This month the World Wine Travel group is exploring the "native" grapes of South America.
"Native" in quotation marks because the grapes had originally been brought from Europe but have been in South America for so long that they have come to be known as uniquely South American.
The most widely known of these grapes must be Malbec. Malbec hails from France, but when you think of a Malbec, a bold Argentinian wine from Mendoza probably comes to mind.
Other grape varietals that have undertaken a uniquely South American identity, according to Wine Folly, are Carmenere, Pais, Bonarda, and Torrentes.
I chose to try two of these varietals from Argentinian winemakers and paired them with the quintessential Argentinian snack, empanadas.
San Francisco Empanadas
Somewhat surprisingly, the empanada has an enduring and prominent presence in the San Francisco Bay Area.
There doesn't appear to be a very large Argentinian community, but you can find dedicated empanada shops in quite a few cities.
Perhaps the most prominent of these shops is El Porteno in the San Francisco Ferry Building. Eateries come and go from that high ticket, highly trafficked food hall, but the empanadas have been a staple since 2008.
I picked up some from the farmers market where there is a stand that only sells multiple kinds of empanadas each week. They cost $8 each and include a side of chimichurri, an herb blended oil sauce with red wine vinegar. For an extra $2, you can get a side of vegetable lentil salad.
Criolla means Creole in Spanish. According to Evan Goldstein, writing in Wines of South America, Criolla refers to the grape varietals brought by the Spanish conquistadores and Spanish settlers in the 16th century.
These include Criolla Grande and Criolla Chica, which is also known as the Pais or Mission grape.
Criolla also refers to the white wine grape known as Torrontes.
La Jirafa Y El Enano Uco Valley Criolla Grande 2022
Organically farmed; indigenous yeast, no additives; $20
Visual: Poured a pinky blush, like cranberry stained glass. Light bodied.
Nose: Smells divine! Tart cherry, smokey whiffs of a summer bbq grill, watermelon, scratch and sniff stickers
Taste: Ooh, wasn’t expecting that! Punchy acid, plum juice, warm, more vegetal than fruity, green and red bell pepper, dark leafy greens - kale. Finish is actually quite strong considering its lightbodiedness,
Pairing: Quite excellent with the salad and punchy radishes that tame the acid. Singing with vegetable empanada, chockfull of potatoes, and the chimichurri.
Bonarda is the Italian name for the Corbeau grape. A thin skinned grape, it grows well in very warm climates, unlike Malbec. Since it produces such high yields and is popular with growers, it is generally considered an everyday drinking wine in Argentina.
Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Classica 2020
100% Bonarda; Certified Organic; Fermented in steel tanks; aged in concrete tanks; $11
Visual: rich in color, inky, dark purple
Nose: Dried herbs, blackberry,
Taste: Plummy, juicy, not super tannic. The tank aging really made a difference. Still has some bite from what seems like fresh grapes.
Pairing: More plummy with the empanada. Handled the zesty lentil salad just fine, which was a bit of a surprise for a dark red wine. Equally handled the fresh herb, chile and zest of the chimichurri sauce.
The wine and empanada together made the meal much more interesting than each were on their own.
South American "Native" Grapes
Learn more about South American Native Grapes from the World Wine Travel writers:
Blue Cheese Sauce to put on that Steak you are Grilling Up to Pair with a Malbec Wine from Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm
3 Wines That Sing Argentina Paired with Pork Tacos from Gwendolyn at Wine Predator
A Taste of Argentina: Chupín de Mariscos + a 2022 Torrontés from the Salta Region from Camilla at Culinary Cam
Argentinian Malbec: An immigrant who gets the job done from Linda at My Full Wine Glass
Criolla, Bonarda, and the San Francisco Empanada from Deanna at Wineivore