Break out the marigolds and papel picado—it’s time to celebrate the cycle of life on el Día de los Muertos. This signature Latin celebration is going mainstream, which is all the more reason to plan a festive bash in honor of your loved ones. Add a little vino to traditional Día de los Muertos eats—tamales, mole, sweet treats—for a tasty tradition of your own. Spreti Valenti, a Certified Sommelier and wine buyer for Anne’s Boutique Wines in Costa Mesa, Calif., provides some wine pairing ideas for these popular Day of the Dead foods.
“I love Zinfandel or Petit Syrah with a traditional Mexican mole,” Valenti says. “The mole’s chocolate spiciness and richness engage the whole mouth, so you need a wine that will stand up to it.” Valenti likens the aromas of Petit Syrah with chocolate-covered blueberries, noting that this profile and the elegant fruit in old-vines Zinfandel are good matches for mole.
If your tamales have a kick to them, Valenti recommends a German Riesling to tone down the heat. “The wine’s natural acidity cleans the palate, and the residual sweetness enhances the flavor of pork tamales in particular,” she says.
For fans of red wines, Valenti suggests a stainless-steel-fermented Tempranillo. “Oaked wines enhance the heat of the chili pepper,” she notes, and an unoaked, steel-fermented wine works better with spicy foods.
Vinho Verde is a good match for tamales that are not spicy hot, and Valente recommends a rosé “because it has hints of wild cherries on the nose but it’s bone dry on the palate.”
This sugary, doughy, mouthwatering pastry is one of the more symbolic Día de los Muertos treats. Valenti prefers bubbles with pan de muerto. Her suggested wine is sweet and ripe with peaches-and-cream flavors, and “the yeasty notes match the characteristics of the bread.”
These sparkly little confections are almost too pretty to eat, but if you must, Valenti’s pick is a demi-sec sparkling wine from California’s storied Schramsberg Vineyards. “The wine’s natural acidity cleans the palate, and with sweets a palate cleanser is important so that with each bite you can taste the food.”
Candied pumpkin looms large among Valenti’s favorite childhood Día de los Muertos memories. Chunks of pumpkin are cooked in a sugary syrup with cinnamon, cloves, and baking spices. Valenti recommends pairing this decadent delicacy with tawny port. “The port has a richness and naturally occurring pumpkin spice flavors that pair well with the spices in the candy.”