Argentina’s Upping its Wine Game #WinePW

fullsizeoutput_105dWhen the Wine Pairing Weekend blog group settled on Argentina as a focus area of January, I got excited, because I hadn’t tasted much Argentine wine in a long time. And when the box of samples arrived from Winesellers, Ltd., I got really excited because it contained SIX bottles! And while I was  familiar with Bodegas Santa Julia and Zuccardi, I won’t lie – I’d never tasted them.

I was also excited because I knew that Argentina had upped its game in grape-growing and winemaking, and was now turning out some really exceptional wines that were getting the attention of leading critics and commanding some pretty impressive reviews and scores.

So then, thoughts turned to, “what to cook?” Having been to Argentina on vacation (before my life in wine began), I knew that beef was an obvious option. So maybe a big ol’ steak? Maybe ribs? Short ribs? No, no, and no – so boring! I mean, I cook enough beef. I needed a challenge. And I found one: empanadas!

axfgsprtqjw0foiko1p5wgHow hard could they be? My friend Mona offered to make a traditional ground-beef filling and a chicken filling. I offered to make a cheese filling and the dough. Oh, the dough. Let’s talk about that for minute, shall we?

The dough is easy enough – if a little weird and messy – to make. First I turned to my trusty friend, Google, which quickly revealed that lard is the fat of choice for the best empanadas (not butter). So I followed the directions: melt 3 ounces of lard in a small pan, then add 2/3rd cup  really hot tap water and 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Here’s where the excitement started, because no where in the directions did it say to anticipate wild spluttering of hot fat when you add the water. Glo slowly and stand back! Yipes. Okay, onward.

Now, you’re supposed to add the hot lard/water situation through the feed tube straight into a whirring Cuisinart holding three cups of flour. Alrighty, here we go. Wait, wait, WAIT! Oy, shit, this hot fat mess is spilling everywhere. TIP: pour the hot fat into a measuring cup and THEN pour it into the feed tube. For cryin’ out loud, I was cleaning up congealed fat all OVER the place for days.

Okay, keep going … this is so weird, hot lard going into flour. But it’s working, the dough is coming together. Plop it out onto a board, gather it into a blob, wrap it in cellophane and pop it in the fridge to cool down. This took way longer than anticipated – it needed to stay in there for, like, three hours. You can see where this is going … a really late dinner!

Ding dong, here’s Mona with the fillings! Alright, let’s make some empanadas! And here’s where I realize the difference with this hot-fat-dough. The hot lard makes the dough very strong – as it should be to hold all the delicious fillings. A pie-crust dough would never work for empanadas, in case you were wondering — it’s way too delicate and tender.

fullsizeoutput_104cSo I got my upper arm workout with that fucking rolling pin, rolling and rolling and rolling and pressing and rolling and pressing HARDER and rolling. Ay yi yi! At the rate I was going, I said in a somewhat alarmed tone, “Mona! We’re going to get, like, four freaking empanadas out of only half the dough!” But I was wrong. Because I had a lot more rolling to do. You’ve got to get the dough really thin. Roll, roll, press, press. Start sweating a little. Start swearing more. “Open a freaking bottle of wine!” I cried!
Okay, let’s cut to the end, shall we? We got 12 empanadas made, brushed them with beaten egg and baked them at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes. And guess what? They turned out freaking amazing! The filling were delicious, the crust was crisp and flavorful – I was astounded, to be honest.

img_0992But most importantly, they were a fabulous pairing for the Argentine wines! Let’s talk about the wines!

Familia Zuccardi This is a third-generation family winery in Mendoza, the high-altitude (2000-4000 feet) main wine region of Argentina. They make three collections, including Q, (wine made from grapes grown in micro-regions in the Uco Valley and select old vineyards; about $20 retail); Series A (hand-picked grapes from Salta, Uco Valley and Santa Rosa; about $15 retail); and José Zuccardi Malbec (the family’s signature cuvée; about $40 each retail).

xtowuunaq3qylxhzwh54taZuccardi Q 2016 Malbec: Wow, this wine is deep in color and complexity. Rich yet fresh red fruits (raspberries, plums, currants) and flowers like dried violets give way to really silky tannins, underscored with a little hint of herbaceousness, like eucalyptus. What a beautiful expression of Argentina’s #1 grape. LOVE! $20 (this wine got 92 points from The Wine Advocate in case you’re into that stuff.)

Zuccardi Q 2016 Tempranillo: I love Tempranillo, but hadn’t had any from Argentina so this was a fun wine. It leads with fruit like figs and red cherries, then opens up to a bit of vanilla and coconut (that’s the oak talking), then gives way to a very faint smoky taste, which is perfectly balanced with the fruit. Long finish. This was as great with the rich beef empanadas as the Malbec, but a little more “serious,” if you know what I mean. $20.

Bodegas Santa Julia  These wines are all in the family, named after the only daughter of José Zuccardi. The Santa Julia line is focused on quality wines made in using sustainable practices to protect the environment and support the community – cool!

fullsizeoutput_1054Santa Julia 2018 Chardonnay: Crisp, fresh and fruity, bursting with citrus and green apple fruits, with no discernible oak, this wine is 100 percent organic, aged in stainless steel (I knew it!). I really liked this with the chicken and the cheese empanadas, but truth be told, I polished off the bottle over a few days, with various cheeses, olives and salads. A really great everyday white wine and a great value at $13 retail.

Santa Julia 2018 Malbec: This was a more “fun” style of Malbec, perhaps a bit lighter and fresher than the Zuccardi Q. Beautiful deep violet color, with figs, prunes and fresh acidity. No oak; all stainless steel aged. $11! What a bargain!

fullsizeoutput_105eSanta Julia 2017 Reserva: This was another fun wine – a blend of 70 percent Malbec and 30 percent Cabernet Franc. It opened with a festival of bright Malbec fruit — figs, plums and cherries backed up with a little blueberry from the Cab Franc, all wrapped up in a warm hug of vanilla and coconut, from the oak aging.  This was great with the empanadas but I can also see it with a juicy burger, barbecued ribs or bacon-centric dishes. Or just bacon! Big plate of bacon. Mmm hmmmm. $13 retail

Join our group  discussion on Saturday Jan. 12 at 10am CST to learn more about Argentine wines. You can find us on Twitter at the #WinePW hashtag.






  1. Once again you had me laughing as I was reading and picturing you making that dough! Making dough is always my least favorite part of baking or cooking, I usually buy it! But boy do those empanadas look tasty!!


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