wine pairing 101

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Lauren is our resident wine expert, and she has graciously agreed to educate all of us on the basics of wine pairing. 

We made several different small plates with diverse flavor profiles to better suit our array of wines. We have included the respective recipes, but (disclaimer*) they are not necessarily good plates to pair together like our other supper club menus.

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general tips & tricks

The decision of what wine to pair with what meal can make even the savviest foodie sweat bullets. But there's no need to panic! Choosing an amazing wine to pair with dinner isn't nearly as daunting a task as it seems, and with a few basic tips you can find something that's a great value and compliments your meal nicely. 

The main thing people get wrong about wine pairing is trying to make things too complicated. Reality is, the vast majority of dishes are going to have a negative or neutral influence on how a wine tastes. So rather than stressing out by trying to match very specific flavors of wine with very specific flavors in food, it's more beneficial to think of things on a broader level and to understand the way different flavors interact together. 

  1. A good rule of thumb is that heavy dishes pair with heavy wines, and lighter dishes pair with lighter ones. Heavier styles include most of the red grape varietals you've heard of like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, or Syrah. Light bodied red varietals include Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Grenache.

  2. Generally sweet food should be paired with sweeter wines.

  3. Savory foods high in umami flavor should be paired with fruity or low-tannin wines, as umami tends to enhance the bitterness of wine.

  4. Spicy food typically pairs well with white wine or fruity reds.

  5. High-acid foods are well complemented by high-acid wines.

  6. Bitterness in food will bring out bitterness in wine, so try pairing white wine or a low-tannin red with bitter food.

  7. It’s typically best to match the intensity of your food and wine, so one does not overwhelm the other.

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Asian Kale Salad w/ Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette

For the assertive flavors in this salad, be sure to pick a wine with more acidity. We chose a riesling with bright acidity and enough rich fruit to stand up to the flavors. It's slightly sweet and easy-drinking! We also love this salad paired with a fun pet nat: a spritzy, natural sparkler.

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  • 1 bunch kale, chopped

  • 1/2 bunch of bok choy, chopped

  • 2 carrots, sliced thinly

  • 1 green apple, sliced thinly

  • 2 T sesame seeds

  • 1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped

  • 3 green onions, chopped 

  • 1/8 cup cilantro, chopped

  • 1/8 cup basil, chopped


  • 1/3 cup olive oil

  • 2 T apple cider vinegar

  • 2 T balsamic vinegar

  • 1 t toasted sesame oil

  • zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

  • 1 t grated ginger

  • 1 garlic clove, minced

  • a pinch of sesame seeds

  • a pinch of salt


Toss all ingredients together and let wilt 10-15 minutes.

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Winter Fennel and Leek Soup with Turmeric

Soups can be tough to pair with wine. For this creamy, delicious (and vegan!) soup we picked a Gewurztraminer and a Picpoul. The Gewurztraminer is an aromatic, semi-sweet white wine with notes of ginger, honey and cinnamon that go well with the spice and the silky texture of the soup. While Picpoul is typically paired with seafood dishes, we found that the walnuts in this soup gives it a nutty, creamy texture that the Picpoul brightens right up.

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  • 2 Tbsp grapeseed oil

  • 3 leeks, white + light green parts, chopped

  • 4 sprigs of thyme, leaves minced

  • 1 fennel bulb, cored and chopped (reserve a few fronds for garnish)

  • 1 medium apple, peeled, cored + chopped

  • 1-2 tsp ground turmeric

  • 1/4 tsp each of cardamom, coriander, and garlic powder

  • 1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • 4 cups vegetable stock

  • maple syrup, for drizzling


  1. Heat the grapeseed oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add leeks and thyme. Sauté the leeks until they are slightly soft.

  2. Add fennel, then apples, then turmeric + cardamom + coriander + garlic powder. Make sure all the vegetables are coated in the spices. Sauté this mixture until fennel starts to soften.

  3. Stir in walnuts and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the vegetable stock. 

  4. Bring the pot to a boil. Reduce to a simmer until the all the vegetables are very soft, about 15 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat.

  5. Carefully blend the mixture in a high speed blender in batches until totally smooth. Check the soup for seasoning and adjust as needed.

  6. Bring the puréed soup to a boil and serve hot with drizzles of maple syrup, fresh black pepper, fennel fronds and toasted walnuts.

    *Adapted from The First Mess’ leek, fennel, apple, and walnut soup.

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Mushrooms on Toast or Herbed Mushroom Toast:

Mirror the creamy, rich texture of this dish with a white Burgundy or other oak-aged Chardonnay. Choose a nice champagne for a refreshing lift from the richness of the mushrooms. A red Burgundy or other Pinot Noir will bring out the earthiness of the mushrooms. Oregon Pinot Noirs tend to be a perfect pair.

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  • 1 lb mushrooms, any variety is fine - we used a combination of oyster, lion's mane, and chanterelles.

  • 2 T butter

  • 1 t thyme, chopped

  • 1 t oregano, leaves stripped

  • 2 garlic cloves

  • salt and pepper 

  • hearty country bread, for toasts


  1. Heat skillet to high heat and add mushrooms, stirring often, until slightly browned and they have soaked up their juices.

  2. Add butter, herbs, and garlic to the mushrooms, and cook 4-5 minutes 

  3. Season with salt and pepper and cook 1 min longer

  4. Meanwhile, toast bread slices until golden. Top with mushroom mixture and serve. 

    *These toasts would also be great with a bit of creme fraiche or goat cheese spread on them before topping with the mushrooms!

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brown butter roasted acorn squash

Since the acorn squash is both sweet and earthy, we want to enhance but not overwhelm the flavors. We chose a rosé of Pinot Noir that brings out the squash’s natural sweetness and nicely contrasts the nutty, roasted flavor of the squash. We also like a Chardonnay with this dish. The oaky char from roasting the squash plays well with the creamy texture, high fruit and medium body of the wine.


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  • 2 acorn squash seeded and cut into halves and wedges

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter

  • 10 sage leaves

  • 4-5 tbsp of brown sugar

  • 6 sprigs of thyme


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  2. Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until foamy. Continue to cook the butter until it is slightly brown then add in the sage and brown sugar. Cook for 1-2 minutes longer being careful not to overcook the butter mixture. 

  3. Baste the acorn squash in the sage/brown sugar butter then season with salt and pepper to taste. 

  4. Roast squash face down with the thyme springs for about 20 minutes then flip over and cook for about 10 more minutes. Serve with the rest of the sage/brown sugar butter.

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Harissa Lamb Kebabs with homemade Labneh

Tempranillo is a lush, full-bodied red wine that pairs particularly well with this harissa-spiced lamb. Herbal, savory Carmenere is another great red wine pairing for lamb. The peppery spice is joined by red fruit flavors of raspberry, plum, and pomegranate that tame the spiciness of the harissa. 

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  • 12 oz. lamb sirloin, cut into 1 inch cubes

  • 1 jar harissa, (use enough to coat lamb & for serving)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • salt & pepper to taste

  • homemade labneh, see below


  1. Place lamb cubes in a bowl, combine with salt, pepper, and harissa. Toss to coat. (it is okay to eyeball the amount of harissa, but we probably used 2 or 3 tablespoons). Let these flavors get all acquainted for 10-20 minutes.

  2. Put lamb pieces on skewers or long toothpicks.

  3. Heat cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil to pan, let it heat up and begin to shimmer. Add lamb kebabs, getting a nice brown sear on one side. Flip after 2-3 minutes. The total time your kebabs are in the skillet depends on the size of your lamb and how done you want the meat. Medium-rare has an internal temperature of 145° F, which took our lamb about 8 minutes to reach.

  4. Remove from heat, arrange on a plate. Have some bowls containing harissa and/or homemade labneh with za’atar for dipping.

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Labneh is thick, strained yogurt, and is a staple of Middle East cooking. It is so creamy, and makes for a delicious pairing with lamb, hummus, pita bread, and well, really anything you can think of. It is very simple to make, only requiring a little forethought and time. We used this recipe by Food52 to make ours.


cherry & dark chocolate pots de creme

Pot de creme (pronounced po-duh-KREHM) is creamy French chocolate pudding. But trust us, it is so far above the Jello Snack Pack chocolate pudding you had in 3rd grade, that we hate to even use the word “pudding” to describe it. It pairs really well with amaro- we used Cardamaro in particular.

We were inspired by this recipe from The Kitchn, but we added cherry liquor to make this extra special.

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  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

  • 1/2 cup whole milk

  • 5 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate (60 to 70% cacao), finely chopped

  • 4 large egg yolks

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 2 tablespoons cherry liquor

  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

  • Hot water

  • Whipped cream for serving*


  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 300°F. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large measuring cup or medium bowl; set aside. Place 4 (6-ounce) ramekins in a roasting pan or 9x13-inch baking dish; set aside.

  2. Heat the cream and milk in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it just comes to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate, and whisk until melted and smooth.

  3. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, cherry liquor and salt together in a large, heatproof bowl. While whisking constantly, slowly whisk in the chocolate mixture.

  4. Pour the mixture through the strainer. Divide the strained mixture among the ramekins.

  5. Transfer the pan to the oven and pour enough hot water in the pan or baking dish, being careful not to splash any water into the ramekins, until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

  6. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake until the edges are set and the center still slightly jiggles, about 30 minutes.

  7. Remove the pan from the oven and uncover. Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Serve each with a dollop of whipped cream*.

*We made a basic whipped cream, then added a few spoonfuls of cherry jam and cherry liquor because we just can’t help ourselves.

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