Interview: Wine ‘antisnob’ Tim Hanni

By Jim Boyce | Tim Hanni, one of the first two Americans to become a Master of Wine, has gone from someone who once “‘completely looked down on people who drank wine he considered inferior” to what the Wall Street Journal called the “antisnob.” He is the man behind the Budometer, a questionnaire that looks at how an individual likes his or her tea, coffee, beer and snacks in order to determine what kind of wine they will likely enjoy. He is also a wine consultant and founder of Napa Seasoning.

What is the Budometer and how applicable is it to China?

The BUDOMETER assesses an individual’s preferences for common and popular beverages and salt, and then determines their relative taste sensitivity.

The second part of what the BUDOMETER does is assess specific “aspirational” elements to see how much the individual has graduated to new or different acquired tastes over time. The quiz would likely have to be changed to reflect relevant beverages in China, but fundamentally, yes, it would be applicable.

Many flavors associated with wine, and listed on the backs of bottles – blackcurrants, for example – are not ones that most Chinese know. What’s your take on this?

These flavors are mostly illusionary to begin with and are not known by even many people who use such descriptors. This is one of the areas we are addressing – the creation of a simpler means of communication that does not include so much imaginary language. We start by focusing on a primary level – sweet versus dry, mild versus strong, red wine versus white wine versus rose wine. When it comes to wine, if you want to live vicariously through an expert and try their favorites, tell them that. If you want something that better fits your own preferences, then make that clear.

What is your view on the difficulty of pairing wine with China’s diverse range of dishes?

This is a mostly imaginary issue as well. All countries have a diverse range of dishes and a touch of salt or soy sauce and a squeeze of lemon or lime go a long way if anyone cares to moderate the interaction between food and wine. Chinese and most people in France, and in the world for that matter, mostly like sweeter milder wines that react less with food anyway.

The simplest experiment is to try a stronger tasting red wine, such as a Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon, take a small taste of lemon and salt – as you would with tequila, though not quite so much lemon and salt – and then try the wine again. It will become soft and smooth. If you are having spicy food, the same holds true, and doing this will relieve some of the hot, burning sensation.

People here are most likely to know only Champagne and Bordeaux in terms of the world ‘s wine regions and there is a good chance that their first (and weird) wine experience will be with a dry tannic red. What is your view on this?

This is a gross misrepresentation of wine as a luxury and status commodity and is important only if someone wants to emulate Western affluence. It is a mistake to think that these wines will intrinsically be liked by anyone. You can start with any wine and then see if you want to move to more or less sweet wine, stronger or more mild wine, and so on. Consumers should learn the simpler elements of style and how to communicate these basic flavor attributes to retailers or sommeliers. The more sensitive tasters prefer milder, often sweet wines. More tolerant tasters like stronger, drier wines. Find out what suits you best and explore!

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