Concha y Toro

Paola Peñafiel 26/10/2017

Toasting and Celebrating the Day of the Dead

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It is considered one of the most representative cultural expressions of Mexico, where the deceased are honored with rituals and food. We would like to highlight this important tradition and the best wine pairings to accompany the typical dishes of this Day.

The Day of the Dead in Mexico is not a time to mourn those who have passed away; on the contrary, it is a joyous celebration. It’s the time of year when the souls of the departed return to the earth to reunite with the living, once again.

Worshiping the dead in Mexico is not something new, as it was practiced since pre-Hispanic times. When the conquerors arrived, these celebrations merged with the Catholic religion, giving rise to the tradition of the Day of the Dead, on November 1, dedicated to the children’s souls, and on November 2, those of adults.

© Paola Peñafiel
© Paola Peñafiel

During these days, Mexicans go to the cemeteries and adorn their relative’s graves with flowers and offerings. Some families even sleep there to share and celebrate through the night. In addition, Mexican homes often display “altars” to pay respect and welcome the beloved souls of the departed.

The “Altar de Muertos” are decorated with photos and objects of the deceased, candles, Mexican marigolds (typical to this celebration), their favorite dishes, liqueurs, fruits, “Pan de Muerto” and candy skulls. One of the greatest mysteries surrounding this ritual, according to popular belief, is that the food and drinks offered to the deceased loses its flavor, so they are thrown away after the celebration. The living cannot touch these dishes or even think of eating them because they truly believe that “those dishes were enjoyed by the dead”.

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Gastronomic Traditions of the Day of the Dead

While the living do not eat the offering, they have their own banquet to enjoy with family. Usually they prepare a traditional Mexican fare, to include those favored by the deceased.

Mole Poblano | © Michelle Barneond
Mole Poblano | © Michelle Barneond

What cannot be forgotten is the “Mole”, one of the most traditional and complex Mexican recipes. It’s essentially a creamy paste or sauce made with a variety of chilies and spices, thickened with corn, to accompany meats and vegetables. Although there are many types, the most well-known is the “Mole Poblano”, which is prepared using more than 20 different ingredients such as bitter chocolate, a variety of chilies, chipotle, tomatoes, almonds, bananas, nuts, raisins, sesame seeds, cloves, cinnamon, parsley, pepper, onion, garlic, sugar and tortillas; served with chicken, rice and beans.

Being a complex dish, the recommended pairing would be a full-bodied red wine that is well balanced and has a silky texture such as Marques de Casa Concha Merlot. Another excellent alternative is Trio Merlot, a blend of this grape variety with Carmenere and Shiraz which has a great structure and aroma of black fruits and chocolate, complementing the diverse ingredients in mole.

Tamales | © Michelle Barneond
Tamales | © Michelle Barneond

Another traditional dish often prepared for this celebration are “Tamales”, a corn-based dough wrapped in corn husk, which can be sweet or salty, stuffed with meats or vegetables and accompanied by different sauces. One example is “Tamales de Rajas” (Tamales with chili strips), filled with a stew of onions, tomatoes, chilies and Oaxaca cheese, typical of the Oaxacan region. For this recipe, we recommend Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay.

This fresh and balanced wine pairs well to lessen the acidity from the tomato, and spice from the chilies. Additionally, the creamy texture of the Chardonnay as well as its butter notes will perfectly get along with the Oaxaca cheese. For sweet tamales, a good option is Casillero del Diablo Carmenere, a wine with fruity aroma and a silky texture that achieves harmony with the corn’s softness.

Pan de Muerto | © Paola Peñafiel
Bread of the Dead | © Paola Peñafiel

A staple at every dinner and offering during this celebration is the delicious “Pan de Muerto” (bread of the dead). A type of sweet bread prepared with different shapes and styles depending on the region of Mexico, with the most popular being round, covered with white sugar and dough strips resembling bones. For “Pan de Muertos” and the traditional “Calaveritas Dulces” (candy skulls), made of chocolate, amaranth or sugar, the perfect pairing is Concha y Toro Late Harvest. This lightly sweet and fruity wine nicely complements desserts and cakes.

Calaveras Dulces | © Paola Peñafiel
Candy Skulls | © Paola Peñafiel

The diversity of Mexican gastronomy allows for the pairing of their dishes to be greatly influenced by ones personal taste buds. Nevertheless, we always recommend you seek the highest possible balance of flavors, textures and aromas.