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The Brillat-Savarin of Our Times?

Nineteenth century gastronome and author of the influential “Physiology of Taste” famously said, “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are.” What if somebody also told you, “Tell me what you drink and I’ll tell you who you are?” 

For a wine lover, that becomes a mildly controversial proposition.

Nobody is going to define me by my drinking patterns, because it is an ever-evolving scenario.  For the love of all things vinous, I just had my first Marsanne just the other day (tasty wine, too).  I think most wine lovers, righteously, would bristle in self-defense—such is our wanton ways, not wanting to define our palates (or ourselves) while still reserving the right to pass empirical quality markers on wine.

It is kind of like the soothsayer telling me when I will die.  Please do not, I would prefer not to know, I will simply take the journey.  So it is with wine lovers and our palates, too—I will simply take the journey. 

However, Tim Hanni, Master of Wine, formerly of restaurant wine consultancy WineQuest, and currently a co-founder of Napa Seasoning Co. and a proponent of taste bud categorization with a development process underway called the “Budometer” might change our perception of ourselves and our wine consumption, regardless of our trenchant wishes.

Sometimes change is good.

The Bourgeoisie Meets the Masses

Never before has the wine bourgeoisie been on the precipice of such egalitarianism.

I have read a couple of recent articles on Tim Hanni, Master of Wine, and very subtly you see the potential seeds of some radical potential change in the way we approach wine.  This is change on the order of defining wine drinkers based on their God-given taste buds and, at the same time, balancing out the notion of food and wine pairings to a true state of, “drink what you like, with what you like.”

The Wall Street Journal had a recent personality profile on Hanni, even if it was a half-baked article shedding light on neither the man nor his passions and, likewise, a recent Wines & Vines article featured the implementation of the Budometer system engineered by Hanni at the upcoming Lodi International Wine Awards.

Simply, Hanni has a couple of credentials that bear, to paraphrase Janis Joplin, “great social and political import.”

First, he IS a Master of Wine.  Second, he has already exerted great influence into the wine drinking landscape by working with a great number of casual dining restaurants across the company to help them categorize their wine lists by taste intensity and third he is working on a so-called Budometer that categorize wine drinker preferences based on the number of taste buds they have in a simple blue-dye test.

Wine Judging Formats Are Tweaked

From the Wines & Vines article (authored by freelance writer and wine blogger Tina Caputo):

(In reference to the Lodi International Wine Awards) … the competition will divide judges into panels according to their palate sensitivity. This will be determined by painting their tongues blue with food coloring, then counting their taste buds to see if they are “tolerant,” “sensitive” or “hyper-sensitive” tasters.

The categories are defined as follows:
• Tolerant—those who tend to favor dry, high-intensity, assertive wines
• Sensitive—the median group with a broad range of preferences
• Hyper-sensitive—those who tend to have an aversion to bitterness, and favor delicacy over intensity. They often prefer some degree of sweetness in their wines.

You can also do a simple online quiz to check your tolerance level by going here for the original web site and a special test put together by the Wall Street Journal.  According to both sites, I am a “Sensitive” taster.

The other interesting thing that the Wines & Vines article pointed out that is completely separate, but somewhat related to Tim Hanni, is a wine competition in Iowa that is doing food pairing as a part of the judging component:

We think that all wine competitions ought to consider food affinity when selecting wines for acclaim.”

A group of 30 wines will be selected to participate in the food and wine judging. Wineries will then choose one food item per wine from a list of available dishes that will be prepared by local chefs. Frost and competition director Bob Foster will help vintners choose the best pairings, if necessary.

A Sprinkle of This, a Dash of That to Pair Your Wine Dish

This is an interesting development, but Hanni, in fact, is trying to democratize the wine pairing process with his Napa Seasoning Co.—a concept that utilizes a technique called “flavor balancing” rejects the notion that wine and food pairing is a pseudo-science.  According to him, any wine can be paired with any wine by adjusting the salt, acidity and sweetness in a dish.

His new product from the Napa Seasoning Company is called Vignon and it is in a spice shaker combining a number of ingredients including salt, lemon juice and other ingredients like soy sauce that are high in umami.  A couple of dashes and supposedly you can enjoy that red wine and fish. 

This is all fascinating stuff and typically the sort of thing that sneaks up on us as a society.  Rarely do we watch these developments and understand the ramifications in context; it is usually after they become accepted prevailing wisdom that we ponder the way things used to be.

It won’t be a complete upsetting of the apple cart, but if you want to think about the future of wine differently, think about the possibilities presented by Hanni—the potential Brillat-Savarin of our times—and the potential change that can come if every wine drinker is categorized based on God-given taste buds and the ability to sprinkle a combination of spices on a steak in order to pleasurably drink it with a white wine. 

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