Food & Wine

The Noble Grapes Wine Pairing Challenge

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In honor of National Empanada Day I thought I’d share this fun experience from a month or so ago. The weekend I took the Noble Grapes Challenge and learned how to make the empanadas I fell in love with on my trip to Mendoza, Argentina.

Sharing recent discoveries and finds with friends is one of my favorite ways to learn about wine, and I was excited when several friends invited me to their Noble Grapes Challenge. There are 18 red and white noble grapes that “define the complete range of wine flavors –from clear, zesty white to deep dark red wine.” Once you’ve mastered those flavors, you’ll have a better sense for wine.

We were each tasked with bringing one of the varietals, preferably one we were not familiar with, a food that paired well with it.

I was most excited about that last part. A good food/wine pairing can change your life. It can take flavors that are good and make them amazing. It can take tastes you’re not crazy about and transform them into your favorite combo. I call it that “Ratatouille moment.”

Mmmmm. So anyway, I cheated. I picked malbec. I’m very familiar with malbec. But most people in the US are not, not real malbec. We get all the oaky, dark fruit — plums, black raspberries, etc — malbec imported here. But in Argentina, the entry level malbec is beautiful bright red cherry flavors, soooo gorgeous. And I’m on a mission to introduce everyone possible to this side of malbec.

In Mendoza almost any basic bottle you get will taste like that. Here you have to scan labels looking for “bright red fruit” or cherry in the description. So I went to my go-to, Achaval Ferrer, which I think has the best entry level Malbec I’ve found in the US.

© Marc Weisberg Photography Inc

© Marc Weisberg Photography Inc

And then I had to come up with a food pairing. Empanadas seemed the obvious choice. You get meat, you get flaky pastry, you get a little spice. The only problem is I had never made them. I considered buying them pre-made, but I have yet to taste any like those in Mendoza. A little research turned up why — Empanadas are made differently in Argentina. Of course.

So after much searching, I turned up a recipe for Empanadas Mendocinas that sounded like the baked creations I fell in love with.

Beef Empanada at Casa de Campos, Maipu, Mendoza, Argentina

Beef Empanada at Casa de Campos

And that’s one of the major differences — these empanadas are baked, not fried. Which not only makes them healthier, it makes them easier for someone like me to make! The empanadas mendocinas recipe I found on had modified another recipe found on I modified it further — doubling the spice (because I like spice) and ditching the hardboiled egg entirely because I was never a big fan.

Keri’s Modified Empanadas Mendocinos Recipe

I didn’t want to spend more time than necessary so I used two types of pre-made frozen empanada dough. Both were made by Goya, found in the grocery freezer section. I found the more plainly wrapped 10 discos para empanadas, “Dough for Turnover Pastries” were a little easier to roll and held up better than the  tapas de empanadas, “Puff Pastry Dough for Turnovers.” But both worked well.


  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 cup sweet onions, diced
  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 4 tbsp smoked paprika (or Spanish paprika)
  • 4 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh oregano (or dried)
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
  • 1 egg, divided
  • 3/4 cup sliced green olives
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Making the filling:

  1. Mix the raw ground beef, paprika, chili powder, oregano, cumin in a large bowl. If you’re not a fan of alot of spice, halve the amounts. Salt and pepper generously. Chill until ready to use.
  2. In a large fying pan, melt the butter on medium low heat. Add the onions and sauté until they are softened and translucent. About 6-8 minutes.
  3. Add the meat mixture to the onions and cook on medium heat until the meat is fully cooked. Stir frequently and break up any chunks. Remove from heat.
  4. Allow the mixture to cool and stir in the green onions and olives.Empanadas mendocinas filling half recipe
Creating the empanadas:
  1. After the frozen discs have defrosted slightly, roll them out until they are roughly 1 1/2 times their original size. I did not have a rolling pin, so I used a pint glass which was awkward but worked.
  2. Brush the reserved egg white along the edges of the dough round. Add 1-2 generous spoonfuls of the meat mixture to the center of the round. You want to fill the round as much as possible without spilling over.
  3. Fold the dough in half and pinch the edges gently to seal. If you’re good at dumpling or momo making, the same twisting motion will give it a decorative look. I am not particularly skilled at that part.
  4. Brush the tops of the empanadas and the sealed edges with the egg yolk to help seal them and give them a golden hue when baked.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 400 F and bake for about 25 minutes or until golden.

This recipe was more than enough for 2 dozen meaty empanadas. I made one batch first and tried it with the wine. It didn’t have quite enough acid, so I tripled the green olives (reflected in the recipe above) which added the extra tart saltiness it was missing. And depsite my inability to crimp edges or baste evenly with egg yolk, they were a big hit!

Full Disclosure: I may receive affiliate credit from links in this post or on this site which will help fund my travels. Thank you for your support!

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