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The Wine Column

Flight to Spain

By Stett Holbrook

THIS WEEK, the Grapevine in Willow Glen will demystify one of the world's best rice dishes, paella. The April 15 tasting focusing on the traditional Spanish specialty will not only review the basics of paella physics but will also explain how to match it with a great Spanish wine.

Michael Hutchinson, a San Jose–based Spanish wine importer with Ole Imports, will be heading up the proceedings. He says paella can lend itself to many different pairings, but there's one rule that shouldn't be broken. "Being authentic and [choosing wines] from the region is the best way to go," says Hutchinson. "It's sacrilege not to drink Spanish wine."

He recommends starting off with a kava, which is a Spanish sparkling wine, or an aromatic wine (represented at the tasting by a godello, which is from northwest Spain), but says the ingredients of any particular paella creation can dictate the varietals of choice as the meal progresses. In that spirit, Hutchinson will also be pouring reds, including a rioja.

If you have never made paella yourself, a class like this is the best way to get comfortable with a dish that confounds even its devotees. That's what my wife and I did when faced with the challenge of making it for the first time last year. We had had some fantastic takes on paella in Spain and the Canary Islands, but the idea of actually constructing it ourselves was daunting. And as if that wasn't enough pressure, we were planning to make a huge dish of it as Thanksgiving dinner for an oversized-table's worth of our family members.

In preparation, we went to a paella-making class at Menlo Park's Iberia restaurant. Chef Jose Luis Relinque, a native of Seville, taught us everything we needed to know about pulling it off. The most important secrets I can share in this small space are: (1) it's all about the layering; (2) it doesn't matter if you screw up the layering; (3) when faced with the question of whether to add more olive oil, the answer is always "yes." I will always be indebted to Relinque as much for putting our minds at ease as for his specific technique (although his instruction allowed us to make a paella universally praised by both the foodies in the family and those who had initially received the idea with a cocked and loaded eyebrow): paella is a much more forgiving dish than it appears, and it's true that everyone can—and should—make their own.

Hutchinson's class will feature paella made on the spot, as well as tapas and Spanish cheese, with a flight of Spanish wines.

PAELLA AND SPANISH WINES will be held from 6:30 to 9:30pm on Wednesday (April 15), at the Grapevine, 1389 Lincoln Ave., in San Jose. Cost is $30. (408.293.7574)

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