Now, before I get to the spectacular wines that Mendoza has to offer, I would first like to talk about the food scene, especially removed from the culture of the United States, and especially removed from Chile.
If you read my articles in the past, you know that a lot of the Chilean food culture is based off of what is caught from the Pacific Ocean and also harvested from the gardens. Well, in Argentina, I will simply paraphrase Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson: “I will let you know that I will not eat the food that my food eats.” In Mendoza, Argentina, this isn’t the musing of a fictional character; this is a national identity. Beef is king in Mendoza and fish is read about in the New Testament.
Beef. All cuts. All done in a BBQ style called “The Asado.” Put a few logs of wood outside in a cage, let it burn down for a few hours, then introduce the food, put some coals underneath and slowly melt the food until your senses can’t take it anymore. The beef, to die for, and when that is done, there is, you guessed it: more beef. Yesterday, I had a meal where 5 of the 8 courses involved beef. The others were empanadas (a delicacy unto its own—I’ll get to that later) that were filled with either corn meal or beef, then braised rabbit, and I’m pretty sure someone from Chile snuck in there, because there was a “salad” of lettuce and tomato (which by the way, with a homemade vinaigrette—probably made with beef stock—was amazing). The rest was wine and a little grappa to finish the meal off.
If you are a worshiper of beef, then Mendoza is your Mecca.
Now I want to let you know that this isn’t the standard operating procedure for the Argentine family. They do however do this on average, at least twice a month.
Legend has it that in 1556, cattle were brought from the southern tip of Brazil to the La Pampa area of Argentina. It was 6 cows and a bull that were left free to graze, completely protected from hunters. This grew eventually into a herd of 40 million cattle by the mid-1880s. Farmers could take freely from this cattle herd and they would cook it for their community using open fires. You want a food pairing match made in Heaven? Try pairing up this food off the grill with some Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon from the region. To say it is delicious is simply a disservice. It is perfect.
Now let’s talk about another traditional food: the empanada.
Now, empanadas didn’t originate in Argentina. Recipes for this delicacy go back to the 1500s in Galicia (northwest Spain), but came over with Spanish expansion in the New World.
“Empanada” comes from the Spanish term “Empanar,” which literally means “To bread,” or, “To wrap in bread.” And the variety?
“some of the most common kinds are: ground beef, cubed beef, chicken, ham and cheese, ham and onion, spinach, and humita (sweet corn with white sauce). The fillings often include other ingredients such as peppers, onions, hard boiled eggs, and olives. Empanadas can be either baked (Salta-style) or fried (Tucuman-style).” –Vamos Spanish
The bottom line is that they are delicious. Especially with the quickly developing sparkling wine that Mendoza is making. Either reminiscent of the “methode champenois” or “cremant de loire,” Argentinian sparkling wine and empanadas are a magical combination that you should try as soon as you can.
The food is amazing, whether from the cattle, or the fresh vegetables (yes, they really have them and use them as great compliments to the meal), Argentina has a culinary identity almost completely its own. I’m drooling just remembering the meals… and I could really use an empanada and bubbly…