Forget the rigid rules of food and wine pairings; the important thing is to discover the wines you love and enjoy them with anything, and without apology, says American Master of Wine Tim Hanni.
In his newly published book, “Why You Like the Wines You Like,” Hanni proposes a revolutionary approach to wine and food, based on three decades of research by the author and Virginia Utermohlen, M.D., of Cornell University.
“The wine industry is long overdue for a major overhaul in how we talk about and write about wine, and how we treat consumers, particularly those who love sweet wines,” said Hanni, who has been dubbed “the wine anti-snob” by The Wall Street Journal.
The industry today is dominated by “collective delusions” that leave many potential consumers overwhelmed and disenfranchised, Hanni argues as he introduces his “New Wine Fundamentals,” tenets of which were adopted as basic principles by the Wine & Spirits Educational Trust in 2012.
Chief among these delusions, said Hanni, is the notion that people who prefer sweet wines are unsophisticated consumers who will eventually develop palates that can appreciate the popular style of dry, intense and high-alcohol wines.
Rather, Hanni writes, his research with Utermolen has identified a physiological basis for wine preferences, which he terms a “sensitivity quotient.” These result in four distinct palatal types, he said.
“Sweets” are people who crave sweetness to mask bitterness, which they find intolerable. A “hypersensitive” type prefers smoother, lighter wines, while a “sensitive” type is capable of enjoying a wide range of wines and styles. At the opposite end of the spectrum from the “sweets” are “tolerants,” who relish the 100-point powerhouse wines.
These basic types are further influenced by experience and aspiration to become what Hanni calls “vinotypes.”
No one vinotype is a “better” taster than any other, says Hanni, debunking the myth of the supertaster. “They are just different. And the wine industry needs to recognize and respect the differences.
“It’s time for a new conversation about wine,” said Hanni, who has introduced his vinotyping method around the world from tasting rooms in the Napa Valley to wine education seminars in China.
Central to Hanni’s New Wine Fundamentals is abandoning outdated rules for food and wine pairings, which he terms “contradictory and confusing. … If you don’t like a wine,” he observed, “it’s not going to taste good with anything.”
Instead, Hanni advocates flavor balancing, adjusting the salt and acidity levels of dishes to bring them in harmony with a wine.
“Wine and food pairing is a fraud foisted on the unknowing,’ Hanni said. “You want to pair wines with the diner, not the dinner.”
Hanni, a trained chef who began working in the wine world, came to the Napa Valley in the 1980s to work as communications director at the historic Beringer Winery. Early on, he said he noticed diverse reactions to wines, and to food and wine pairings he would create for programs according to the principals he had learned.
“What some people found delicious, others thought was repulsive,” he said. “I had to wonder, ‘What’s going on here?’”
Although he became one of the first two Americans to pass the rigorous Master of Wine examination in the early 1990s, he found himself questioning much of what he was teaching.
In the book, Hanni describes his subsequent investigations and discoveries and includes lively anecdotes of encounters in the wine world, from dinners in Turkey to exchanges with haughty sommeliers, one of whom admonished him, “Sir, if you knew anything about wine, you would know that we have created the best wine pairings for you.”
Personal preferences begin “in childhood at the dinner table,” Hanni said, “where of three children one will happily eat broccoli, one will tolerate it and the ‘bad’ child will reject it. This continues adjusting as we mature, and no sommelier can tell you what is right or wrong.”
Hanni’s work has won accolades from wine industry professionals including English Master of Wine Jancis Robinson. Hanni, she writes, suggests “that there are all sorts of populations of people who will perceive wine differently, thanks to our own sensitivities and preferences, and that the wine business is crazy to act as though one message, or even one sort of wine, suits all.”
In a preface to the book, George Taber — author of “Judgment of Paris,” “In Search of Bacchus” and “A Guide to Bargain Wines” — writes, “Open up a bottle of wine that you’ve never tried, pair it with an untraditional food, and enjoy a voyage into Tim Hanni’s new world of wine and food. You have nothing to lose but your outdated prejudices.”