My first day in Valencia - I headed for the old part of the town in search of the famous local dish and a glass of wine. Paella is the internationally renowned rice dish from Valencia in Spain. If you want genuine paella, you will find it in Valencia, or (sometimes) in a quality restaurant in Madrid, Logrono or Barcelona, but it doesn’t get any better than here in Valencia the home of paella.
As with many local dishes, the typical tourist paella bears little (or no) resemblance to the real thing. It originated in the rice paddies around Valencia. Today paella is made in every region of Spain, and imitated around the world using just about any kind of ingredient that goes well with rice.
There are as many versions of paella as there are cooks. It can contain chicken, pork, shellfish, fish, eel, squid, beans, peas, artichokes or peppers. Saffron, the spice that also turns the rice a wonderful golden colour is an essential ingredient of the dish, and sometimes forgotten by many.
Rich in flavour but rustic by nature, paella is best matched with a wine with similar qualities. The Spanish wines I chose over the 3 days I was exploring the region were straightforward - though far from uninteresting. Made from the locally grown grape varieties like; Albarino, Verdejo, Monastrell and even Syrah all from the south west in Jumilla. The wines firm acidity in the whites and earthy, tannic notes from the reds compliment nicely with the earthy flavours of the rice, while the sweet berry flavours marry nicely with pork, chorizo and saffron sauce.
With choosing a wine - look for a wine with vibrant acidity that will help to cut through the richness of the chicken and chorizo that are added to so many paellas.
On one occasion when I ordered paella relatively early one evening - the chef encouraged me to match a dry fino sherry with the dish. It was no surprise why his restaurant was full of locals and that he had owned it for many successful years, as the match was sublime.
On a hot summer’s day on the Mediterranean coast in Spain, one would like to enjoy a white wine, so when looking to match a white wine with paella – look for a crisp white with good natural acidity. This is usually the best match for so many complex and spicy flavours that can be added to many dishes.
With fresh, light seafood paella, locally in New Zealand a good suggestion is a Sauvignon Blanc, plus depending upon the winery style don’t forget to try a glass of Viognier, Riesling, or even a nice sparkling wine. Depending upon the degree of spiciness, whites with a bit of residual sugar can be a nice way to offset the spice, like a Pinot Gris.
If you are like me and when in Spain I was determined to enjoy a local glass of red, I’d go with relatively light-bodied, integrated oak, fruit driven reds such as Tempranillo, a Crianza Rioja or even a soft Monastrell.