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How to pair wine with Paella?

A year ago I spent some time in the beautiful city of Valencia. While soaking in the local traditions, culture, language, I was also interested in local cuisine. One of the essential dishes is definitely the paella. In Valencia, the paella Valenciana comes only with rabbit, chicken, and snails. There is one with seafood, which is also very popular, especially with delicious fresh ingredients. The third common type is the paella with vegetables only, where most of the attention gets several local varieties of beans. Well, I was not only eating the paella but also learned how to prepare it.

My paella verdura!

This part of the year brings all the memories again, about the time I have spent in Spain. Even though paella is not a very autumn dish, I noticed some fresh beans in the local markets and decided to cook one again. Side fact: in such an international city like Frankfurt am Main, with a large Spanish/Latin community, it is surprisingly hard to get the proper paella rice! Even in places like Kleinmarkthalle, you will find mostly Italian risotto rice. The sellers will try to tell you that it is the same, and you shouldn’t worry, well, don’t believe them. The rice grain looks the same, but its properties for cooking are different.

While cooking, I was thinking about wine, which could go well. Pairing with paella Verdura seems to be harder than expected. All the unusual flavors are playing the leading role here – the beans, the smoked paprika, the saffron and rosemary, and sometimes the proper socarrat. All this makes it hard to pair with wine, as the character of chosen wine should not dim the bitter-savory-full aromas.

The wines served to the dish locally in Valencia depend, of course, on the restaurant one is visiting. The classic Valencian paella with meat can go very well with Spanish Garnacha or Syrah. The paella with seafood would go very well with white, crisp wines more on the acidic side, for instance, Albariño or Txakoli.

The vegetarian paella is the real deal and the real challenge. In Valencia, in most of the popular bars, it would be served with a white “house “wine, which usually means a Verdejo. Sometimes one can get luckier and get a Rosé (usually Garnacha from Navarra) to go with the dish. Some will try to sell you a bottle of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, both in my opinion, not the right choice.

The Chardonnay might be too oaky and won’t respond well to the flavors going the direction of umami. The smoked paprika and saffron will trigger most of the umami sensations on your tongue. In the worst-case scenario – the wine will dim the fantastic multiple layers of taste which paella has to offer. Sauvignon Blanc is already a better choice, but it will have a similar effect to Verdejo. The acidity will spike some parts of the palate while overpowering everything else, which means that particular pairing is just missing the point.

The other day, I was pairing portobello mushrooms and truffle risotto with a mild Italian orange wine, and it worked beautifully! It is the same direction I would recommend for the vegetarian paella – soft orange wine (or macerated white, in other words). No extensive oak contact, nothing too funky. My recommendation would be the delicious, chilled Cancelli from Vini Rabasco; the wine is a mild 100% Trebbiano grown some 20 km away from Pescara. The wine is aged in stainless steel, with no sulfur added, not filtered.

Some can say – why pairing a very local and traditional dish with a foreign wine? What about Spanish wines? My choice would be a good bottle of Godello from Galicia (here you can read more about that grape). In that case, I would go for a 100% Godello wine from a Bodega Pazo de Toubes from Cenlle near Ourense – Teixadal de Casaio, 2016 vintage. Whenever there’s a discussion about Godello, very often, it’s put together with Chardonnay, which in my opinion, is a significant simplification, not very accurate as well. Both grapes tend to have mild features, but Chardonnay is vinified differently, and its “buttery” character comes in a very different way than Godello. Of course, if someone really wants to stick to Chardonnay, they could also go with Meursault (which should be creamy), but honestly – it will be quite an unnecessary expense. Both of the recommended wines of my choice would go beautifully with the vegetarian paella. They won’t overpower any flavor or uplift only one, but allow it to play together very well on the palate smoothing out the spicy umami from smoked paprika and earthiness of saffron.

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