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November 8, 2021

Word on the Street: Tacos & Wine

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I love LA. It’s so diverse, colorful, and vibrant. That, plus a healthy dose of sunshine and flip flop friendly weather, make it one of my favorite cities in the US. There are so many “classic” LA experiences. In a profile piece for Shoutout LA I shared my top 10 LA experiences, which included visiting a taco truck. I’m not talking about lobster rolls and fusion food on wheels for the hipster crowd. I’m talking about a good old-fashioned Los Angeles taco truck. Trucks that blanket the city and feed immigrant workers at job sites every single day. Trucks with hardworking brown Angelenos at the helm. These trucks don’t come to you…you go to them. You’ll find them in more densely populated, brown neighborhoods. Word to the wise: if it’s in Santa Monica, it’s not an authentic taco truck :/

These are the experiences I love in Los Angeles. And be prepared to immerse yourself in the experience. This isn’t Burger King, so you can’t have it your way. Leave your dietary restrictions, special orders, credit cards, and requests for “not so spicy” salsas west of the 405. Embrace it. This food and these people are what keep the heartbeat of this city beating.

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Don’t call them roach coaches. Don’t ask about their health code rating. And don’t ask if they have gluten free tortillas. If any of these things concern you, I invite you to retreat back to the suburbs. This is LA. She’s tough and she’s in charge. It’s her world, we’re just living in it.

It’s my goal in conversations about wine to highlight and focus on diverse-owned wineries, diverse people, and kick-ass wines. This ain’t your oysters and Chablis wine pairing piece. That’s been done and we’re good on that. Let’s talk about food that is more commonly consumed in our lives, versus aspirational foods we once saw wealthy white people eat on Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.

What are Street Tacos?

Street tacos are a particular type of taco. The base of the taco is a corn tortilla (always). In fact, it’s really 2 corn tortillas, to keep the juices in and ensure your taco doesn’t fall apart in your hands. The contents of the tacos are simple. Protein plus finely chopped onions and cilantro. Optional: salsa, fresh-squeezed lime, and thinly sliced radish. Don’t look here for fancy sauces, drizzles, aiolis. Feel free to refer back to my west of the 405 comment!

Pro tip. How to know you’ve found a good taco truck? It’s packed. And there’s a spit out front. That’s pastor…..more on that later.

How to Pair Tacos and Wine

You want to pick wines that will not overtake the tacos. The tacos are the main characters here…..wine is only playing a supporting role. If I had to give you two tips for how to pair tacos and wine, I’d say to embrace both rosé and light/medium bodied reds with ample spice.

Rosé is one of the fastest growing categories in wine right now. Because of that, there is a sea of unremarkable rosé out there. Once you wade through all of that shitty rosé, you’ll find many options with more body and structure. Perfect for pairing with food. In my opinion, rosé is one of the most versatile and food friendly wines out there, hands down. Because it’s not a serious wine category to most, it gets overlooked. But I can assure you that rosé has a place on most dinner tables. Rosé works well with tacos because of its high acidity. High acid cuts through spice well, and does not overpower the food and its flavors.

My second favorite choice for pairing tacos and wine is to go with a not too heavy red with lots of spice. Going back to the overpowering comment, big full-bodied reds would just take over. Lighter to medium bodied reds will allow the tacos to shine. And a spice character in the wine (whether it’s inherent in the grape or coming from light oak aging), will pair nicely with the spicy and flavorful grilled and roasted meats. This is the “like with like” food and wine pairing principle.

I picked 5 classic street taco proteins below and gave you my suggested pairings. If you find these exact wines, cool. If not, take the pairing advice generically, so you can pick your own wine that’ll knock your socks off. And if you just want a margarita with your tacos, have at it……you do you!

The Pairings

For my trip, I visited Leo’s Taco Truck at La Brea Ave. and Venice Blvd. in Mid City Los Angeles. In my opinion, some of the best street tacos in LA. They have multiple locations throughout the city. Cash only.

Chicken Taco
Pairing: Klinker Brick Bricks & Roses Rosé 2019 (Lodi, CA) $22

Chicken tacos and rosé is perhaps one of the world’s best pairings. You’ve got the lightness of chicken, plus the rich flavors of the roasting element, and voila, rosé fits the bill. It’s the perfect balance. I’m telling you…..chicken tacos and rosé…..it’s a thing. Klinker Brick comes from the Felten family in Lodi, who are 6th generation farmers. At the helm of winemaking is Joseph Smith of Belize. A solid family (who I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this year), solid wines, and solid tacos.

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Carne Asada Taco
Pairing: Charles Woodson’s Intercept Red Blend (Paso Robles, CA) $19.99

Charles Woodson is a former NFL player and Hall of Famer who fell in love with wine during his football career while training near Napa Valley. His line of Intercept Wines are both affordable and delicious. They’re punchy and New World in style, making this Red Blend a perfect pairing for carne asada tacos that are also rich and flavorful. A Zinfandel and Petite Sirah dominant blend is perfect to enjoy with the tacos and even on its own, once the tacos are gone.

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Carnitas Taco
Pairing: Margerum Cinsault 2019 (Santa Barbara, CA) $29

I don’t know what’s more California than carnitas tacos with wine from OG Santa Barbara producer Margerum Wines.  The wine features all estate fruit from their Los Olivos District vineyard.  Bright ass juicy red fruit and pepper. Lots of pepper, yet this wine is still light and peppy. Drink this wine slightly chilled with your tacos, to increase its crushable factor, as the kids say. This is a day to evening wine, especially in Cali, where it can stay pretty warm in the evening.

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Al Pastor Taco
Pairing: Acquiesce Winery Grenache Rosé (Lodi, CA) $26

This is the mack daddy of LA street tacos. Pork packed tightly on a spit with a fat piece of pineapple on top. As the spit rotates and cooks, the meat juices marinate and baste the layers below and the pineapple cooks and drips sweet pineapple juice all over the meat. Because of this, pastor is generally the juiciest and sweetest taco you can get. Literally the world’s most perfect food. And this rosé from the hands of Sue Tipton at Acquiesce Winery is the perfect foil. It’s a fuller bodied and lush rosé that can stand up to everything going on here: juicy pork and sweet pineapple.

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Chorizo Taco
Pairing: Camins 2 Dreams John Sebastiano Vineyard Syrah 2019 (Santa Barbara, CA) $48

Every country has their version of chorizo: Mexican chorizo, Spanish chorizo, and Argentine chorizo, just to name a few. I went with this deep, dark, and inky Syrah from Tara and Mireia, the darlings of the wine world, who are at the helm of Camins 2 Dreams. They call the winery the “path to their dreams” and I’m gonna have to say that chorizo tacos and this Syrah are on that path as well.

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I hope you enjoyed this post. If you’re looking to Up Your Wine Game and Drink Better, consider booking a private in-person or virtual wine tasting experience.
Brianne Cohen Wine Educator
Brianne Cohen is a certified sommelier, wine educator, consultant, and writer based out of Los Angeles.

Since March 2020, Brianne has educated and entertained over 5,000 people through her “Virtual Vino” online wine tastings.

Brianne holds the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) Diploma certificate, one of the most coveted wine certifications in the world. When she’s not helping others Up Their Wine Game, she can be found judging at international wine competitions.

Brianne aims to make wine approachable and conversational, to surprise and delight with unexpected, distinctive wine finds, and to give people knowledge (and confidence) about wine in their everyday lives.

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Sample Policy

As a wine writer, I frequently accept samples for review on my  website and on my social media channels. Please contact me at brianne@briannecohen.com to discuss sending samples for review. I promise to always be honorable with the samples. I will evaluate all wines in good tasting settings and with no distractions.

All reviews are my opinions, and mine only. Because of the volume of samples I receive, I cannot promise that all samples received will be reviewed, but I will do my best.

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