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What Comes before Wine Ratings?

If you haven’t read the research summary published earlier this week from Master of Wine Tim Hanni, a story picked up by Jancis Robinson, please do so– it has radical implications on the wine world.


In a study conducted with Dr. Virginia Utermohlen, MD, Associate Professor at Cornell University, Hanni and Utermohlen created a sensory table of four basic types of tasters.  In their research, based on a large sampling of consumers, they juxtapose two of the four classifications of tasters: “sweet” and “tolerant” (those that are likely to prefer big red wines) and find that “sweet” tasters may have greater taste sensitivity.

The crux of this research biscuit, so to speak, is the fact that the long-held belief that sweet wine drinkers are simply unsophisticated, entry-level drinkers who need to educate their palates might be incorrect prevailing wisdom akin to Iraq harboring weapons of mass destruction.

Again, just to reiterate, the research suggests that those wine drinkers categorized as favoring “sweet” wines may have the highest level of taste sensitivity.


That’s significant.

Yet, make no mistake; you have to really parse the 16-page research summary to gather this, which is what happens when you have a big idea person coupled with an academian. Now, granted, research (including wine research) that has the opportunity to reshape consumer paradigms happens every day – literally.  And, as we all know, science and our collective consumer consciousness aren’t necessarily bedfellows otherwise we’d all forsake our high fructose corn syrup laden products and live in Yurts drinking wheatgrass juice in between Namaste yoga sessions.  Yet, I can’t help but have a takeaway from this research that indicates this is something to pay attention to, even if it’s only the first step in changing an entire industry’s sensibility.

Dr. Jim Lapsley understands this when he’s quoted in the research press release and says:

“(This information) will require some major changes in attitudes, wine education and the correction of worn-out stereotypes and myths, but this finding offers the wine industry a great opportunity to develop an overlooked but large and accessible wine market segment and to expand wine consumption.”


What Hanni and Lapsley are alluding to is the fact that as soon as the rest of the wine world figures out what Conundrum and Rombauer have figured out – that wines with residual sugar (RS) sell in the fine wine segment—and begin working towards undoing the stigmatization of RS in wine, they’re going to have an opportunity to welcome many customers at higher price points, wine drinkers who are currently dealt with as redheaded stepchildren, twice removed.

Ironically, and definitely unwittingly, I’ve covered very similar terrain in my observations in posts the last couple of weeks.

First, two weeks ago, I wrote about the emerging trend of sweet wines in the U.S., wines that are noted for having residual sugar instead of being a winking secret; wines that are stepping from the side stage of the wine world and more to the fore – a burgeoning trend with Moscato being an example.

Then, earlier this week, I wrote a post discussing why our current state of wine education that goes an inch deep and a mile wide in providing global wine knowledge was flat-out wrong.  I said an early stage movement towards helping consumers define their wine style preferences would help them progress in their comfort level as a natural progression down a path of engaged wine enthusiasm – this needs to occur BEFORE wine education in order to give education enough context to be valuable.

Information without context is knowledge.  Information with context is wisdom.  And, the wine world needs more consumers that are wise.  Period.

I noted that without this basic, fundamental “wine style” building block, nascent wine drinkers could be bled off into cocktails and beer, areas where it’s easier to get your head around what you like.

Hanni, as quoted in his research summary says much the same when he notes:

“Could the ‘Sweet’ group’s passion for wine be ignited if sweeter wines were more acceptable and more available?

As a part of that story, I referenced both Josh Wesson and his Best Cellars retail stores on the east coast and the book Wine Style by Mary Ewing-Mulligan, both are champions of understanding your so-called “wine style,” a methodology that I wholly endorse.


Besides the obvious with the sweet wine post, the second post I wrote regarding wine education is relevant because understanding your wine style preference is philosophically in line with Hanni’s cause and findings. 

Both Hanni and Best Cellars have a simple and similar quiz that consumers can take that can help them identify, in the case of Hanni, their “Personal Taste Sensitivity” and with Wesson’s system, their “Do you know what you like?” quiz that maps to the Best Cellars wine classification system.

In our business world, particularly with service-based businesses, there is usually a methodology in place that gives comfort to the customer that the service-provider knows what they are doing, that they are going to solve a problem and not merely the symptom –it’s holistic, and nearly prevailing by the likes of our biggest of brightest companies.

Yet, in the wine world, there is no such methodology for engaging a customer; there are a bunch of unrelated tactics and a mass of confusion, not the least of which is the point scoring system, which contextually has no alignment with my personal likes and dislikes.

Yet, Hanni’s research is seemingly rock solid, Josh Wesson’s Best Cellars merchandising system was groundbreaking over a decade ago, Mary Ewing-Muligan and her book is incredibly thorough, reasonable and sound.

All are swimming upstream against the beast of, “This is the way it is.”

But, change agents know that the way things are done today, don’t always have to be the way things are done tomorrow.

What the wine industry desperately needs to create is a hybrid methodology combining elements of Hanni, Wesson, and Ewing-Mulligan’s quizzing and classification system, adopt it as a supported standard and then promote it as a classification system that welcomes wine drinkers into wine by helping them understand their taste preferences before steering them towards those preferences, regardless of the type of wine, sweet or otherwise.

There will be plenty of time for education, and the myriad of other things that compete for consumer mindshare, but the basics are helping a consumer understand him or herself first.

To answer the question of the headline, “What comes before wine ratings?”  The answer is clear to me and it’s not found in a wine bible, or a 900-page coffee table book, it’s found in putting the power of ennobled choice in the hands of the consumer via a widely acknowledged and accepted methodology, supported by the wine industry.

Reference Links

Tim Hanni’s Research Summary

Tim Hanni’s Survey Summary

Jancis Robinson’s story

Mary Ewing-Mulligan’s Wine Style web site

Tim Hanni’s Taste Preference Quiz

Best Cellars wine preference quiz


Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (89) |


On 10/22, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

As I think I told Tim months ago when we conversed on this matter, if one considers the volumes of inexpensive wines and their RS that have been selling for decades, one cannot help but think that this news is aimed only at the “upper” level producers, the ones who may already be selling to the non-sweet tasters.

In short, I don’t know what is revolutionary about this information.

On 10/22, Sam D wrote:

Most of the wine industry will dismiss this study out of a belief that a sophisticated palate must be cultivated but it’s important to understand that the results go beyond the debate of sweet vs. dry. There are many perceptions about wine among “connoisseurs” which are out of sync with the general public. It’s fine for us to discuss the virtues terroir and minerality but that’s not going to win over new customers.

On 10/22, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:


Funny how people tend to publish ‘research’ that validates their agenda…..

On 10/22, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

Oh, and we should just admit it:

Wine, in its truest, finest form….


On 10/22, Jeff Lefevere wrote:


Doesn’t all research start with a hypothesis?


On 10/22, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

Yes, but not all research is valid and not all ‘conclusions’ are valid.

When this study (an online survey, sponsored by Tim’s Consumer Wine Awards which aims to validate the preferences of entry-level consumers) is published in a respected peer-reviewed journal, and its results are reproduced by other, independent, authors we can begin to analyze the meaning of it.

That a taster cannot tolerate some flavors and needs them to be drowned out by sweetness (per the image at the top of your post) indicates their intolerance for complexity. That is just incongruous with the assertion that these people make for better tasters.

As I said above, wine in its truest form is *not for everybody*. This brings us back to an assertion I have made a few years back: democratizing a luxury good degrades its quality.

Rombauer is an overpriced joke. Conundrum takes second place. They have their audience, but that does not make them quality benchmarks any more than the sheer volume of Two Buck Chuck sold each year makes that a benchmark.

What Tim is only trying to promote his concept by telling people who like these wines that they know better than those that truly understand wine.

I guess that’s easier than helping people be comfortable with the wines they like and prefer while recognizing that those wines are not the pinnacles of quality.

On 10/22, Jeff Lefevere wrote:


I don’t agree with your assertions.  I don’t think the research is intended to say that sweet wine tasters “know better.” I think the intention is to indicate that the tasting patterns of a neglected part of the wine segment shouldn’t be wholesale discounted.

I dunno.  Democratizing wine is a lofty concept, one that’s been around for a long-time, I don’t think we’ll ever have an egalitarian wine culture, but if there is an opportunity to create less imperialism around different types of wines, at least from a industry facing consumer perspective, that’s not a bad thing.

And, my overall point in the post is that creating a construct through which relatively new wine consumers can benchmark their palate is very, very helpful as acting as a wayfinder for their subsequent exploration.  As it is now, it’s a guessing game and some people will take up the challenge and most others won’t / don’t.

At the end of the day, I think you dismiss Hanni’s research as not scientifically valid because you know rigorous scientific validation.  That’s certainly fine by me, but the overall construct and thought process has merit. 


On 10/22, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

“a construct through which relatively new wine consumers can benchmark their palate”

I have yet to see that as a headline or bullet point in the presentation of this stuff.

On 10/22, Jeff wrote:

C’Mon Arthur.  It’s not a headline, nor a bullet point.

Do me a favor, print it out instead of skimming online and read.  The point is there.


On 10/23, Tim Hanni wrote:

ValveKeeper of Must - you are why I exsit! Thanks.

On 10/23, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

“I think the intention is to indicate that the tasting patterns of a neglected part of the wine segment shouldn’t be wholesale discounted.”

And Jeff, based on decades of being in the wine business, and decades of watching the types of wines that sell in large volume to more than 90% of the wine-buying public, I don’t know how anyone can say that the “sweet” wine segment has been and is being neglected.

On 10/23, Tim Hanni wrote:

Most people do not realize that 50 or more years ago Yquem was a TABLE wine, not a dessert wine. DRY Champagne was typically 6% or more sugar (and perfect with oysters or beef) and in a formal French meal fine sweet wines were offered alongside the Lafite, Romanee or Hermitage “if the guest prefers”, according to Larousse Gastronomique. And,to top it off, great vintages of Montrachet were more like Dolce than Kistler, Port - even vintage Port, was and IS served in France as an apertif, not dessert wine.

Not saying the “sweet” wine segment is being neglected. We are saying the Sweet wine CONSUMER is being neglected, disenfranchised and ignorance combined with arrogance and intolerance is costing the wine industry millions. Our economic impact study is next.

On 10/23, Tim Hanni wrote:

And to highlight the impact of the Sweet wine consumer disenfranchisement here is an e-mail I got 2 days ago from a consortium of Sauternes producers in Bordeaux:

“We are working to ‘Liberez les Sauternes’ or free Sauternes from it’s labeling as a dessert wine and I instinctively feel that you might be able to help us.  The Sauternais drink their wines with fish, roast meats and spicy foods as well as with dessert - they can’t understand why the world insists on drinking it only with sweet dishes, cheese or foie gras… The ‘anti-sweet’ phenomenon is frustrating and confusing to them… If there is anything that you can send to help our mini-movement I would be most grateful…”

On 10/23, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

“Not saying the “sweet” wine segment is being neglected. We are saying the Sweet wine CONSUMER is being neglected, disenfranchised and ignorance combined with arrogance and intolerance is costing the wine industry millions. Our economic impact study is next.”


I am confused by the presentation, not by the information. To me, the sweet wine segment is the sweet wine consumer. What’s the difference?

Consumers who want sweeter wines have them, and at the lower price range, too.

What exactly are you trying to tell the wine industry? Are you saying that those wineries aiming for the small percentage that truly prefers a lack of sugar in wine are doing a disservice to their consumers?

Incidentally, I believe when we talked a while back we also covered my view over the use of the word “dry” to describe the opposite of “sweet.” In my view, that is a dichotomy, and a bad one, as it is perfectly possible for a wine with noticeable RS to still leave the mouth feeling dry, which is the key to selling many bombastic wines to so-called dry wine-drinkers.

If both consumers and wine professionals would only understand that labeling wines dry or sweet is not the answer to pinpointing taste preferences. Wine is not one-dimensional and I don’t cotton to focusing on it as if it is.

The hallmark of wine, sweet or otherwise, is complexity.

On 10/23, Tim Hanni wrote:

Hi Tom,


Consumers who want sweeter wines have them, and at the lower price range, too. OUT PREMISE IS THAT THE SWEET WINE CONSUMERS ARE NOT BEING UNDERSTOOD, EMBRACED OR CULTIVATED - AND THAT THEY CAN BE.

What exactly are you trying to tell the wine industry? WE CAN GROW THE CONSUMER BASE AND FIND NEW WAYS TO MARKET TO A NEGLECTED SEGMENT.

Are you saying that those wineries aiming for the small percentage that truly prefers a lack of sugar in wine are doing a disservice to their consumers? THE DISSERVICE

Incidentally, I believe when we talked a while back we also covered my view over the use of the word “dry” to describe the opposite of “sweet.” In my view, that is a dichotomy, and a bad one, as it is perfectly possible for a wine with noticeable RS to still leave the mouth feeling dry, which is the key to selling many bombastic wines to so-called dry wine-drinkers.  DRY/SWEET IS A PRIMARY TASTE DISCUSSION, DRY ‘FEELING’ IS ASTRINGENCY - A TACTILE SENSATION AND SOURCE OF ON-GOING CONFUSION FOR MANY. WHAT THERE IS TO KNOW IS THAT ‘BOMBASTIC’ TO A TOLERANT TASTER IS SMOOTH AND RICH, AND TO A SWEET OR HYPERSENSITIVE TASTER IRRITATING, BURNING AND HORRIBLE.

If both consumers and wine professionals would only understand that labeling wines dry or sweet is not the answer to pinpointing taste preferences. Wine is not one-dimensional and I don’t cotton to focusing on it as if it is. AGREED.


On 10/23, Tim Hanni wrote:

From Decanter Magazine:
The Union des Grands Vins Liquoreux de Bordeaux…

“The producers have a long road ahead to reverse declining sales. The average sweet wine drinker is aged over 60, according to research, and sweet Bordeaux sales have been declining steadily over the past 10 years.

Sweet wine exports represented just 1% of all Bordeaux shipments to the US in 2009, equivalent to just 160,000 bottles while domestic sweet wine sales exceeded 3 million bottles.”

Sweet phenoytpes opt for cocktails and over time simply opt out of drinking wine. Sweet wines USED to be more expensive than dry. In France. In London. In New York. In Italy.

On 10/23, Tim Hanni wrote:

This is kinda fun for this conversation as well - I SWEAR I did not pay the guy!

Wine market is ‘fragmented, confusing, impenetrable’ - Sir John Hegarty
Monday 28 June 2010 by John Abbott in Bordeaux

The wine industry is guilty of going ‘out of its way to confuse the consumer’, and must urgently come up with ‘a new big idea’, according to a British advertising heavyweight. 

Addressing delegates at the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) Forging Links symposium in Bordeaux, Sir John Hegarty, creative director of advertising agency Bartle Bootle Hegarty, delivered a stark warning to the industry’s elite.

‘The [wine] industry fails hopelessly on accessibility. This is market that goes out of its way to confuse the consumer,’ he said in his keynote speech, entitled ‘The wine business viewed from the outside’.

‘You’ve seen it – the way people in restaurants nervously pass round a wine list. It’s fear. You as an industry have encouraged that fear. The wine industry is the most fragmented market I’ve seen. Fragmented, confusing, impenetrable.’

Hegarty, one of the UK’s most experienced advertisers, responsible for Audi’s ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ advertising campaign among others, said that the wine’s ‘inaccessibility’ was inhibiting growth and urged delegates to reach out a new, younger generation of wine buyers.

‘Today’s market is a younger, more experimental audience. Invest in the future. Youth is the future.

‘We all know you’re passionate about wine,’ he said. ‘But we want to know what you’re going to do about it.’

Hegarty solution was to redress wine’s image as an accompaniment to food - which he suggested was a drawback - instead promoting it to stand alone with the slogan ‘wine flavours our life’.

The speech was delivered as part of a four day IMW symposium, sponsored by the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB).

Other speakers included Paul Draper, Michel Rolland, Jean-Claude Berrouet and Paul Pontallier.

On 10/23, Jeff wrote:


Thanks for joining the dialogue.  I have a lot of respect for both Arthur and Thomas. 

Thomas single-handedly adds the most value to this blog besides me (the guy who writes the stuff) and Arthur is a well-informed and very bright guy well-noted in the online scene for his very smart pragmatism.

That said, I’m in your camp, Tim and these are comments for this comment string, not directed at you, specifically.

Yes, there are abundant sweet wine options for those that prefer them—most every winery in the country outside of CA, WA and OR has wines with RS as a part of their line-up.  However, and this is a big however, I agree with you that the larger wine industry views these consumers as somebody to be placated and not with a larger sensibility that brings them into the fold for cultivation and long-term development for appreciation.  They can and are being bled off into other drinks areas—cocktails and beer, etc.

I think this is a classic case of acknowledgement without acceptance and I’m wholesale in the camp that whatever can be done to change perceptions and sensibilities so the wine industry doesn’t view sweet wine as “oh, yeah, we have that, too” and more of a part of the the pantheon of wine appreciation, the better off everybody will be.

In so doing, I’m an advocate for a hybrid of your system with a couple of other systems that exist (as noted in my story) that can act as a standard for palate definition.


On 10/23, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

Sorry to interrupt a debate I can’t follow, but ... what does this have to do with wine ratings?

On 10/23, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

I love the way we can agree on certain points yet come at them differently. For instance, this statement (which needn’t be all in caps, Tim):


I fully agree with the statement, but fail to see how trying to market one thing to groups of people who represent myriad perceptions of that one thing is easy or instantly profitable.

On the point that Bordeaux exports a minuscule volume of sweet wine to the US when compared to its other products, has it occurred to you, Tim, that there is sweet wine and there is sweet wine that costs an arm and a torso to produce and for the consumer to buy?

Once again, wine is a varied and complex subject, whether you are talking about its production, its enjoyment or its cost. I’d guess that if the cost of Sauternes was made equal to the cost of any American sweet table wine, Bordeaux would export more to the US.

Jeff, the trouble with creating “a standard for palate definition” is that it’s been ongoing for generations, centuries actually. Every so often comes yet another new definition of how we “taste”.

That kind of constant fluctuation in data and research tells me that the researchers are dealing with quite a moving target. It would be damned foolish of any wine producer to take the latest finding and spend all its money on it, because soon enough a researcher will come along to disabuse us of that notion.

Umami is one of my favorite of the palate identifiers. The flavor is associated naturally with meat and seaweeds, so what do we do: we create a product to make all food taste meaty and salty: then, we call that product a food enhancer when in fact it is a food displacement. Meat already offers the taste of umami, but so many people don’t get it that they need to add Accent to their steak!

On 10/23, Thomas Pellechia wrote:


This is much more fun than debating wine ratings…

On 10/23, Tim Hanni wrote:

I also just ran across this from Jancis Robinson after the 2006 Masters of Wine program that I organized and had 3 of the scientists I work with present:

“The main point of the session was to suggest that there are all sorts of populations of people who will perceive wine differently, thanks to our own sensitivities and preferences, and that the wine business is crazy to act as though one message, or even one sort of wine, suits all.”

On 10/24, Tim Hanni wrote:

Thomas - wondering what you mean by “Umami is one of my favorite of the palate identifiers.”?

I am not sure if you are aware but I am responible for introducing the umami taste phenomenon into the wine and food circles 20 years ago and lecture around the world on the topic. I had the honor to be one of the key presenters at the 100th anniversary of Dr. Ikeda’s proposal of umami as a primary taste for an international taste and olfaction conference and symposium in 2008.

Not only is umami taste in meat, but vegetables, fruits, wine and human breast milk. Most people, even many whoe ‘teach’ about it, do not fully understand what umami is, or is not. Also very important in understanding the basics of food and wine interaction - although most of the information presented is not accurate.

On 10/24, Thomas Pellechia wrote:


I did know about your umami involvement, and my reference to it came out badly.

What I was getting at is that something as basic as that fifth taste is so misunderstood as to have spawned products that claim to do what our palates and the foods themselves already have in them the capacity to do, it makes me imagine the near incongruity of something as complex as wine and individual subjective palate preference to be brought down to a unifying marketing concept without having a downward effect on wine quality.

It’s easy with soda pop, where the components are artificially put there by the industry and so they can be manipulated to attract a certain stratum of or wide strata of society—kind of like creating powdered MSG to “induce” the umami sensation in what is likely asleep or deadened palates.

When you start thinking about how to do that with wine, you border on producing a whole different product.

On 10/24, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:


Curious if you could share with us the tasting note from your last human breast milk tasting.

On 10/24, Tim Hanni wrote:

What kind of sick bastard would know how breast milk tastes?

MY experience is it is rich, fully flavored and often the really, really high levels of umami and other amino acids give it a very sweet taste. I almost should point out that tasting environment plays a huge role in the cognitive process. oooh, mommy.

Maybe the Riedel Tata series?

On 10/24, Tim Hanni wrote:

Thomas - it is not a matter of “creating powdered MSG (both salty and umami) to “induce” the umami sensation in what is likely asleep or deadened palates”.

Msg is used as an additive to satisfy our innate attraction to umami tastes in foods that are increasingly deficient in natural umami from attaining natural ripeness, aging, fermenting, etc. which all increase natural glutamate levels. Salt is very commonly used as a preservative for foods during aging and provides the sodium as the glutamate and nucleotide levels increase.

Konbu seaweed, the subject of Dr. Ikeda’s work 100+ years ago, has MASSIVE amounts of glutamate and provides salinity as well, as does soy sauce, fish sauce, etc., etc. The second part of the equation is nucleotides that greatly magnify the intensity of umami taste from glutamate - like when you age beef, cure ham or bacon, stir the lees or extend maceration of wine, a tomato ripens or when you add the anchovies to the dish/salad with Parmesan cheese.

The whole msg debate is complicated and I do not render my opinion one way or another, but you cannot add tomatoes to a food labelled “no msg added”, because you just did!

On 10/24, Ian wrote:

This is a very interesting debate, and Tim’s ‘Sweet’ vs ‘Tolerant’ study is insightful, but I’m not exactly sure what the take-aways for the industry should be.

Fact is, about 10% of the population buys 80% of the wine sold in the US (according to the Wine Market Council).  Those 10% are defined by WMC as people who drink wine more than once a week (they call them “Super Core” consumers).  Looking at Tim’s survey, people in the ‘Sweet’ group are far less likely to be ‘Super Core’, so therefore they account for a pretty small share of the wine market.

Why don’t “Sweet” people drink more wine?  To Tom’s point, I’m not sure it’s due to a lack of availability of sweeter wines. There are plenty of wines with residual sugar out there (including some high-scoring wines that “Tolerants” like, but that’s neither here nor there). There’s no shortage of high end sweet wines either: fine Reislings, Sauternes, Tokaj, etc.

Here’s a theory…  ‘Super Cores’ buy 9x more wine per capita that other wine drinkers.  I would argue one reason they buy so much more is because they appreciate variety. To appreciate variety you have to appreciate complexity (that’s what makes wines different from each other in the first place).  So to the extent that people in the ‘Sweet’ category don’t appreciate complexity, that might explain why they don’t buy as much wine. 

What the wine industry really needs to do is convert more ‘marginal’ wine drinkers into ‘super cores.’  I admit it’s kindof a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. If ‘Sweet’ consumers were catered to more by the fine wine industry, would they buy more wine?  Or is the fine wine industry just sticking to where it knows its bread is buttered?  It’s hard to know the answer to that.  Maybe there is an opportunity to try to decouple high-end sweet wines from “dessert”.. that sounds like a good place to test the theory.

Tim makes the point about how Starbucks and its brethren tapped a gold mine with the ‘Sweet’ consumer by offering sugary coffee concoctions like frappucinos, pumpkin spice lattes, etc., rather than just plain coffee.  But there’s also a movement of high-end coffee purveyors (Blue Bottle, Ritual, Stumptown, etc.) who consider sugary drinks like that an abomination.  These are the guys selling $8 cups of ground-to-order drip coffee.  I’d argue they’re more similar to the high-end of the wine business, since that’s the kind of price disparity you see in wine.

On 10/24, Thomas Pellechia wrote:


You touch on some of what I’m pointing out, especially the complexity part.

In my view, the only way that the wine industry could appeal to masses on a consistent plane is to downgrade quality, because, as I’ve posted, you can’t produce Sauternes-like wines that will be affordable to a core group unless you downgrade the process of production from vine to bottle.

The economy of wine production has been from ancient times the most stubbornly expensive process if you want to maintain high quality that is the result of complexity.

In one famous episode, Rome produced in 121BC the greatest wines ever of the empire, in Campania—they were called Falernum, named after the location of production. Falernum was expensive and complex.

To capitalize from its success, large producers began to produce a type of Falernum, to sell to the general populace.  In the end, Falernum was downgraded to second-class status and then vanished into the bulk wine market.

On 10/24, Thomas Pellechia wrote:


“Msg is used as an additive to satisfy our innate attraction to umami tastes in foods that are increasingly deficient in natural umami from attaining natural ripeness, aging, fermenting, etc. which all increase natural glutamate levels.”

Why does the situation exists that allows foods not to reach their umami potential and so we need to add msg?

In my case, I don’t find most foods lacking in pleasing glutamate levels—the only food that I add salt to are French fries!

But if I do encounter food that seems to need a little flavor help, I do it with lemon and spices—much more interesting than sodium.

On 10/24, Tim Hanni wrote:

Hey Ian - welcome to the fray! This is a really great thread and if you want to discuss this stuff at a deepr level let me know. Remeber our study is just a summary. Blake and I talked for almost an hour the other day and I think he has a much better read on what we are doing and what the data means. At least I hope so!

Our data can be correlated to WMC and to Constellation’s Project Genome but you need to compare apples to apples.

“So to the extent that people in the ‘Sweet’ category don’t appreciate complexity, that might explain why they don’t buy as much wine.” is completely off track - and warrants digging deeper into how the Sweet and Hyper-Sensitive phenotypes experience things. Complexity is in the eye of the phenotype.

If you take the market share, even 5 years dwon the road, of the $8 a cup coffee crowd it probably won’t even show up as a rounding error! We are asserting the Sweet wine consumer segement to be 30-50% of the TAM and working on that part of the study as we speak. A cuppa black coffee is $2, a mochalattecinocarameldrizzle with whipped cream if $5. And they sell a Sh%*loat of them!

We also agree there are lots of sweet wines available - we just intimidate, overwhelm (Projects Genomes’s largest segement) and embarass the people who want them.

On 10/24, Tim Hanni wrote:


Interesting you used Falernum as an example -everything I know about it points to a white, botrysized and even ‘ice’ wine that was high in alcohol and very, very sweet.

“Falernian was a sweet white wine with a relatively high alcohol content, possibly 30 proof, 15 percent. In describing Faustian Falernian, Pliny the Elder alluded to this as he noted “It is the only wine that takes light when a flame is applied to it”[5] It was produced from late-harvested grapes exclusively as a brief freeze or a series of frosts were said to improve the resulting wine’s flavor. The wine was typically allowed to maderise, aging for 15–20 years in clay amphoras before drinking.”

Wine in Rome was almost always watered down, sweetened and/or spiced in Rome and the rich served it in lead goblets for the sweetness lead imparted and by many accounts causing the delerium and fall of the empire!

Natural ‘umami deficiency’ comes from many factors but I can provide a quick overview in terms of a tomato:

The ripe taste of fruits and vegetables requires glutamate and very often natural nucleotides. With a tomato it only tastes ripe when glutamic acid starts to naturally convert to glutamate and RNA starts to enzymatically hydrolize. This happens only after the tomato starts to go into a phase of systematic, natural decomposition so the shelf life and transportability is nearly impoosible.

The old Flavr-savr ‘freankentomato’ scare came when science found a way to alter the genetic structure to release the enzymes to create the nucleotides before and retard the other decomposition enzymers to create ‘ripe’ taste in a tomato that would sit on the shelf for a month. Popular rumer is that it also involved splicing a procine gene into the mix bringing up huge moral and religeous implications - is it vegetarian or Kosher if it has a pig gene in it, etc.? The outcry was huge and the product disappeared.

If anyone has better info on the pig gene stuff I would love to know. May be just a myth.

I understand you have ways to deal with salt, umami and use lemon juice and herbs - that is simply a personal preference and for many people it just doesn’t float their boat.

On 10/24, Ian wrote:

Tim, I agree that $8 drip coffee isn’t likely to become a major share of the total coffee market! My point was that it doesn’t nec have to be sweet to garner a price premium. Starbucks charges more for a latte than a cup of drip. People pay more for Starbucks drip than a cup of Folgers.

Let’s put aside coffee for the moment..

I’d be interested in hearing what concrete things you believe the wine industry should do to cultivate more business from the ‘Sweet’ category.  I think you need to make a case for why people in the ‘Sweet’ category will buy more wine if only XYZ….

On 10/24, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Yes, Tim, Falernum was in fact a sweet wine, high alcohol wine, as was most ancient wines—until the 13th century, when production shifted from the hot southern Mediterranean areas to cool northern Europe.

As for personal preference in umami, doesn’t personal preference also come into play with wine?

Personal preference, cultural norms (peer pressure; celebrity, et al), and levels of wealth seem to drive the wine world more than any palate/sensory discoveries.

On 10/24, Tim Hanni wrote:

Thomas - this whole thing is about personal preferences and understanding why they are so radically different. the physiological factor is huge. Have you seen the report? It is available at and also take a quick look at the Wine Consumer Quality Puzzle. You will see the cultural, societal, peer, etc. are all factored into our phenotyping.

Ian - give me a call if you would like and my contact info is also at this is not really the place to discuss this in depth and is also my business. I can send you more info if you are interested after a call.

On 10/25, Thomas Pellechia wrote:


I’ll read the report, but if the subject is personal preference, then I simply do not understand how anyone can say that the wine industry is missing millions of dollars by not aiming its marketing or its wines properly or at an identified market.

I can understand aiming at a market that is identified and uniform, but how do you aim at a market made up of millions of personal preferences with a product composed of dozens of complex compounds by focusing on one—sugar?

On 10/25, Tim Hanni wrote:

Thomas - I think you are missing the point - sweetness is a flavor attribute that many people like, many people don’t. The Sweet phenotype is one market segment and that our study shows is being disenfranchised. Our report, and other research, points to an opportunity.

If Peet’s or Starbucks took sweetened coffee of the menu and prohibited the use of sweeteners they would lose the customers who demand that flavor.

On 10/25, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

OK Tim,

I read the report. After having spent 26 years in the wine business, I find no new information in it, and that is likely why the majority of wines that sell to the majority of people who buy wine are on the sweet side. I still don’t understand what market your report claims the wine industry is missing.

True, the wine industry universally markets wine as if “dry” were a meaningful aspiration. That’s because the “tolerants” that you identify are the ones who own the message. They have led people to believe that “dry” denotes sophistication. Human nature is at play, as many wine consumers want to feel sophisticated and so, the overall wine industry markets its product not to preference but to aspiration, which, when you look at most luxury item marketing, may be a more powerful marketing concept.

In any case, what is the statistical margin of error of your report?

On 10/25, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

I should add that while wine marketing is to aspiration, the majority of wines sold are on the sweet side of the sensory table.

On 10/26, Tim Hanni wrote:

Bingo Thomas. We are suggesting there can be a better balance between the aspiration and experiential, and new aspiration-based strategies for a big segment of current consumers, and gain new higher-end and more core consumers as a result.

On 10/27, Thomas Pellechia wrote:


In America, those who make the rules have all they need, and they refuse to allow those who need to have much of anything. Yet, the American psyche clings to the notion that “you, too can be rich and famous (and will be able one day to afford the big name wines of the world).”

To change marketing strategies to that “big segment of current consumers” that you identify, you will have to change their aspirations, which is only a small matter of changing the culture.

Tall order indeed.

On 10/27, Tim Hanni wrote:

So come on and join me. We got work to do!

On 10/27, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Yeah, and I’ve got bills to pay. It’s the old conundrum, how does one eat and follow one’s star at the same time?

The answer lies in circumventing how cultures are rigged.

On 11/02, Joe wrote:

Nice nod to Zappa…

Back in the day, from England to Australia, wasn’t Port (and other sweet, fortified wine) the drink of choice?  Weren’t German Rieslings (of the Auslese, Beerenauslese, and TBA persuasion) the most expensive and sought-after wines in the world?  Isn’t Sauternes still highly coveted?

When did things change.  It’s obvious that sweet wines are historically regarded as great.  The research is fascinating, but should it be so surprising?  I’m just trying to pinpoint the time when “dry” wine cemented itself as “good”, and sweet as “bad”.  Is a reaction to low-quality White Zinfandel to blame??

On 11/02, Tim Hanni wrote:

Hey Joe (what you doin’ with that…),

Here is a very brief outline - this is something I have researched in great detail:

The movement to “sweet is bad” started after WWII when new technologies could be used to produce stable, transportable wines and the wine writers (who were merchants as well) started to caution that “sweetness is used to hide flaws” in cheap wine. As late as the ‘50s and even into the 1960s a German Spatlese was on par price-wise with classified growth Bordeaux and Bernkastler Doctor Auslese and Romanee Conti roughly the same price.

Port is still served as an APERTIF (even vintage Port) in France - the largest export market for Port wines in the world.

Sweet wine have always been there and most ‘dessert’ wines today were table wines 60 years ago - even Yquem.

Before White Zin was Lambrusco and Liebraumilch. Before that Mateus and Lancers. Before that the Kir, so popular in France and elsewhere for so long, was nothing more than a white Zin in terms of flavor profile. Champagne was VERY sweet, dry being about 6% sugar (!) and perfect with oylters, etc. As Champagne became dry the Champagne cocktail emerged, with the completely chic addition of a sugar cube and maybe a dash of bitters (even more sweet).

Only over the past 20-30 years has the wine community become so hostile about sweet wines and sweet wine drinkers and ignorant (not in a mean-spirited way) of the past.

On 11/10, Joe wrote:

good info.  Thanks, Tim!

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On 02/19, AC Silver wrote:

I think everyone has their own preferred type of wine. Even the experts of wine tasting have their own preferences, and some do prefer the sweeter ones. Why change your taste and claim to like less sweet ones just because there is a negative stereotype against them? Isn’t wine drinking a form of pleasure for the self?

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