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Lemon Verbena Shrimp – a new recipe I designed to pair with both types of Mer Soleil Chardonnay.

Welcome back, my friends! We’re picking up today with what I promised you yesterday – my Lemon Verbena Shrimp recipe – which I concocted to go with two very different styles of Chardonnay from Mer Soleil Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

I’ll also walk you step by step through the pairings, using “Rosina’s 5 Non-Rules of Wine and Food Pairing” to show how I chose my recipe ingredients.

For the two Chardonnays (“Silver,” which is fermented and aged in neutral tanks of stainless steel and concrete; and “Reserve,” which receives the full oak treatment), we compared winemaking methods, body, and specific flavors.


Charlie Wagner, owner of Mer Soleil, pouring current and “library” vintages of Chardonnay.


They were different enough that I decided to try to “steer” my recipe right between the two wines, in hopes that both pairings would work.

In other words, I wanted the dish to be a bit “bigger” than the Mer Soleil “Silver,” yet not as “big” as the Mer Soleil SLH “Reserve.”

Here’s the Lemon Verbena Shrimp dish that I came up with – and you can also scroll down to “THE PAIRINGS” to see how each of the Chardonnays worked with the recipe.





(4 Servings)

For 1 1/2 to 2 lb. large shrimp (prawns), deveined (shell on is more flavorful):

2 cups cooked black rice, salted to taste (can be cooked in advance)



1/3 cup each:

Fresh corn kernels, cooked (steamed/boiled/grilled, etc., then sliced off the cob)

Avocado, finely diced

Mango, finely diced

Cantaloupe, finely diced

2 Tbl. rice wine vinegar

2 Tbl. nut oil (I used hazelnut)

1/3 cup finely sliced green onion, plus some (optional) for garnish

1/3 cup chopped cilantro leaves, plus some (optional) for garnish

1/2 Tbl. grated fresh ginger

Salt to taste



Have you ever tasted lemon verbena? It has lovely citrusy-floral flavors, and in recipes, it pairs really well with Chardonnay. The leaves are fuzzy-textured, though, so it’s best to remove them before serving.

1/4 cup ginger “matchsticks” (peel, slice into “coins,” cut into strips)

3 Tbl. butter, divided

3 Tbl. coconut oil, divided

Salt to taste

1/4 cup dry, mild-flavored white wine

3/4 cup coconut milk (canned is fine), divided

2-3 large sprigs lemon verbena

2 Tbl. lemon juice (preferably from Meyer lemon)

Salt to taste



• Cook the black rice (follow package directions) and keep it warm.

• While shrimp is cooking, mix rice with 1/4 cup of the coconut milk.

• Divide rice into 4 portions.

• Optional: Create the look of a pudding or timbale (see photo) by pressing rice into small bowls and unmolding onto each individual plate.

• Make the Tropical Relish:

• Combine all ingredients and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes to blend flavors (while you prep and cook shrimp).


Ginger "matchsticks," sautéed until tender and golden-brown.

Ginger “matchsticks,” sautéed until golden brown. Another “magic ingredient” for Chardonnay!

• Sauté the ginger matchsticks in 1 Tbl. each of butter and coconut oil over low-medium heat until golden and soft, 3 to 5 minutes.

• Sauté the shrimp (in 2 pans if necessary) in 2 Tbl. each butter and coconut oil, over medium-high heat, turning once, until shells are crisp and meat is cooked through, 2-4 minutes.

• Transfer shrimp to a bowl.



Add the shrimp and ginger back to the pan and warm it briefly in the sauce.

Warm the shrimp and ginger briefly with the sauce.

• Deglaze pan with wine and reduce by half.

• Stir in 1/2 cup coconut milk, lemon verbena, and lemon juice, and simmer briefly to infuse lemon verbena flavor.

• Taste and add salt if necessary.

• Remove lemon verbena.

• Return shrimp and ginger matchsticks (with their juice) to the pan and warm through, stirring to coat with sauce.



The finished dish – ready for Chardonnay!

The finished dish – ready for the Chardonnays!


• Spoon equal amounts of shrimp next to black rice on each individual portion.

• Also spoon equal amounts of the Tropical Relish over black rice on each plate.

• Add your favorite greens (I used broccolini), preferably cooked and/or topped with butter.

• Pour some of each Mer Soleil Chardonnay for each person.

• Tell everyone about your recipe experiment, and invite them to pick a favorite!



My plan for this recipe was to use all five of “Rosina’s 5 Non-Rules of Wine and Food Pairing,” for the best chance of matching it successfully with both wines.

If you already know about “Rosina’s 5 Non-Rules,” you’ve probably guessed, from the wine descriptions and recipe ingredients, why I made some of my choices. (If not, you can Click Here to download your copy.)

First, I started with the “Equal Strength” non-rule for the two Mer Soleil Chardonnays, hoping that the dish wouldn’t overpower the lighter “Silver,” or be overpowered by the full-bodied “SLH Reserve.”

Next, I brought in the “Similarity” non-rule – with flavors like Meyer lemon and butter – which show up in one wine or the other. The aim with “Similarity” is to create a “flavor bridge” between the food and the wine, tying them together in your mouth.

Then, for ingredients like ginger, coconut, and avocado, the “Contrast” non-rule comes into play. Their flavors aren’t found in the wine, but they harmonize well with it.

Finally, when we decide what we like (or don’t like) about each of the pairings, and why, we bring in the “Personal Preference” non-rule.


This Tropical Relish would probably even make cardboard taste good! The creamy avocado, and the fruits, corn and simple dressing all go beautifully with Chardonnay,



As it turned out, I did enjoy both of the Mer Soleil Chardonnays with the Lemon Verbena Shrimp. The lighter “Silver,” as I expected, played more of a supporting role to the dish. (This is what I think of as a “chef’s pairing,” where the food is the star.)

Though I loved the wine itself, I’d rather enjoy it with something lighter. As a matter of fact, if I were to rework this recipe to pair with the “Silver” Mer Soleil Chardonnay, I would use less coconut milk, and replace some of the rich butter and coconut oil with olive or neutral vegetable oil. That would probably do it.

As I’d expected, the “Reserve” Chardonnay was indeed “bigger” than the dish. This is what I consider a “winemaker’s pairing,” and it’s what chefs strive for when they cook for wineries, or prepare “winemaker dinners” in their restaurants.

In this case, the dish was the supporting actor, and the wine was the star. If I wanted to bring them closer together, to make them equal partners, I might add some vanilla to the sauce. (It’s great with shellfish – try it sometime!)

I might also add some toasted nuts (macadamias, maybe, to stay with the tropical theme?) for even more buttery richness. This also brings in a toasty element that matches the toasted-oak barrel flavors of the Chardonnay.


My trusty red ‘vertible ferries me to wineries and wine events up and down the state, including here in the Santa Lucia Highlands. See the rose bushes edging the vineyards? Aside from the beauty they provide, roses are subject to some of the same plant ailments that also affect grapevines – serving as “a canary in a coal mine” to alert vintners to problems.



Hope you’ve enjoyed this in-depth look at devising recipes to go with specific wines. It’s the reverse of what we usually do at home, since it seems far more “normal” to make dinner, and then choose a wine to enjoy with it.

But it shows the other side of the equation – and it’s another great way to make a wonderful match between the food on your plate and the wine in your glass.

And that’s what Drink Wine With Dinner® is all about!


Until next time, my friends –

Cheers and happy tastings,



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