Greg Brewer's Unique Take On Perfect Wine Pairing - Exclusive

If there's one thing Greg Brewer wants you to think about when it comes to proper wine pairing, it's not to overthink things. And when Brewer gives you license to chill out some, it's okay to go ahead and accept it. Laidback and unassuming as he may be, this guy knows wine. Not only has he been in the wine business for the better part of three decades at the helm of Santa Barbara's Brewer-Clifton Wines, but Brewer was named the 2020 Winemaker of the Year by Wine Enthusiast (via Brewer-Clifton Wines).

That's why, during an exclusive interview with Mashed, we asked Brewer how to approach wine pairing. He first cautioned against taking wine pairing a little too seriously. Brewer gave the example of a home cook who's never made lamb with a mint sauce before and is flustered by the prospect of choosing a good wine to go with the dish. "All of a sudden, it's not going to be cool because you're just bummed out and you're stressed out and you're preoccupied," Brewer said. "And so my one thing is, eat what you are into, and what you're happy making, and you like eating, and whatever you have around you, and then drink the same."

"I mean, drink wines that you dig, that you have around you, and everything will work," Brewer said. "And I'm not talking the extremity, like Malbec with ceviche or ice cream. I'm not talking about weird, crazy [pairings]. But I mean, in general, 95% of beverage and food kind of come together. If you like both, then it's going to work by and large. And I think that's the fundamental."

Use wine like an ingredient in a meal

Winemaker Greg Brewer says that considering wine as a beverage to be paired with foods is a misstep; instead, he wants wine to be treated as a fundamental part of a great meal, as essential as any other ingredient.

Brewer recommends "seeing wine as a condiment," and "seeing wine like a puzzle." He went on to explain this analogy: "So picture [that your] food is like four things, right? Say it's these four things. And then the wine is like the fifth cog. So if it's like: 'Oh God, this wine is kind of spicy. It has this tea-like thing. It has whatever. Then oh, cool, we're having this food tonight, that wine will complete that element of the dish just as well as ... spice or mint or fruit or whatever.' The wine is that puzzle piece to kind of finish that out."

A Nashville-based chef named Vivek Surti, who runs the restaurant Tailor, is someone Brewer admires for this kind of wine pairing ability. Brewer shared that, during one lunch, he saw how "intimate with the wines," chef Surti got, making sure to pull out different elements of the dish with his selection. "So the wine had a corridor to go into [the dish]," he explained.  

"It can be as simple as the pasta you had for lunch," Brewer continued. He gives the example of using a "meaty" wine if that ingredient is missing from the pasta itself. "Fill in the meat part or the meat element that could have been in this pasta," he suggested.

To embark on your own perfect wine pairing journey, visit the Brewer-Clifton tasting room in southern California or pick up a bottle online.