Wine pairing: A delusion? A fraud? Wine expert Tim Hanni says it is

2013-01-31T00:00:00Z 2013-02-04T17:43:20Z Wine pairing: A delusion? A fraud? Wine expert Tim Hanni says it isJohn Lindblom Napa Valley Register
January 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Tim Hanni’s learned assertions about wine and food do not match long-held beliefs.

In fact, what Hanni writes in a newly released book — “Why You Like the Wines You Like” — contrasts so much with conventional thinking that it fairly shouts for a response, although up to now it has barely been whispered about.

What Hanni says about pairing that some in the food industry will find outrageous is that it doesn’t exist. To wit:

• “There is no wine and food matching. That’s all a big delusion. All the principles of wine and food matching are a complex set of metaphors that actually have no basis whatsoever. I’m just saying ‘Stop it!’ We all know that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, but we tell our children he does. It’s something called group think. Group think is when you accept something that you know not to be truth, but we do it because everybody does it and we’d look silly if we didn’t. So people do wine and food matching because they think they should.”

• “The whole pairing thing is filled with absolute delusion ... that this wine is going to overpower the fish or this or that will happen. It’s all crap. This wine and food matching is all made up. ‘Delicate and lemony and this, and this, and this ...’ with halibut. I can serve you this big, intense merlot or cabernet with the halibut and it would be absolutely delicious. It doesn’t have to be white wine.”

• “Wine and food pairing is a fraud foisted on the unknowing. You want to pair wine with the diner, not the dinner.”

If Hanni was something other than what he is, the foregoing might be dismissed out of hand. But he is one of two American Masters of Wine and quite possibly one of this nation’s — if not the world’s — consummate experts on food and wine.

Hanni came into the world of wine from the vantage point of a trained chef. When he moved to the Napa Valley in the ’80s, he became a communications director for Beringer.

His book was written after three decades of research along with Virginia Utermolen, M.D., of Cornell University. One of its main points among others taken from all this commitment is that there is a physiological basis for wine preferences that breaks down into four distinct palatal types — sweet, hypersensitive, sensitive and tolerant — which he labels “vinotypes.” He has introduced his vinotyping method to tasting rooms in the Napa Valley and to seminars in China, where he has been beckoned on two occasions by a monolithic Chinese real estate and construction company with a wine division in Houston.

Because Hanni’s book went into print only a few days ago, the response to it among the culinary and wine industries has yet to be heard. But for a sampling of what they might say, the Star presented excerpts from its interview with Hanni and other sources to Christine Machamer, head chef for B Cellars, a Calistoga winery.

While Machamer said she agreed with Hanni to some extent, she added, “but it’s a yes and a no.”

“I agree that a lot of the rules that we have lived our life by, such as pairing white meat with white wines and red meat with red wines, are antiquated,” Machamer said. “But I think a case can be made for low-fat foods. Saicim, the chemical component you’ll find in chili peppers, for example, only dissolves in a sugary substance. So something spicy like Mexican food or Thai food with a white wine, or even a red wine that has a little bit of residual sugar, it’s going to be a great pairing because we’ve already proven the effect that’s going to happen.

“If you have halibut with any kind of buttery component, you’ll immediately want to go for a chardonnay,” she added. “But if you use lemon and drink a cabernet, you’re going to notice more fruit because the acidity is going to intensify the food flavors of the wine. It’s going to make tannins more powerful and it’s going to be a great meal.”

But, she said, “Every palate is different. That’s why we make different wines.”

Given her age — she is 30 — Machamer’s credentials are not on a level with Hanni’s. But they are nevertheless good enough to qualify her as a spokesperson. In the food and wine business since she was 16, she is a certified sommelier working on an advanced certificate and balances that with a course of study at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

She won the fourth season (2008) of Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” reality TV series on Fox Network by winning nine of 14 challenges. Later she worked at Bouchon in Beverly Hills.

Does she disagree with Hanni?

“Yes,” Machamer said. “Maybe he just doesn’t taste any difference in the wine with the pairing.”

Copyright 2016 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(21) Comments

  1. timhanni
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    timhanni - January 31, 2013 8:43 am

    I am sorry that you missed the point of my book. That being said, I hereby invite you and Christine to lunch at my house! The menu will include the exact dish cited to dispel the metaphorical halibut matching example, provided plus many more myths.

    I am serious in my invitation - you will both quickly see why great chefs like John Ash, Jeremiah Tower and Sarah Scott, former Exec. Chef for the Mondavi Winery and book contributor, have become champions of my principles.

    I am sad to see the work I have done, backed by 20 years research, so narrowly represented and then dismissed by someone who has no familiarity with my work and has not read the book, let alone tried the demonstrations that clearly demonstrate my principles.

    My book focuses on the significant physiological factors that are at the core of perceptive differences between people and neurological conditioning that create personal preferences.

    The good news is you both get lunch at my house or at B Wine Cellars!
  2. timhanni
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    timhanni - January 31, 2013 9:14 am
    One last comment - the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, responsible for educating certifying over 40,000 people each year, and Johnson and Wales University, one of the most prestigeous cusineary programs in the country with four campuses in the US, both endorse and teach my principles. The WSET has reprinted all of their materials, in 6 languages, eliminating the metaphorical approach to wine and food with material that I was asked to provide. This after a great deal of research and challenging of the principles I promote.
  3. garys
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    garys - January 31, 2013 10:31 am
    I am the Director of Education for a large wine wholesaler in Arizona. I met Tim years ago and was struck by his dedication and passion to wine and food. It took me awhile to understand his message, not only am I a convert, I see his theories proven in the real world everyday. Whether I'm teaching a wine and food class or out for dinner with friends and family, I find that personal preference trumps the "rules" everytime. I can be as geeky as anyone when it comes to pairing wine and food. I look at the ingredients and cooking methods and then determine a wine I think will be perfect. Often times it is.......FOR ME. I've learned that for the vast majority of the population, it is way more important to select a wine you really like and enjoy with an entree you like. If the pairing doesn't "work", as Tim states, the wine can be brought back into balance by a small addition of salt and acid. I've learned there just wasn't any science behind the old, traditional "rules".
    Gary Spadafore CWE
  4. chriscutler
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    chriscutler - January 31, 2013 10:59 am
    The whole point of Hanni's food "matching" vs food "pairing" is being left out here.. Sure, certain wines WILL taste better to those who like those specific wines. If you hate Chardonnay, you are going to hate Chardonnay with Halibut. He's saying, "forget what you know about "pairing", learn about your own personal preferences in food AND wine, then eat the foods you like with the wines you like. Tim, you need to get to work on the Cliff's Notes!
  5. Nick_stengel
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    Nick_stengel - January 31, 2013 11:02 am
    There are way more than 2 Masters of Wine in the US. The list is:

    Michele Anderson, Robert Betz, Sandy Block, Roger Bohmrich, Joel Butler, Christy Canterbury, Christopher Cree, Charles Curtis, Mark de Vere, Michael Doodan, Mary Ewing-Mulligan, Patrick Farrell, DC Flynt, Doug Frost, Mary Gorman-McAdams, Lisa Granik, Tim Hanni, Peter Koff, Geoff Labitzke, Benjamin Lewin, Peter Marks, Tim Marson, Bill Nesto, Robert Paulinski, Jean Reilly, Sheryl Sauter Morano, Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, Liz ThachJean-Michel Valette, and Jay Youmans
  6. timhanni
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    timhanni - January 31, 2013 11:23 am
    Nick -- great catch and this was an error in the story. Almost all of the MWs on your list were here for the Masters of Wine study course that just wrapped up yesterday Additionally there were many others who came in to share their knowledge, often like myself at their own expense, and assist people who are interested in becoming a Master of Wine.
    Report Abuse
    MJHWINE - January 31, 2013 12:04 pm
    This article is unfortunately devoid of meaningful content regarding Tim's ideas and methodology beyond a passing reference. After attending a few of Tim's seminars and learning about his ideas, I was sold and shortly after implemented them in my beverage program with great success. It makes perfect sense that multiple people will assess the same wine differently depending on their sensitivity to certain compounds, which is determined genetically. There is also a key psychographic component that greatly influences sensory perception. It follows that the success of any given food and wine pairing will depend on the taster. To imagine that hard and fast rules exist outside of a subjective tasting experience is to ignore any influence genetic diversity plays on sensory perception.

    Second, if you're going to find someone to refute Hanni, it would help if they had at least a passing understanding of his ideas founded on 20+ years of empirical research.
  8. gmtaber
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    gmtaber - January 31, 2013 1:35 pm
    A couple of years ago, I did several long wine samplings with Tim Hanni, when I was researching my last book about wine. We tried the pairings he talks abut. I knew about his theories and was curious to test them with him. I was stunned by what our tastings showed, and it made me appreciate that a lot of the holy rules of wine tasting are simply wrong. Sure, he's saying that the emperor has no clothes, but that's because the emperor doesn't! I think Tim has done a service to wine by going where others have not dared.
  9. skeptic
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    skeptic - January 31, 2013 2:54 pm
    so i can quit apologizing for serving a pinot grigio with beef and cabernet with fish ? finally. after trying them together, i’ve never heard a complaint by any guest, though , for many, it was a first. i’ve never had any waiter object to any “wrong’ pairing of wine and food , though sometimes feel the need to say “i know it’s ‘wrong’ but ...” i usually serve the same wine used to make the spaghetti sauce alongside but try champagne sometime and see if it doesn’t go well with the garlic bread and pasta .
  10. Doug Frost
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    Doug Frost - January 31, 2013 11:40 pm
    I must echo the comments above: it was a disservice to Tim's ideas and work and to the Register's readers to ask someone who has not read his book to comment upon his insights and concepts. It shouldn't be controversial to state that different people like different wines because their palates are different. We like different foods, right? Well, why would it be any different for food and wine matching? I've been training sommeliers to match the wine and the customer (a more important task than matching the wine and the dish) for decades. Tim has provided explanations for why these differences exist and how to address them. Lazy reportage won't prevent his remarkable messages from being heard.
  11. Jim Pfeiffer
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    Jim Pfeiffer - February 01, 2013 3:24 am
    Tim's research on preferences truly moves the needle of conventional wisdom. I spent years researching taste preferences from a sweetness standpoint, specifically targeting the subconscious of "why" behind diabetes, which lead to all sorts of studies on sugar compounds as well as artificial sweeteners. In the Midwest, there are many folks with a very sweet palate, which I suspect the west coast, and the world, has as well. Ask yourself, did you really start of liking dry red's or were your first wines sweeter? Be honest. After meeting Tim and talking endless hours with him, and studying customers through daily interactions and through wine classes I teach, I am a disciple of his research. If you need proof, take an unbiased look at personality profiles and taste bud count. The super sweet people behave differently than the super tolerant folks. Tim's research was the final piece to my puzzle on taste research. -- Jim Pfeiffer, owner Turtle Run Winery, Corydon, IN
  12. Jim Pfeiffer
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    Jim Pfeiffer - February 01, 2013 5:19 am
    I just thought of one more. Tim's information makes a ton of sense to people in the hypersensitive and sweet zones. Any time you experience pain, be it the ol' hand on the hot stove, or from a food standpoint, if you ever eat a food, then get sick either from it or from a virus, chances are you won't be consuming it anytime soon. Your subconscious kicks in from a safety mechanism and forces you to avoid a behavior (hand on hot stove, eating a food in which a sickness was experienced) that it deems treacherous for survival. A tolerant taster likes just about everything, so there is very little that causes "pain" when they consume. I've seen that this group simply doesn't understand Tim's concepts that well, for they never experience pain on consumption. Conversely, a hypersensitive / sweet person's "light bulb goes off" when I mention this concept. Finally, someone understands my pain! Another angle to think about regarding this. -- Jim Pfeiffer, Owner of Turtle Run Winery
  13. Sarah
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    Sarah - February 01, 2013 8:35 am
    The paradigm-shifting work that Tim is involved in with wine and food is bound to stir up some lively discussion as it hits at the very core of so many cherished "rules" that many abide by without questioning. I encourage the author of this article and the chef to take Tim up on his invitation to join him at the table and do some wine and food myth busting. It will be enlightening!
    Sarah Scott
  14. Brownsvalley
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    Brownsvalley - February 01, 2013 8:52 am
    I use Tim's research to be able to predict what wine a tasting room visitor will like by asking questions that have nothing to do with wine. I do this 100's of times per week. It works 99.99 % of the time. When you discuss food and wine pairing with consumers in the real world, most of them ignore the rules because they just don't work for them. They are grateful and happier when they find out how to season almost any food in a manner that will avoid any problems (i.e. put some salt and lemon juice on that halibut, steak or Salmon, and it will go great with Ménage Red, Phelps Insignia, Muscat, or Rombauer Chardonnay. Loose the rules and sell more wine.
  15. glamer
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    glamer - February 03, 2013 3:01 pm
    Please take Tim’s offer and let him cook for you and show first-hand how this works. I have seen him change many who are set in their ways. (Besides a great cook – he is quite fascinating company) Why do we still believe we only taste sweet on the tip of our tongue, sour on the sides and bitter on the back? . . . That too is in the old hand book. I have been sharing his work in several tasting rooms over the years and can’t count the number of couples who now understand why they do not like the same wines. They never argued about taking their coffee a different way.
    Cheers to you Tim! I ordered the new book for my guests at Downtown & Vine.
  16. Lamar Engel
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    Lamar Engel - February 05, 2013 9:41 am
    All very good comments, however, the issue here is the lackadaisical journalism fueled by unrealistic deadlines being pushed to teeter the totter. Thank you Napa for sending in your 'best' writer into an ever changing paradigm shift (insert sarcasm here). Such a topic is not meant to be heavy but to be presented in full light with ample history.
    Both Mr. Hanni & Miss Chef Machamer (Christina not Christine - silly) are saying the same thing but have not been given the full exposure to their arguments. How can you present the theories without presenting the history on how we got here with them? Why did we not know what we know now? IS it really because we are still discovering these amazing items Mr. Hanni is also uncovering and sharing? Did we not know that that White Wine with White Meat and the Red Wine with Red Meat was actually a 'recovery' program from WWII?
    The idea that both of these incredible minds are presenting is actually 'discovering your palate!' Kudos to both of you!
  17. jmb5121
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    jmb5121 - February 05, 2013 11:01 am
    I am very interested in matching wine and food, purely for fun. Always interested in another point of view, I went directly to Amazon to order the book. Thanks for bringing this to our attention!
  18. FlavorChemist
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    FlavorChemist - February 06, 2013 4:00 am
    Mr. Hanni offers "pop-culture" theories not at all based in scientific fact or rigorous research.
    The physiology/taste research cited by Virginia Utermohlen, Mr. Hanni's colleague on the book, has for years been superseded by more recent genetic studies of taste perception and imaging of taste physiology/anatomy. In terms of being useful to consumers, this book isn't. Consumers already know they can drink what they want with whatever they're eat. But to mislead consumers as to why they have the perceptions they do based on dated and inaccurate psuedo-science is truly regrettable.

  19. timhanni
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    timhanni - February 06, 2013 3:43 pm
    Hi FlavorChemist - you are invited to lunch too. Any time, just give me a call. Studies show over and over that most consumers are overwhelmed, intimidated and embarrassed. BTW, did you read the book? I will include any updates and new information in the next edition if it is warranted - I promise!
  20. whatistheloon
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    whatistheloon - February 19, 2013 2:52 am
    Greetings Tim,

    I am always trying to evolve and learn more about food and wine. I have been fortunate enough to have picked this up a couple years back. I totally agree with you and wish you the best. Hope to meet you someday.
  21. ChampagneFloozy
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    ChampagneFloozy - October 28, 2013 2:36 pm
    Mr. Hanni,

    Is milk and cookies also a myth?
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