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New Zealand School of Wine Dinner
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Tim Hanni speaking in China.
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Hospitality Class in Hangzhou
Conventional wisdom holds that dry wine is preferable to sweeter types. Order sweet and light white wine with red meat at a restaurant and you risk snickers at the table and scorn from the sommelier.
Is it any wonder that many simply avoid the wine thing altogether by ordering a brew or a sweet cocktail? That is one of the themes that Napa-based Master of Wine Tim Hanni addresses in his soft-covered, text book style book, “Why You Like the Wines You Like: Changing the way the world thinks about wine.” In his colourful, let’s stir up the pot style, Hanni explains his ground-breaking vinotyping concept of putting personal wine preferences first and foremost, while challenging snobbery in conventional wine think, as well as suggesting how producers, marketers, restaurateurs and retailers can better evaluate and serve customer needs.
A professionally-trained chef, Hanni gained notoriety as one of two Americans to first earn the title Master of Wine. As ambassador for Beringer Winery, many in the wine industry have participated in his legendary workshops on wine and food pairing. He introduced umami as a unique taste and became known as the “swami of umami”. By focusing on flavour balancing – “adjusting the amount of acid and salt in the food ensures delicious, well-balanced food that is wonderful with virtually any wine the guest prefers” – he changed the conversation on wine and food pairing.
Touted as the consummate “wine anti-snob”, Hanni’s pioneering work on vinotyping is the logical progression of his 35-year career in wine education and research. On the lookout for information about the interplay of taste preferences and sensory sensitivities, Hanni came across a study by Dr. Virginia Utermohlen of Cornell University. It found that “people of different taste sensitivity tend to approach decision making in differing ways, even problems concerning issues that have nothing to do with flavour or food.” Clearly, sensory sensitivity provided only part of the explanation for taste preferences and buying decisions. To explore the matter further, Hanni and Utermohlen collaborated on an online survey study “correlating wine consumer preferences, behaviours and attitudes”. Conducted in conjunction with Consumer Wine Awards in Lodi, California, 1485 respondents answered questions “concerning wine preferences and consumption frequency, demographic characteristics and level of wine education.”
The result is a simplistic-looking quiz or questionnaire to help you determine your vinotype, “the unique combination of sensitivities and values that complete your personal wine preferences.” It allows you to discover a portal to people who have similar proclivities, as well as the means for which hospitality professionals can get a clear sense for making smart, personalized wine recommendations for you, according to Hanni. While the self-assessment focuses primarily on your sensory sensitivity, he reminds readers that cognitive psychology plays an essential role in determining your true passions and preferences. In fact, a plethora of variables such as an individual’s wine tasting experience and training, enthusiasm for the grape, involvement in the wine industry, and, of course, the influence of culture are factors that influence tasting preferences. “This is only the first step,” he stresses.
The Vinotype study identified four consumer sub-groups – Sweet, Hyper-sensitive, Sensitive and Tolerant - whose preferences span the wine style spectrum from light and sweet to intense and red.
• Sweet types have the highest level of taste sensitivity and comprise three times more females than males. Many Sweet types are put off by the emphasis on big, dry red wines which they find unpleasantly bitter and hot. To offset the heat of alcohol and the bitterness of tannin, they prefer light, aromatic wines with sweetness like Riesling, White Zinfandel and fruit wines.
• Hyper-sensitive types represent more than a third of men and women. Also intensely sensitive to taste and smell, hyper-sensitives prefer dry, or just off-dry, wines for everyday drinking. They tend to appreciate smooth, rich wines with complexity over strong flavours. Hanni explains why labeling them as “supertasters” is “an unfortunate term, misleading at best.” The notion of “supertasters” arose in the 1990s when experimental psychologist Linda Bartoshuk published research at the Yale School of Medicine which concluded that some people had elevated taste perceptions of a relatively narrow group of compounds. The implication is that they are superior and anyone who claims to be a wine expert must, by definition, be a supertaster. Not true, according to Hanni. “People with extreme taste sensitivity often have trouble enjoying wine …due to the intensity of burning and bitterness they experience,” he says. The data shows that hypersensitives are looking for traditionally dry wines like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio with a slight bit of residual sugar, and smooth reds.
• Sensitive types are about a quarter of all respondents. They bring moderate taste sensitivity and an adventurous approach to their wine choices. These team players appreciate a wide spectrum of wine types and styles from delicate, flowery Riesling to bold reds.
• Tolerants love all things “bigger, better, stronger” and are most likely to have a bumper sticker that says, “No Wimpy Wines.” Needless to say, they insist on big, intense reds like Cabernet Sauvignon with anything they eat. Twice as many men as women fall into this category.
In the Okanagan Valley, as well other B.C. wine growing regions, we are fortunate to have a great variety of homegrown wine varieties and styles to buy for every taste and occasion. But convention is slow to change. Big, dry red wines dominate wine lists and education of servers and sommeliers is still stuck in another generation.
Here is a taste of what Tim Hanni says about “what the future holds” for vinotyping:
• Wine competitions have to find a “way to ensure that wine consumers can get to wine recommendations that are relevant for their Vinotype.”
• It is a win-win when restaurant make sure guests are not too intimidated to order wines instead of turning to beers or cocktails.
• Retail wine consultants and employees need to be trained in vinotyping and how to make wine recommendations based on a customer’s vinotype.
• Winery tasting rooms with staffs trained in vinotyping change the conversation with customers, resulting in a spike in sales.
It is time for those in the B.C. wine industry to take heed of Tim Hanni’s call to action. ■
Take the quiz and find out what your Vinotype is: