I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost bought a paella pan. I mean, they’re kinda awesome. But you know what you have to do if you own a paella pan?
Make the paella.
A far better plan is to have a friend (or in my case, a brother) who owns a paella pan . . . and makes the paella. (I apply the same philosophy of non-ownership to horses and boats, too.)
My daughter and I (and my paella-chef brother), visited my parents in northern Ohio over Spring Break. My brother makes an insane paella, so I asked him to bring his pan . . . and I volunteered to bring a couple bottles of Spanish wine to go along with it. (Because #pairethnicfoodwithethnicwine. And yeah, I know that was too long.)
We have some very good family friends from Spain who taught my brother the secret to a good paella — don’t overcook the rice. It sounds like a simple thing, but a potentially great paella can be totally ruined by a big clump of mushy rice. My brother prepares his paella on the grill. You really should smell this when it’s cooking . . .
I have a palate-affinity for Spanish wines. Rare is the Spanish wine I don’t find myself in love with. Both wines I brought were from the Duero Valley in Spain. One from Ribera del Duero and the other from Rueda. The two regions are neighbors, just to the north and west of Madrid (check the lime-green section of the map). Together, the region is sometimes referred to as Ribera y Rueda.
Wines from Ribera del Duero fall under my personal (and very technical category): So Freaking Good. Ribera del Duero sits on a plateau, divided by the Duero River (the water source for the valley). The climate in Ribera del Duero is harsh continental, with its searing summer heat (I’ve visited this part of Spain in the late summer, and it’s only about 6 degrees cooler than the surface of the sun) and bone-chilling winters. Most of the wines in Ribera del Duero are Tempranillo based (admittedly, one of my very favorite grapes). It came as a surprise to me that Ribera del Duero didn’t earn their DO status until 1982. According to DO regulations, Tempranillo must make up a minimum of 75% of all red wines. The balance can be a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec with up to 5% Albillo or Garnacha. Locally, Tempranillo is called tinto fino or tinto del país (to differentiate it from the Tempranillos of Rioja).
The Verdejo grape originated in Northern Africa and was brought to Spain sometime around the 11th century. It was largely forgotten for centuries, but revived in the 1980s by Marques de Riscal. Today, somewhere around 90% of the grapes grown in Rueda are Verdejo. Aside from a few very scattered plantings around the world, Verdejo’s true home is Rueda, so if you find yourself with a bottle of Verdejo, you’re drinking something very unique. Verdejo is ideally suited to Rueda’s harsh continental climate, with super-hot summers and brutal winters. Another plus? Rueda has large diurnal temperature swings (the difference between the day’s highest temperature and the night’s lowest temperature). This is important because the high temperatures allow grapes to ripen fully, while the low temperatures preserve a grape’s acidity. According to DO regulations for Rueda, wines labeled Rueda must contain at least 50% Verdejo, and can be blended with Sauvignon Blanc and Viura. Wines labeled Rueda Verdejo must contain at least 85% Verdejo, and are often 100%.
Protos Verdejo 2015 ⭐⭐⭐/88
Protos comes from the Greek word for first, and Protos was the first winery founded in the Ribera del Duero region. This wine is 100% Verdejo. The grapes are harvested at night. ¿Muy interesante, no? It’s still quite hot (an understatement) in Spain in September, and if the grapes burst open during picking during daytime temperatures, then oxidation can begin immediately, which is generally a bad thing (unless you’re going for Sherry). Flavors of green apple and citrus, evolving slightly toward the tropical on the finish. Lean and refreshing, with a razor-sharp acidity. A surprise guest-appearance by basil on the finish. Overall, it reminded me of Pinot Gris with a backbone. And it’s cheap, too. This is a €6 wine in Spain. $15ish in the USA.
Finca Villacreces Ribera del Duero 2009 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/92
For many centuries, Villacreces was a retreat for Franciscan monks. It’s neighbor is Vega Sicilia, arguably the most famous winery in the region (if you’ve ever had the outrageous pleasure of drinking a bottle of Unico, you know why). The land passed to private hands in 1836, and is today owned by the Familia Anton, who also own the Michelin-star restaurant, Zaldiaran, in the Basque Region. A blend of 86% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Merlot. Aged 14 months in new French oak. This wine knocked my socks off — reminded me of a baby brother to Unico. So rich and expressive, and absolutely killed it with the paella. There’s so much going on in the glass . . . blueberries, chocolate, vanilla, graphite. Smooth and balanced, with a finish that goes on for over a minute. This wine is going to do great things after a few years in the bottle. Retail = $30ish.
The finished paella . . . ta-da!!
Disclaimer: I received both of these wines as samples from Ribera y Rueda.