Delighted Life Wine: Amalaya, Tamales and Other Miracles

I’m not going to go into a lot of introduction here. I’m kicking up this blog again and writing about wine, because actually I have been for a long time, you just didn’t know about it. Read it if wine narrative interests you and you want to know what it means to be delighted.

Some combinations really aren’t the kind of thing you’d ever think of but they sooo work. Think French fries and chocolate ice cream (by which I really mean fries and Frosties from Wendy’s), avocados and Cinnamon Toast Crunch (got that off Buzzfeed, but seemed legit), Torrontés and Riesling. Are you kidding me? Why didn’t anyone think of this sooner? Why haven’t we been drinking this with everything forever? Totally versatile and overwhelmingly delightful? C’mon, that doesn’t come along every day.

Here’s what I like—it has that Torrontes (slightly masculine) strength and fullness that was designed to go with pretty much any food created south of the border, as well as the hint of Riesling acidity and sweetness, which means it just wants to come up and kiss those spicy chiles.

Need I say more? I rest my case.

Because here is the (unfortunate) thing about Mexican food, delicious as it is (and I have now had over a month to consider it on a thrice daily basis): it doesn’t often go hand-in-hand with the juice of the grape. Yes, they can have a sloppy makeout session from time to time, but this isn’t really solid chemistry. Here’s why: Mexican food tends to be either spicy, or acidic, or both, making it a far better match with a no-personality beer, such as Sol or Victoria, or everyone’s favorite neutral spirit, the mighty tequila. Anything with nixtamalized corn (i.e. tortillas, so everything), delicious as it is, brings acidity. So even if it’s filled with carne asada, a red wine makes you cringe a little.

To begin with, whites are better, and sorry, Chardonnay, not you. The wine I am talking about here is the Amalaya Torrontés Riesling blend. Think resinous, acidic, and floral with a ting on the end. It starts out like it’s going to be good old Torrontés, floral and thick, which reminds me a bit of Semillon because it has that same full, waxy quality with backbone to boot, but then you throw in the Riesling which is the sassy spring in the step that walks right up to that spice and says, “Do me.” And it does. It all just does.

The tagline reads: “Esperanza por un milagro” or, “Hope for a miracle.” In my opinion, however, they don’t have to hope too hard, because they’re already knocking it out of the park. Now when it comes to the food pairing, this was no accidental miracle. Sometimes it is—unchoreographed, unpremeditated wondrousness, but in this case, I confess, I planned it out. Because, quite honestly, with food and wine, sometimes I stumble upon random magic, but I’m more likely to hedge my bets with intentional spells. So since I am down here with time on my hands, I kind of put this together on purpose. I didn’t know what the wine would exactly taste like, but I had a good enough idea. And shit, they had it at Costco, so I had faith.

Last Saturday I was at a local farmer’s market, which means that the American expats have really taken over because now we’ve got flaxseed crackers and gluten free carrot cake in Mexico. But I’m not complaining as both were tasty enough. Ok, the rice flour carrot cake was a dream, but the flax seed crackers would probably need a pretty generous slice of brie to help usher them into the realm of “appealing.” Anyhow, there were some normal foods too, and after a really bizarre and unpleasant interaction with some aged American expats whom I now bear ill, I finally got close enough to the Tamale Man to try his generous samples. I sampled, I bought, I ate.

He invited me to the midweek health market in the Itzimná neighborhood, and by Wednesday I was thinking, yeah, I could do for some more of those bangin’ tamales. (Who couldn’t?) So why not walk all over tarnation in the midday heat trying to find some random casa in a city of streets that have no traditional, chronological, numerical order? Look, even though I thought of giving up a few times (or at the least hailing a cab), I was really keen to get some more of those tamales. I pressed on.

Now that first market was last Saturday and in between then and now (Wednesday, second market), I was thinking it was time to land upon some white wine because really, I don’t eat enough red meat for the quantity of Malbec they hurl at you down here. So I’m at Costco (yes, there is Mexican Costco!) and there’s this interesting number that would have been a touch pricey if we were getting ten pesos to the dollar like we used to, except we’re not. So I did the proper 14 to 1 calculation and found this tempting vino was an even better bargain than I thought. Best of all, it was going to go perfectly with every food ever produced in the nation of Mexico, namely the tamales I saw in my not so distant future.

First of all, guys, a) tamales are the everlasting shit, but b) this guy makes them with all sorts of gringo-phernalia such as spinach, goat cheese, mushrooms, bleu cheese, and some concoction of nuts which is a contender for awesomest tamale ever, but don’t tell my doña in the San Cristobal market because, as far as she knows, her chipilín mess of delishery is my favorite ever, especially if I can get some of that sweet coffee someone is selling from a basket off her head.

Now, said New Tamale Man is ever so slightly on the pricey side at 20 pesos per, but I forgive it because his tamales are actually filled with a respectable amount of fillings rather than the traditional slab of corn masa merely punctuated with the occasional exclamation point of chicken, beef or pork. These tamales are completely stacked and he does the local thing of providing the complimentary baggie o’ tomato sauce which makes no sense to me whatsoever, but when in Mérida…

I bought three, with which I plan to compose a trinity of successive dinners, but the first, which was the seminal pairing with the new wine, was a spicy pulled beef. Tamale Man was always really concerned to alert me to which were spicy, and I was like, yah, the gringa likes to blow her mouth off, don’t worry about it, this ain’t my first rodeo. So I got the spicy beef, the jalapeño, because again, I wanted to confront this wine with serious Scovilles, and that nut-bleu-cheese-thing which is just too much and I don’t care if it goes with this wine, except that it completely will.

I cracked the wine which was, conveniently, a screw cap so I didn’t have to go pandering after the front desk worker as I do every other night begging him for the corkscrew (wine lover tip: bring your own!). I did the ritual sniff and swirl from a glass tumbler (some hostels are better equipped than others), and thought, yeah, that’s the stuff. That is the Mexican business, (produced, however, in Argentina).

I sautéed some peppers and onions to crown the spicy beef tamale, and I ate and drank in nearly complete pleasantness with a really cool couple from Morelia. The situation could only have been improved by the absence of an irritating, fast-talking, Spain-lisping man sitting at our table who wouldn’t shut up, slow down or spontaneously decombust. Other than that, there was culinary ambrosia and I give Amalaya the two thumbs up.

Where do you get it? Great question…Costco in Mérida? I don’t know. My point is, a Torrontes Riesling blend is informed and insightful, and second, either grape is a righteous pair with Mexican cuisine. I hesitate to suggest it, but lacking a proper blend, should we try buying a bottle of each and doing a little home mixy mix?? In the spirit of adventure, I say, worth a try. Because science. Because wine.

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