While finding one’s vinotype is the first step in understanding wine likes and dislikes, there are many other factors discussed in Tim Hanni’s book that broaden and illuminate an individual’s vinotype. Few fit exactly into their vinotype’s set of characteristics. Many wine consumers have been led to believe a number of wine recommendations that match them like an ill-fitting suit. Two of the concepts that modify a person’s vinotype are vinotype plasticity and vinotype genre.
For those who arrived here via Internet misadventure, part 1 can be found here. Those not knowing their vinotype can take the questionnaire online at MyVinotype.com to better comprehend the material that follows.
Sense and Adaptation
While everyone’s tastes change over time, it’s not in the way most people imagine. The concept of Vinotype Plasticity is the ability to alter one’s basic vinotype due to peer pressure, a desire to be part of the “in” crowd, or living in an environment that heavily influences these changes. For example, French families often give their children a diluted glass of wine at dinner so they learn the basics of wine appreciation at an early age. Contrast that with a teetotaler family that extols the danger of alcohol. Guilt and wine do not mix very well and can blunt its enjoyment and appreciation.
An “acquired taste” is the neural process of re-associating a sensation that is instinctively unpleasant with a positive memory. This applies to food and wine and works with positive or negative reinforcement, such as no longer using the salt shaker for health reasons. Gradually only low-sodium potato chips will taste good, and one’s approach to wine may also be altered.
Tim has found some in the wine business that trained themselves to like wines their vinotype suggests they will not. Wine professionals have, for the most part, followed the paradigm that shuns sweet wines except for dessert and embraces dry ones and even big red wines. This stresses the importance of vinotype plasticity in discovering how one arrived at their wine choices.
One’s environment, enthusiasm and expectations toward wine, and wine knowledge constitute their Vinotype genre. These roles can change over time, or are adjusted based on the group one is in. While physiological characteristics seldom change, psychological factors do come into play with genre.
Some drinkers take pleasure in wine, but are confused by the jargon and terminology and latch on to the first wine they really like and stay there. Venturing into trying a new wine can be like stepping into the abyss.
A wine enthusiast, on the other hand, is interested in knowing more about wine and seeks to expand their wine knowledge and deepen their enjoyment. A wine connoisseur is a wine aficionado, with an informed and discriminating taste for wine, or at least presents themselves as one.
However, a wine geek is often a person in need of intervention. Either that or they pose as a wine snob or wine bully. “You’re not serving that wine with the steak, are you?” A gaggle of geeks (Tim’s term) is a good group to run far away from.
One should note that with the proper motivation anyone can move up the scale in wine knowledge and derive more pleasure from drinking wine. However, if they go off the deep end into wine geekdom they can also painfully bore innocent bystanders and sap the life-force from them.
Life experiences and memories influence perception
At any point in time what wine an individual enjoys is determined by a combination of immediate sensations, preprogrammed intuitive responses to those sensations and experiences with wine accumulated throughout one’s life.
Example: Classic Sauvignon Blanc wines often possess a “grassy” element in the nose and on the palate. This is a common descriptor for this type of wine. For those that enjoyed mowing the lawn and smelling the fresh-cut grass this could be a pleasant association. But for those that had to mow the lawn and missed playing baseball with their buddies, or have an allergic reaction to grass, the perception will not be a good one. Olfactory memories are some of the strongest and can reach far back into one’s past.
Perceptive Fog Changers
Many factors influence an individual’s perception of a wine. Many of the following examples have been proven through rigorous testing.
Does the price of a wine or the high scores it receives in wine publications affect wine appreciation? Studies have confirmed that tasting the same wine in different glasses, after one was identified as cheap and another as expensive affects one’s appreciation of each wine. One reason for this is the level of attention one gives to each wine based on perceived merit.
The same is true of a wine’s score on the 100-point scale. One often convinces oneself that the 95-points James Suckling or Robert Parker gave a wine means it really tastes better than one’s first impression of it being too alcoholic or too tannic. One’s focus on a highly-rated or expensive wine is often more intense than for an everyday wine, which ramps up the level of appreciation.
Does the color of wine influence its taste? Morret & Brochet at the University of Bordeaux performed an experiment with 54 wine experts, asking them to sample two wines and describe the aromatic qualities of each. The wines were identical white Bordeaux wines, but one was colored red with an odorless, tasteless red food coloring. The descriptors given for the altered wine were very much what one would expect if it really was a red wine. This is also one of the reasons “white” Coke Cola was a failure. No one drinking it could believe it had the same taste as the original when only the color had changed.
Match the Wine to the Diner, Not the Dinner
In 1961, the publication Larousse Gastronomique described an elaborate meal that now would suggest only dry red wines, but after listing a series of red Bordeaux and Burgundy wines added “if the guests prefer” followed by a series of white and sweet wines. Back then no one would have chided someone for going with a white wine. It was what that diner preferred to accompany their food.
In the US the famous “red wine with red meat, white wine with fish” rules were suggested – more to promote sales than actually help the consumer. Since then, food and wine pairing has become hopelessly complicated, making it seem more of an art form than a source of pleasure. Since everyone’s palate is different, changes over time, and is altered by environmental factors (the colors in a room can also influence taste perceptions), and finally, is affected by one’s mental state, it should be obvious that the rule of red wines with red meat will only satisfy some wine drinkers.
The New Wine Fundamentals
Tim Hanni suggests new rules, ones each wine lover makes based on their own discovered likes and dislikes. Like a red wine with your oysters? Adding some salt and lemon to flavor balance can make it palatable. Tim Hanni even suggests telling one’s guests to bring a wine they don’t think will go with the proposed menu. Working with many world-class chefs, Tim found that many are moving toward the Flavor Balancing school of food and wine pairing.
This balancing can be done by adjusting acids and salts to offset the impact of umami on food, as one example. Here is an experiment anyone can do, grill a steak as usual, but do not add any salt or other seasoning. Just grill the steak. Now try it with a favorite red wine and taste the pairing. Most will not like the combination. Now add salt and try tasting the wine and meat again. Voila, now everything is in balance.
Acid in the form of lemon or lime juice and the ubiquitous salt shaker are all one needs to bring foods in balance to go better with that favorite wine. Those seasonings plus vinegar and perhaps mustard handle most issues of badly paired wines and food. That and knowledge of one’s vinotype mean greater success in pairing and greater enjoyment of the result. Reading this book will positively change the way the reader thinks about wine and that’s one of its greatest strengths.