By Jamie Drummond

I have to say that it was so obviously a superb idea, having Cava’s Chris McDonald and team prepare a special Mid-Winter Paella (with duck, chorizo, and snails) and then invite six Ontario wineries to enter one of their wines as the perfect glass to accompany said Valencian speciality… and then to top it off have CBC’s wonderful Konrad Ejbich hold court over the evening’s proceedings. This concept already had all of the ingredients that make for a splendid night out in my book.

Unfortunately arriving a few moments late, I was seated immediately (and expertly bombarded with some bloody amazing service involving a barrage of tapas) whilst a representative from each competing winery spoke to the room regarding their selection of wine and why they had chosen it to accompany the rather special paella. It has to be said that each winery made a valid argument for their respective pairings. A very jovial air of competition was much evident.

It was good room, full of extremely enthusiastic folks, with many an friendly new face alongside the familiar : Tony Aspler, Josh Josephson, Beppi Crosariol, John Szabo MS, Scott Wilson, Barry Brown and many others from the Ontario wine/food cognoscenti were present… and you can be sure that they made me feel very guilty for my lack of punctuality.

The wines were served in the following order:

1) 2009 Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Rosé
2) 2007 Henry of Pelham Baco Noir “Reserve”
3) 2008 Thirteenth Street Gamay Noir
4) 2007 Stratus “Wildass” Rosé
5) 2008 Norman Hardie Chardonnay “County”
6) 2008 Chateau des Charmes Gamay Noir “Droit”

And so you can see, the competition was INTENSE.

13th Street’s Peter Bodnarod and Stratus’ Charles Baker = shenanigans of the highest order

And then came the judging, with each and every diner rating the wine as a pairing for the paella. I must say that there were some blatant but good natured shenanigans going on as the contestants attempted to curry favour through the topping up of glasses, sweet talk, rubbing of legs, and the like.

As much as I have enjoyed all of the wines independently, when it came to matching with the complex paella, many of the bottlings faltered somewhat.

Our table unanimously found the oak on the Henry of Pelham Gamay Reserve too intrusive, the Southbrook (Cabernet-based) Rosé too herbaceous, and the Wildass Rosé’s fruit a little tired for the vibrancy of the dish. I can see why Stratus and Southbrook chose the rosé route, seeing as that is often the classic pairing in certain parts of Spain, however the paella surprised in itself with the chorizo proving to be much milder than one would have expected and the bright tomato element that one often finds in such dishes being very much underplayed. The dish showed very well alone and our group agreed that it would indeed take a special wine to seize the prize…

Peter Bodnarod graciously accepting his award on behalf of the 13th Street Gamay

But we did, for the most part, agree upon the better wine pairings! Especially the 13th Street Gamay. It was the hands-down favourite

And so…

And the People’s Choice for Perfect Paella Pairing went to:

Third Place: 2008 Norman Hardie  Chardonnay “County”

Runner-Up: 2008 Chateau des Charmes Gamay Noir “Droit”

Winner: 2008 Thirteenth Street Gamay Noir

Chef Chris McDonald

After Peter Bodnarod’s celebratory hootin’ and hollerin’ was finally over* we enjoyed both a cheese (avec dulce de membrillo) and dessert course that were quite exemplary.

I do hope that Chef McDonald and Konrad decide to host a few more of these dinners as I feel that they are, as well as being a barrel of fun, one of the best deals in Toronto… $80 per person inclusive of tax and gratuity. Watch the Cava website for upcoming events.

*denotes joke

Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… and he sure does like his Paella.