What do you match with a Paella? I'm sure there are any number of 'expert authorities' who can chime in on this subject, and I'm equally sure each one of them would be correct.
I have no doubt that somewhere on the interweb is a site that has sampled and calibrated every possible wine pairing with paella, and documented them on a digital scale of reference within an algorithm that will infallibly pick the correct wine---depending, of course, on the variables of heat, humidity, prevailing winds, the ph levels of the soft palate, and the oceanic source regions of the shellfish in question.
We decided to use the other time-honored wine and food matching principal of putting the food on the table and surrounding it with as many bottles of wine as possible, then checking the fill levels at the end of the dinner.
The paella was delicious. The pan filled the center of the table, overflowing with mounds of yellow saffron rice and studded with copious amounts of chicken, shrimp, clams and mussels. The smell was tantalizing and, even with eight people around a large table, everyone was close enough to shovel up mounds and mounds on their plates, still leaving huge amounts in the pan (Leftovers, I was thinking; very good leftovers!).
There was a Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2008. While it didn't bowl anybody over or pull out in front of the field, it was perfectly serviceable (which, okay, sounds like a bad thing in this day of gobstopper ParkerPoints 100, but isn't really). Candied cherries, with a bit of a fire-roasted tomato thing going on, plump fruit almost going to raisin but stopping short, sanitized earth (this is California, after all): a warm-weather, ripe-fruit, squeaky-clean and correct bottle of Pinot Noir to satisfy the polling numbers and fit safely in the middle-of-the-pack. Not bad, but no yellow jersey for Rodney this year.
In another surprise, up popped two wines from Vitis Ridge, a small outfit in Silverton, OR---and for those of you who are wondering where the hell Silverton, OR, is, it's in the Willamette Valley, only way over on the eastern edge, not the more popular and more vinously populated center and western edge of the Valley.
Unfortunately, that's about all the background I can provide on the Vitis Ridge Winery because when I attempted to google information, I twice was given warnings most dire to not access the site because there was reportedly some serious malware lurking therein.
Hope they get that fixed so other folks can access it; hard to be without a website in this day of digital reliance. And there's sparse info out there in other places, although enough to know there are winery visits available, the partners are nice folks, and they grow a hell of a lot of different varieties (which sorta leads me to believe they haven't found any focus yet.) Oh, horrors: we'll have to rely on the wines themselves to speak to us!
And they speak fairly well. The Vitis Ridge Marechal Foch 2008, a French-American hybrid sometimes seen on the east coast but only rarely out west, was actually a light-bodied, restrained and gentle red wine with good fruit and little in the way of rough edges. With surprisingly good balance and soft berry fruit, this was quite a pleasant wine, and ready to drink.
The other, labeled "Fab Four" [NOTE: All really bad Beatles puns, of which there were several, were successfully redacted at this point for the protection of our readers. Sincerely, Google, Inc.] was apparently an 'almost-Meritage' but somehow less than because it contained only four of the five approved varieties. I didn't get the opportunity to read the fine print of the back label, however, so can only assume Petite Verdot was the missing grape.
I don't believe the Meritage Society insists that all five varieties be in the blend to make it a Meritage, just that only those varieties are approved for use in a Meritage. Cute name, huh? Which I despise, by the way. And now if they do get Petite Verdot in there, they're stuck with calling that version the Fab Five, which will be worse. [NOTE: All really bad Dave Clark Five puns, of which there were fewer because they don't have nearly the songbook the Beatles have, were redacted at this point for the protection of our readers. Sincerely, Google, Inc.]
In any case, this Fab Four 2007 hadn't melded together as a group yet, and didn't come across in perfect harmony. Bit rough around the edges Dissonant. Decent enough fruit, mind you, but came across as muddy and indistinct at center with some scratchy, woody bits on the outside edges. Perhaps it will integrate better with a little time. And I'd be interested in seeing more in this vein from this producer. I liked the Marechal Foch more though, at least on this one night. [NOTE: Corny, but we let this pass under the metaphor rule. We're still watching though. Sincerely, Google, Inc.]
First there was Pucho Bierzo 2005, from the Mencia grape. Bierzo is a small, narrow and steeply terraced valley east of the Rias Baixas/Albarinho area and north of the Ribera del Duero/Tempranillo area, and the Mencia grape has become all the trendy rage of late with its quasi-Loire-ish Cabernet Franc similarities.
And of course, what with the vinous changes sweeping across Spain now, amidst this sweeping change an essential dichotomy of styles began to emerge, with one side championing a clean, bright, light, almost crisp and freshly fruity stainless steel version, and the other holding forth for creamy, ripe and lavishly fruited wood-aged versions laden with vanilla and spice.
Pucho is clearly, and without question or doubt in the first camp. And it is an altogether lovely wine.
It's not a blockbuster, and doesn't pretend to be. It is a wine to be put on the table with food, not to impress or overwhelm or conquer, but to enhance the food and the meal. It is that most precious of things: an accommodating wine, a wine that doesn't need to impose its own ego but is content with being pleasant and companionable. I'd be happy to serve the Pucho any number of times, to any number of people, with any number of foods. It's what wine bibbers call a "go to red," a dependable house wine, an old reliable standby you can always count on.
What it isn't? It isn't a Loire replacement. It's not that assertively edgy or pushy and it lacks that hard minerality that some of the better Loire Cabernet Francs have. So don't expect it to be Loire-ish. It isn't. And don't expect it to be Cabernet Franc either. It's Mencia, and it's from Bierzo, and it's pretty damned good at being what it is.
The Beberide was made by Mariano Garcia when he was at Vega Sicilia---while he was working the Unico, for all you Vega fans out there--- and is a blend of 40% Cabernet, 30% Merlot...and 30% Mencia!
So we ended up with one Mencia, and one partial Mencia side by side. But these wines were entirely different. Frankly, I had no idea when drinking it that there was Mencia in the blend---I suspected it was Tempranillo and Merlot.
Where the Pucho was light and fresh and edgy and berry fruit driven, the Luna Beberide was closer to a Bordeaux in style, weightier, with darker cassis fruit, mingled with tobacco and dried flowers and herbs, all wrapped up in silky vanilla-laden oak. I was not surprised afterwards when I discovered the Luna oak regimen was a combination of 80% French/20% American, mostly new, and laid down for 26 months!
So if you're into the older style of Bordeaux or the great California Cabs of the 70s, this is a wine to look for. It's pricey, yes; but not as pricey as Vega Sicilia Unico would be.
However, a wine is only as good as its time, place, and occasion---and for this occasion, with the paella, the humble Pucho was my preferred wine. The Pucho accommodated itself to the sweetness of the shellfish and the spice of the rice, and seemed without effort or artifice; the Luna Beberide, while lovely and silky, was too oaky/vanilla shake for me, and insisted on standing separately, apart from the dish.
By this time we were edging into a green salad with toasted hazelnuts and white raisins, and then a triple selection of Spanish cheeses and a tasty cake of dried apricot, for which the Pucho and Luna Beberide served handsomely...along with the leavings of the Vitis Ridge reds and the Pinot Noir.
Once again, the Vitis Ridge Marechal Foch proved a pleasant surprise, durable and persistent, standing up to the aged Manchego nicely. And once again the Pucho took honors with me. What can I say? By this time I realized I was infatuated with the fresh liveliness and inherent likeability of the Pucho.
After the brobdingnagian feast, none of were interested in extending it to the planned elaborate dessert, so we opted for a chocolate truffle comparison---a friend had gone to two different chocolatiers and bought the same type of champagne truffle, so we were content with having them with our coffee to close out the evening. (And yes, the two truffles were different from each other, one being richer and fuller in flavor, the other being lighter, more delicate.)
Thus ended our night of paella and wine profligacy.