Why Does Red Wine Always Go with Tango Music?


Great music, when paired with great wine, make for quite the sensual experience, just as on the other end of the spectrum, bad music is as jarring to the senses as bad wine is. It is not uncommon to find magazines and other publications asserting wine pairings with food, mood, weather, and occasions, even music. But what about tango music? Have we ever thought about why that Malbec and Pugliese tanda go so well together? Or why the Sauvignon Blanc goes so well with the rhythmic De Angelis and Biagi vals?

Tango music comes in three main forms; tango (danced to a beat of 4 – 2 strong downbeats & 2 weak beats), milonga (beat of 2), and vals (beat of 3 – 1 strong beat & 2 weak beats). Under these broad categories, there are layers of complexity in emotion conveyed through the deep syncopation of the contrabass, the wafting notes of the violin, the twinkling dancing notes of a piano, and the plaintive wail of the bandoneon. Not to forget, the haunting or humorous singing of el cantor de la orquesta, or the orchestra singer.

Themes across for all 3 categories can range from romantic, playful and humorous, to heartbreak, and darker ones like anger, abandonment and betrayal. But any emotion is all danced out within the space of the rhythm and beat, much like the pulse of a bubbling brook…or in a more contemporary context, the deep pounding bass of EDM in a club. Each instrument is like a live animal telling its own story, and with the minute details to each start and stop of each phrase, one can live and die an entire life in the microcosm of each song. More on that in the next post.

So how does this relate to wine? Well, how do we normally decide which wine to drink when we listen to (tango) music? Wine comes in various forms, and more often than not in Malaysia, we choose based on the selections that are available to us. But then, do we choose the music first and the wine after, or in reverse? When we walk into a milonga, the music is already selected for us. It’s true that we don’t always know what to expect from a DJ, but there will always be classic well-known and loved tango songs. So do we decide what to drink only when we get to a milonga, or does it already happen subconsciously in our mind based on the type of music we expect, and decided we want to dance to? (Hence that Malbec in anticipation of the agony of Pugliese…)

My opinion here is that wine and music, when paired correctly, much like food, has the ability to reach into our brain’s reward centers, enhancing the overall sensory experience for us. Most tango dancers will almost always automatically reach for the biggest red, or the dry white. There is a great reason for that, but keeping in mind everything else in between, the idea is that the bigger the dramatization, the more complex the wine, and the lighter the mood, the easier and smoother the wine. Here are some basic pairings I’ve made on wine and tango music, the next time you go for a glass:

  • Deep, lyrical songs (e.g. deep vocal bass, contrabass – also applicable to milongas) = Full Bodied Wine (e.g. Malbec, Bordeaux, Carmenere, Tempranillo, Rioja, Chianti, Syrah)

I recommend: Romance de la Ciudad, by Roberto Goyeneche, En Esta Tarde Gris by Julio Sosa, and La Mulateada, by Alberto Podesta

  • High frequency and/or  speed instrumentals  (e.g. violin and bandoneon-heavy songs) = High Acid or Sparkling Wine (e.g. Prosecco, Champagne, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio)

I recommend: Este Es El Rey by Juan D’Arienzo, Siete Palabras by Carlos Di Sarli, and Gallo Ciego by Osvaldo Pugliese

  • Full orchestra songs (e.g. a powerful symphony) = Complex Dry or Sweet Wine (e.g. Valpolicella, Barbera D’Asti, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer)

I recommend: La Bordona and Jamas Lo Vas a Saber, by Osvaldo Pugliese, Derrotado by Carlos Di Sarli, Será Una Noche by Orquesta Misteriosa Buenos Aires, and El Adios by Sexteto Ojos de Tango

  • Single bandoneon / Guitar / Trio / Cuartet sounds = Mellow, Smooth Wine (e.g. Pinotage, Shiraz, White Zinfandel, Rose)

I recommend: Yo No Se Que Me Han Hecho Tus Ojos by Soledad Villamil, Alas de Tango by Esteban Morgado, and Garganta Con Arena by Cacho Castaña

  • Fast / playful / rhythmic (e.g. D’arienzo, or Biagi tangos, milongas and valses) = Fruity, Easy-Drinking Wine (e.g. Pinot Noir / Bourgogne, Sauvignon Blanc)

I recommend: Angelica by Alfredo de Angelis, La Cicatriz by Cuarteto Soltango, El Choclo by Juan D’Arienzo, El Recodo by Rodolfo Biagi and Viejo Porton by Sexteto Milonguero

Obviously, this is neither an exhaustive analysis of all tango music, nor of wines. My aim is to enrich your sensory experience by laying out the different possibilities when pairing wine with tango music. So the next time your favorite Di Sarli or De Angelis tanda comes around, you know which wine to reach for to give you the best experience!


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