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Chef Bill Briwa Shares His Secrets for Pairing Wine and Food

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‘Wine is not the beverage you drink to wash down your food. It’s an ingredient. It’s liquid flavor.’ And so begins the wine pairing session led by Chef Bill Briwa at Sunday’s NRA International Wine, Spirits, & Beer Event.

As a chef at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone, Chef Briwa is a passionate teacher on the art of pairing wine and food. And during the special Sunday educational session, Briwa shared his knowledge with a crowd of eager learners.

Each student’s place setting contained 5 glasses filled with a diverse range of wines, as well as small ramekins of various sauce flavors. The wines included Sauvignon Blanc, sparkling rose, Viognier, Riesling, and Tempranillo (red), and the sauces ranged from mild ponzu sauce to Thai yellow curry and mole. Throughout the session, attendees sampled each wine with various sauces, noting the level of complimentary (or uncomplimentary) flavor interaction.

According to Briwa, only six steps are required to develop your own wine and food pairing expertise. The surprising part? The entire process starts with choosing the wine first, not the food.

1) Assess the wine’s taste and flavor. What are the notes that come through? Is it grassy? Or oaky? Or fruity? What does it remind you of?

2) Determine weight and intensity. Does it look dark and heavy or light and bright? Is the wine highly acidic or not very intense? For instance, if you smell wine and it makes your mouth water, it’s probably acidic. Use your senses of taste, smell, and vision to determine the characteristics.

3) Identify what to cook. What is the key ingredient that will define that dish? Is there a seasoning that stands out? The goal is to choose a dish in which the weight and intensity of the food approximates the weight and intensity of the wine. The food should not overpower the wine. And as Briwa states, ‘Big wines can hurt little food.’

4) Choose a cooking method. Whether you grill, roast, broil, smoke, steam, sauté, rotisserie, or cook via another method, the method itself imparts an intensity of flavor and can either raise or lower the food’s intensity to more closely reflect that of the wine’s.

5) Remember the flavor notes that you identified in your wine and seek to compliment them, not match them. Briwa says a common mistake, for example, is for a rookie to pair a tropical wine with a tropically flavored fish or chicken dish. Briwa quips, ‘That’s like putting baked potato on top of your baked potato.’

6) Finally, season the dish in a way that favorably adjusts it to your wine, so that the flavors compliment each other, not compete.