If you’re a Seinfeld enthusiast, you might very well remember Kramer’s passionate description of paella: “Oh, it’s an orgiastic feast for the senses … a festival of sights, sounds, and colors…” To be sure, this fragrant, flavorful rice-based mélange remains one of Spain’s most recognizable and revered culinary treasures.
Pairing a wine with this savory delicacy can be a bit tricky: Choose a bottle too reserved, and it will get lost in the forest of flavors; choose something too robust, and you’ll drown out the dish’s complexity and nuance.
Of course, the key to determining the proper bottle for your “orgiastic feast” is distinguishing which variation of paella you’ll be enjoying. The term paella merely refers to the expansive, short-rimmed, gently rounded pan that is used to prepare the dish, customarily warmed over a wood fire. To make paella, you’re looking for the largest pan surface available, so that most of the rice makes contact with the heat. You’ll also need a variety of rice (such as bomba) that is particularly absorbent, one that gleefully soaks up the myriad flavors and aromas.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the various paella adaptations and their corresponding wine alternatives (all available at Paul Marcus Wines).
This classic, saffron-infused version of paella is the most traditional variant, usually including some combination of chicken, rabbit, duck, beans, peppers, and garlic. Earthy and aromatic, with savory and spicy notes, mencía, a red grape most commonly from Galicia in northwest Spain, would be a wonderful partner with this full-flavored meal. (You’ll want to avoid anything overly tannic.)
For an introduction to this grape, try the Valdesil Valederroa, an appealingly simple yet engaging wine, aged in stainless steel and offering bright red fruit and supple tannins. For something with a bit more gravitas, the Lousas cuvée by Envínate, from the slate soils of Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra region, is a juicy and lifted mencía, yet also boasts considerable depth and minerality.
Another worthy choice is the Eidos Ermos from star producer Luis Anxo Rodriguez Vazquez. A vibrant field blend of indigenous red Ribeiro grapes, it’s lower in alcohol and tannins, yet, with its dark complexion and relatively lighter body, is full of energy and finesse. You can also go with a richer white wine as well–something like the Viña Gravonia or even the Viña Tondonia from esteemed Rioja producer Lopez de Heredia. Aged in barrel and fined with egg whites, these standout wines, based on the viura grape, are two of Spain’s most sought-after whites.
Also known as seafood paella, this rendition typically offers flavors that are a bit more restrained and usually includes some blend of clams, mussels, shrimp, and squid. Anytime you’re enjoying shellfish, the white godello grape leaps to mind–clean and refreshing, but with a bit of texture and intensity. Valdesil’s Pezas Da Portela godello is one of great vitality and vigor, having seen a bit of skin contact and six months of aging on the lees in barrel.
For something a little lighter and crisper, try an albariño from Granbazán or Do Ferreiro. Boasting albariño’s customary acidity and salinity, these wines are fleshed out by a bit of lees aging. You can also look to the Basque Country and go for a racy txakolina, blanco or rosado, from Ameztoi–wines that are slightly effervescent and supremely palate-cleansing.
Canary Island whites featuring the listan blanco grape would also work well here. At its best, this grape offers a blend of power and elegance normally associated with white Burgundy–both Suertes del Marqués and Envínate proffer top-notch examples of listan blanco’s capabilities.
Looking for a recipe? Try out Market Hall Foods’s own “Paella à la Marinera“ recipe.
Containing both meat and seafood (and often including chorizo or a similar-type sausage), paella mixta partners well with a younger (crianza) Rioja red, such as Lopez de Heredia’s Viña Cubillo. A blend of roughly two-thirds tempranillo buttressed by garnacha, mazuelo, and graciano, this Rioja sees used American oak, but magically retains a freshness and energy that makes it sing with such a heady dish.
Canary Island reds from Suertes del Marqués and Envínate, based on the listan negro grape, might also fit the bill. These wines are dark-fruited and bursting with smoke and spice, thanks to their volcanic provenance. Even a Canary Island rosado, such as La Araucaria by Dolores Cabrera Fernández, would impress with paella mixta–tart, brambly, and exotic, this wine has enough going on to match the wild flavors of the dish.
This “black rice” variation, which is bathed in squid or octopus ink, offers bold, brash, and concentrated flavors. While many of the above wines would succeed here, you can also try to balance the intensity of the dish with something refreshing and purifying. Say, the Avinyó Reserva Brut Nature Cava, a dry, focused, and snappy sparkling white made from xarel-lo and macabeu. A still xarelo-lo, like the Desig from Mas Candi, can deliver both the acidity and the weight necessary for such a rich creation.
Don’t Forget Sherry
Finally, adventurous paella lovers might turn to the fortified wines of the Jeréz triangle. Drier, lighter sherries biologically aged underneath a layer of yeast offer the perfect salty tang for seafood paella–try the Lustau Fino del Puerto Gonzales Obregon or La Cigarrera Manzanilla. For paella valenciana, the amber-hued Colosia Amontillado steadies its briny tinges with nutty overtones. For the heaviest versions of paella, you can reach for an oloroso sherry like El Maestro Sierra Oloroso, which ages oxidatively for 15 years in solera and, though still dry, offers richness and complexity.
For further suggestions about paella pairing, please visit us at Paul Marcus Wines. We’ll be happy to help! Or if you’d like to see further Prickly Pairings, head over to our “Pairings” page.