Rethinking Mexican Pairings: A Q&A With Dalia Ceja

Dalia Ceja is on a mission to change the way people think about Mexican food by pairing food her family-owned vineyard wines

Ceja Vineyards in Napa Valley, Calif. produces Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which can be paired with delicious Mexican dishes.

For the Ceja family, it all started with one plot of land.

Mexican-born Pedro and Amelia Ceja met as workers on a Napa vineyard picking grapes. Together, they bought one plot of the vineyard and have grown Ceja Vineyards to 113 producing acres.

Dalia Ceja, the couple's daughter, was born on the family vineyard in Napa and grew up in the wine business. With a degree in marketing and communications from San Francisco State University, she took on the role as the sales and marketing director for Ceja Vineyards. When asked about minority wineries developing their own styles, she says, "For us, it's been about family and taking wine to a new level." For Dalia, this means bringing awareness of authentic Mexican cuisine and its subtle flavors and how well it pairs with delicious wines for a unique experience. We talked to Ceja about her family's vineyard and her quest to change the reputation of pairings with Mexican food.

The Daily Meal: What do you think wine brings out in the flavors of the food that maybe gets hidden by other drinks, like beer, or harder alcohols, like tequila?

Dalia Ceja: Stylistically, we like making wines that are lower in alcohol content (under 14 percent) and that are food-friendly and approachable. We don't like making wines that are high alcoholic fruit bombs because they are hot on the palette and difficult to pair with authentic Mexican cuisine. Balanced wines with nice acidity is key to our philosophy of making wine. Also, considering we cook with a variety of chiles, spices, and flavors, we love wines where the acidity will cut through any spice component that are found in many Mexican dishes that we make at Ceja Vineyards.

TDM: Which wines from the vineyard would you pair with certain Mexican dishes, and why?

DC: My favorite pairings include: 

• Salmon ceviche paired with Ceja Pinot Noir. The combination is light and refreshing and pairs perfectly because the fruitforward characteristics and acidity of the Pinot Noir cut through the spice component of the salmon ceviche. One of my favorites!

• Mole Negro de Oaxaca paired with Ceja Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. The combination is mouthwatering and pairs beautifully because the mole sauce has essence of dark chocolate that compliments the Cabernet's rich and bold flavors. 

• Almond-infused flan paired with our Sonoma Coast Syrah. The dessert and wine combination is one of my favorites because it pairs a rich and slightly smoky/peppery wine with a flan that has a decadent bluberry or raspberry salsa over the nutty and rich flavors of the almond infused flan.

TDM: What do visitors to Ceja Vineyards experience that's different from other Napa Valley vineyards?

DC: One of our motto's is "nuestra casa es casa" (our home is your home), and we invite people to experience our passions of winemaking, pairing authentic Mexican cuisine with wine while incorporating our rich Mexican culture and history. When vistiors come to our vineyard estate, they visit the place where I grew up (surrounded by our Chardonnay vineyards), where they have the opportunity to taste our wines and learn about our history (immigrants from Mexico that started working in the vineyards to ultimately becoming vineyard owners). We also have gorgeous picnic grounds and bocce ball courts that make people never want to leave. 

TDM: What is your favorite wine from the vineyard?

DC: All of the wine in our portfolio are my favorite for different reasons. It depends on the meal, my mood and the time of year. For instance, right now I'm loving our Bella Flor Rosé wine for summer because it's crisp and refreshing and what I consider to be the ultimate patio pounder or poolside wine that pairs beautifully with a delicious barbecue!

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For more recipes from Dalia, her mom, and Jeff Murphy (the executive chef at her brother's restaurant, Bistro Sabor), visit Salud! Napa.