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Apr 26, 2016
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WINE WITH…Meat Ball Soup (Albondigas)

Meatballs are so trendy these days that in our town (Baltimore) a completely meatball-centric restaurant named “8 Ball Meat Ball” has just opened. Although we hear good things about it we haven’t yet had a chance to sample 8 Ball’s fare, but we certainly have jumped on our own meatball express in our kitchen at home. The possibilities for meatballs are endless--way beyond the American version in tomato sauce (with or without spaghetti) that many of us grew up with. Think of Italian polpette, or Greek keftedes (lamb meatballs served with Tzatziki), as well as middle-eastern kofta, Swedish meatballs (served with sour cream and lingonberry jam), and königbeger klops (Germany’s veal-based meatballs usually served in a buttery white wine sauce). At the moment we are particularly partial to albondigas, little meatballs usually poached in a light broth or heartier soup, that are beloved throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

As with most soups, this will taste even better if made up to 24 hours ahead of serving.

Meat Ball Soup (Albondigas)

4-6 servings

For the Soup:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 corn tortillas torn into 1-inch or so pieces
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
3 cups beef or chicken stock
3 cups water
1 cup sliced mushrooms such as button or shitake or a combination
salt and pepper
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

For the Meatballs:

1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/3 cup raw medium grain white rice
1 raw egg
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

Optional garnishes: Sour cream, sliced avocado, chopped cilantro, lime wedges

Place the olive oil in a large pot and add the onion. Sauté it until it has softened; then add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute or two. Add the oregano, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne and tortilla pieces, and then stir in the tomato paste, Worcestershire Sauce and the beef or chicken stock. Simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove it from the heat and puree it in a blender or with an immersion blender. Return to the pot and add the water and mushrooms. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, thoroughly mix together the meatball ingredients. Form the mixture into meatballs 1-inch or so in diameter. Add them, one at a time, to the simmering soup. Cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the peas and corn and continue simmering for another 15 minutes.

* * *

The choice of wine to pair with Albondigas depends to a considerable degree on how you choose to garnish it. Serve it with just a dollop of sour cream, and a red wine will be your best choice. Add sliced avocado, chopped cilantro, and a healthy squeeze of lime, and a white or sparkler will shine. This is another example of what we’ve discovered time and time again when cooking and tasting for this column: A dish’s preparation is every bit as important as its ingredients when pairing wine with it.

Questions or comments? Contact us at Talkofthevine@gmail.com


Approx. Price


Altano, Douro (Portugal) “Quinta do Ataíde” 2013

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


A hearty red, this Douro DOC packs plenty of muscle, along with a leathery undercurrent that finishes with echoes of savory spice. It’s a great choice with this dish, especially if you don’t try to lighten things with citrus and fresh herbs.

Bonny Doon, California Cinsault/ Counoise 2014


This is one wine that can work with Albondigas no matter how you prepare or garnish the dish. It’s a very light-bodied red, full of fresh fruit flavors, so will accompany both hearty and bright renditions. A youthful cru Beaujolais would likely work in much the same way.

Kendall- Jackson/ Jackson Estate, Santa Maria Valley (California) Chardonnay 2014


A classic-tasting Chardonnay from Kendall-Jackson, this time from one of the company’s estate vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley near Santa Barbara. Full of ripe tropical fruit flavor, with enough oak to add complexity but not too much to become overbearing, it also finishes ever so slightly sweet. That hint of sugar helps it if you garnish the dish in a fresh style.

Ravenswood, Russian River Valley (California)


Belloni Vineyard



Spicy but not hot or overly alcoholic, this is a classy Zinfandel, full of briery fruit flavor. It loved the dish without any garnish or accoutrement.

Scharffenberger, Mendocino County (California) “Brut Excellence” NV


Bubbly often works well with soup, and this pairing was no exception. It might not be the best choice with the meatballs on their own, but then every spoonful of the dish also contains veggies as well as deep, satisfying broth. And the wine went perfectly with all that.