the pairing, as well, gaining a soft, malty tone.
It’s a remarkable pairing that continues when the sauce is added. The Riesling flares momentarily, pricking the palate with cracks of black pepper that lends a rumble to the pork. When salsa is dabbed on, the wine responds nicely to the heat, raising its temperature a few notches before homing in on green pepper.