At Market 33, Chris Bombarger wants his customers to consider pairing wine with Mexican food. They love wine, and living in Amarillo, they love Mexican food. But they don’t always combine those two loves together.
That’s why Bombarger, the beer, wine and tasting room manager at the locally owned grocery store, often finds himself suggesting unconventional wine pairings.
“Mexican food and Italian food have similar base components,” he says. He lists them: tomato-based sauces, spicy meats, flat breads like a tortilla or a pizza crust, and intense, rich flavors. “People think about pairing wine with Italian food but don’t think about Mexican food. But those two types of food are very similar.”
He would know. Before returning to Amarillo a couple years ago, this WTAMU grad worked in the tech industry in Austin before launching a Mexican food restaurant north of the city. He found himself recommending wines to his restaurant patrons, who always seemed surprised. So Bombarger began organizing quarterly wine dinners. “We started selling them out like crazy,” he says. Soon, those dinners became monthly affairs, pairing wine with fun, Mexican-food dishes.
Bombarger ended up selling the restaurant—“thankfully, right before COVID,” he says—and lived in Merida, Mexico, until returning to Amarillo to be nearer to family. When he stepped into Market 33 in search of good tortillas, he was immediately impressed by the beer and wine selection as well as the tasting room in the back of the store. “That appealed to me,” he says. After discovering Market 33 was family-owned, he reached out to the Copheranham family. Now Bombarger oversees the department, which includes the largest craft beer selection in the Panhandle. He’s since added more than
175 wines to the shelves.
And he spends a lot of time encouraging customers to pair those wines with their favorite Mexican dishes. “Pouring a glass of wine is way easier than garnishing a margarita glass with salt and lime,” he says.
According to Bombarger, the key to pairing wine with Mexican food is to remember to avoid high-alcohol wines with spicy dishes. This can overwhelm the palate, increase the heat sensation of the spice and result in an unbalanced taste experience.
But otherwise, he offers these suggestions for common Mexican or Tex-Mex meals:
As discussed in this issue’s queso feature, the appetizer is one of the most significant draws for a south-of-the-border meal. Fresh salsa and guacamole are also great options, and Bombarger has the perfect wine for that.
“When loading up chips with either fresh salsa or guacamole, grab a glass of Nortico Alvarinho from Portugal,” he says. “This wine will be fruity but not sweet, and have a nose of lemon that will pair nicely and start a meal off right.”
Wine pairs well with seafood dishes in Mexican cuisine, including the popular camarónes a la diabla (“devil-style shrimp”), which features shrimp in a rich, spicy red sauce made from dried chiles and tomatoes.
He suggests a drier, lower-alcohol bottle of California’s Birichino Chenin Blanc. “It is refreshing with medium acidity and a light, crisp, citrus nose,” Bombarger says.
Hearty, Creamy Dishes
Any cream-based sauce—even a traditional Mexican one—calls for a French white wine. For dishes like roasted poblano pepper stuffed with chicken and covered in a poblano cream sauce, Bombarger recommends Thevenet & Fils Mâcon Pierreclos White Wine.
A medium-bodied Chardonnay with notes of green apple and honey, this wine pairs perfectly with the mild heat and earthy flavor of poblano peppers. “French white wine and cream sauces—how perfect,” he says.
Traditional Mexican Fare
Combine a new-world-style California Pinot Noir with spicy, meaty dishes like tacos al pastor. “It makes a great dish even better by working well with the base spices used to prepare the meat,” explains Bombarger.
He loves Luli Pinot Noir from California’s Santa Lucia Highlands region. “Luli Pinot Noir has the fruit-forward notes and an earthy backbone, which gives this wine enough strength to hold up to such a traditional dish,” he says.
“Whether you marinate your meat or simply rub it with salt and spices, the smoke from this dish will pair well with a Malbec from Argentina,” he says. The jamminess and soft tannins of a Malbec offer the perfect counterpoint to, for example, a dish like carne asada.
Bombarger recommends Black Tears Malbec from Argentina’s Mendoza region. “It has concentrated dark fruit that will pair with the char of any asada dish,” he says.