TASTING food and wine with Tim Hanni is a weird experience. He tells you to suck a lemon, then sip an oak-edged chardonnay. Somehow, the wine becomes docile. Then he suggests you follow bites of a tart Granny Smith apple with rough cabernet sauvignon. Your mouth feels similar to a battleground - the tartness grapples with the wine's kick. But sip that same wine and nibble a wedge of blue cheese. The wine becomes soft, buttery and luscious. With Mr Hanni's help and knowledge, a wine can taste like heaven (the cabernet sauvignon with cheese) or toothpaste. 'It's all about the cause and effect,' says the rock musician, wine retailer and chef-turned-wine teacher. When the native of Miami, Florida, holds a tasting seminar on wine and food, go, if you can get in. His visits to Hong Kong - about twice a year - are not frequent enough and his classes are jammed. The affable Mr Hanni travels around the world for Beringer Vineyards in California. He guides people (he hates the notion that he is expert on anything) in discovering how to taste. He says the cook can change the cause and effect wine has on food by selecting the right sauces, condiments and ingredients. The key is being aware of basic tastes such as sweet, sour, salty and bitter. If you are a lousy cook and have a great bottle of wine, he says, keep the meal plain and simple. Let the wine speak. If you are a terrific cook with lousy wine, show off the dishes and allow them to overpower the wine. 'It is not the colour nor type of meat or fish you serve, but the sauces,' he said. 'The lemon sauce with fish. The sweet-sour sauce with duck or pork. The pepper sauce with steak. 'If you control those, you can change the effect it has on wine. And vice-versa.' Mr Hanni was in Hong Kong recently to teach classes for food and wine professionals at the Mandarin and the now-defunct Faces restaurant. The powerful kick of an acidic asparagus vinaigrette, he says, will kick a wine's taste down. Any sauce or condiment containing lemon will make a slightly sweet wine such as a white zinfandel taste like sugar water, according to Mr Hanni. 'How to pair a pepper steak? Do you want lots of heat in the mouth. It's a strong dish, so match it with a strong wine. Or let the pepper come out and allow the dish to overpower by serving a less strong wine.' With salty foods, the intensity of wines will soften. If you drink a cabernet sauvignon alone, it tastes strong and bitter. But when you taste it with pepper cheese, the fat in the cheese softens the taste and the wine becomes mild against the peppery sharpness. Apple has sweetness, bitterness and astringency. White wine is less reactive than a red wine with an apple. When food is sweet it will suppress the sweetness of the wine. The wine will seem less sweet or more dry. Fruit relishes and garnishes, meanwhile, can be made less reactive by adding citrus juice or vinegar. Food with bitter components (such as some greens) increase the bitterness of a wine. A herbal-smelling sauvignon blanc chosen to serve with a dish made with fresh herbs could bring out the bitterness of the wine. Bitter or sweet flavours in food will increase the perception of bitter elements in your favourite tipple. A blue cheese softens the astringency in tannic red wines while sourness and salt in food suppress the bitter taste in wine. Why do people sprinkle salt on a tart apple, he asks. To soften the sourness. So in cooking. The judicious addition of salt, especially in sauces, can sometimes tone down bitterness and astringency of some vintages. Mr Hanni is no snob. When he is not talking about wine, he prefers to be at home with his family or playing rock and roll with his band. A well-made tequila slammer is just as noble as a fine Bordeaux. 'The same types of decisions that go into growing a tomato, go into planting grapes,' he said. 'Richness of colour, balance of acidity, how to maximise flavour. What a chef and winemaker do is basically the same.' He believes wine is for the enjoyment of people and food. And everyone's opinion is valid. 'You cannot form opinions for other people. That's arrogance. Think of wine and food in terms of having opinions. Each has a taste. Like people.'