Master of Wine Tim Hanni is calling for a revolution in the way today’s wine industry treats consumers, especially those who prefer sweet wines.
In his newly published book, “The Sweet Wine Lovers’ Manifesto,” Hanni, who has been hailed as the “anti-wine snob” by The Wall Street Journal, sets out to debunk what he calls the “collective delusions, the myths and misconceptions” that pass for wine education today. “And no one is more victimized by them than sweet wine lovers,” he writes.
Hanni, a certified wine educator and 40-year veteran of the wine world, says, “Today’s wine industry has been hijacked by dry wine fashionistas who dismiss sweet wines lovers as ‘beginners’ who will learn to like drier, more stylish wines, and it’s time to put a stop to their arrogance and ignorance.
“They are passing judgment without bothering to understand why others genuinely like sweet wines. And they are ignoring the history of wine in which sweet wines in Europe traditionally held an honored place at the dinner table all through the meal, not just with dessert.”
Hanni became intrigued with the question of personal taste in the 1980s when he was conducting food and wine classes and tastings at Beringer Winery in Napa Valley. One of the first two Americans to earn the title of Master of Wine, Hanni said he was sure he knew all of the rules until he realized at that any tasting, different people were experiencing the same foods and wines in entirely different ways. “Some would love them, some would hate them, and it nearly led to fistfights.”
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To figure out why, Hanni embarked on decades-long search for answers, collaborating with sensory researchers like Dr. Virginia Utermolen, M.D., at Cornell University.
“It turns out that taste sensitivity is determined to a great extent by each person’s genetics,” Hanni said. “People with ultra-sensitive palates often simply cannot tolerate the big, bold red wines that others love. For them, these wines are bitter, unpleasant and often burn. They crave sweet flavors to mask an intolerable bitterness.”
If pressured to drink unpalatable wines, however highly rated, hypersensitive types will simply avoid wine “and the industry loses a customer.”
Hanni has created a system of Vinotypes to help people find their level of sensitivity and to discover wines they will enjoy. “No one type is superior to another, just different,” he notes. “The wine industry needs to learn to respect these differences.
Attempts to create rigid rules for pairing food and wines are “a colossal fraud,” Hanni says. “If you don’t like a wine, no food is going to change your mind, any more than a wine can make you love a food you don’t like.”
Instead he advocates “matching wines to the diner, not the dinner” and using “flavor balancing” with salt and acid, like lemon, to bring food and wines into harmony.
Hanni shares his own experiences in “The Sweet Wine Lover’s Manifesto” including the time a server in a three-star Michelin restaurant admonished him for requesting a different wine for a guests at a wine-pairing dinner: “If you knew anything about wine, you would know that these wines have been perfectly matched.”
“Uh-oh, dissed!” Hanni writes cheerfully; but he notes that while he can laugh off such experiences, “millions of others are often confused, intimidated, and embarrassed” by the condescending attitude of wine experts.
“It’s contrary to the traditions of hospitality, which have always focused on the preferences of the guests,” Hanni says. “The original copy of Larousse Gastronomique, first published in 1938, suggests offering red wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux or the very sweet Sauternes with the finest dishes ‘if the guests prefer.’ It’s time we return to this time-honored approach to wine.”
Editor’s note: Register Wine Editor Sasha Paulsen is a co-author of the book.