Mixing it Up With Chef Lugo

WE spoke with Chef Gerardo Vázquez Lugo, of Restaurante Nicos, about pairing wine with Mexican food.


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Visitors to Mexico City will find epicurean heaven at Restaurante Nicos, a modest family-run restaurant that opened in 1957. Chef Gerardo Vázquez Lugo, much like his owner parents, María Elena Lugo and Raymundo Vázquez, is a tireless promoter of Mexican wines and artisanal products. The menu features Lugo’s inspired versions of historic Mexican dishes and family recipes made with locally-sourced ingredients.  The wine list boasts all-Mexican options (even the single French bottle comes from a Mexican winemaker). Corkage fees are 10 pesos (under $1) for a Mexican wine, 150 pesos for everything else. Each summer, Nicos hosts the six-week La Vendimia De Nicos (“Nicos Wine Harvest”) festival, where guests can indulge in special glass and bottle discounts and cases sold at cost. In a country where even locals are skeptical of Mexican wines, Lugo’s efforts are indeed heroic.

Wine Enthusiast: What are some rules one can follow when pairing wine with Mexican food?
Gerardo Vázquez Lugo:
I don’t think the rules are much different from what exists with any wine, like barrel-aged Chardonnay with cheese and cream. I love dried-chili sauces with Syrah, and Barbera goes wonderfully with mushroom or huitlacoche (a popular corn fungus) quesadillas. But the idea of pairing wine with Mexican food still hasn’t been sufficiently studied, since we don’t have the custom of drinking wine with meals here.

WE: Can you give me more examples of pairings you particularly like?
GVL:
One of the most perfect is a complex mole, like mole Poblano or Oaxacan black mole with sparkling wine. And a classic of Ensenada [in Northern Baja California] is Lobster Puerto Nuevo—fried and served with rice, beans, flour tortillas and Chardonnay.

WE: Around the world, it’s popular to drink beer or Tequila with Mexican food. What are your thoughts on this?
GVL:
In the case of mezcal, I definitely prefer it before or after a meal. But there are now artisanal beers in Mexico that are very interesting, with complex aromatic qualities that work well with Mexican cuisine. However, I think the widespread custom of drinking beer with meals is a matter of price and marketing efforts that began with large breweries displacing the Pulque market in the early 20th century.

WE: Many Mexican wines are made for the export market. Do you feel Mexican winemakers should think more about suiting local tastes?
GVL:
It’s already happening. Laura Zamora at Santo Tomás thinks a lot about this and has started including food-pairing suggestions on some of her labels.

WE: Even in Mexico, it seems most people believe the only great Mexican wines are from Baja California. Are the other wine regions in Mexico making, or capable of making, world-class wines?
GVL:
Definitely! [The state of] Coahuila makes extraordinary wines. Year after year, Casa Madero [the oldest winery in the Americas, dating back to 1597] comes back from the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles and other events with more and different medals.  And there are great wines starting to be made in Aguascalientes, Zacatecas and Queretaro.

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