Tim Hanni tends to throw around a lot of big words when he’s discussing wine — words like hypersensitivity, neuroplasticity and psychosensory phenomena. But he’s not shy about saying when he considers something “total crap.”
The internationally known wine educator, author of “Why You Like the Wines You Like: Changing the Way the World Thinks About Wine,” has made it his mission to re-educate the wine industry, eliminating myths about enjoying wine with food.
“It’s important to match wine not to the dinner, but to the diner,” he said from his home in Bend, where he has lived since leaving Napa Valley late in 2015.
To that end, Hanni will present a two-hour seminar at the Broken Top Club on Sept. 20, urging wine lovers to “understand ourselves and those with whom we share a table.”
He said, “We tend to want to share our experience as if others have the same experience we do. They don’t. The reality is, we all live in our own unique sensory world.”
Hanni postulates that individual genetics and “neural gastronomic programming” — the influence of culture, learning and life experiences — are the biggest factors in determining what he calls “Vinotypes.” That puts him in direct conflict with conventional wine knowledge, which dictates that one should drink red wine with meat and white wine with seafood.
“Conventional wisdom on drinking wines is total crap,” said Hanni, who spent 10 years as a chef before switching his focus to wines.
“There are very significant differences in how we perceive things from a genetic standpoint,” Hanni said. He has developed a scale — hypersensitivity at one end, complete tolerance on the other — that measures how people respond to bitterness and the sensation of alcohol. Those who attend his seminar, he said, will discover where they fall on this spectrum and thereby learn “why you like the wines you like,” he said.
Because the wine industry has moved away from the production of sweet wines, it has lost legions of potential buyers, Hanni said. “What (the industry does) today is to make wine inhospitable,” he said. “Millions of people have been totally disenfranchised from wine because of our beliefs.”
Wines were made much sweeter prior to World War II, he said: “French champagne was 30 percent sweeter than Coca-Cola.” Now, he said, at least one-third of Americans say they don’t like wine, often because they don’t want to be told that they must drink dry wine rather than sweet.
Wine and food
“A new level of personalization and understanding is what we need,” said Hanni, who began researching sensory perception and sensitivity with regard to wine preferences in 1990. That was the year he became one of the first two Americans to earn a Master of Wine certification in the science and business of wine.
The taste of wine changes dramatically according to what we eat it with. If foods are salty or sour, Hanni said, they suppress any bitter flavor in wine — thus, wine tastes more bitter when consumed with unsalted food. If foods are sweet or savory (“umami”), they allow bitterness. And if they are spicy, well: “Spicy is a whole new dilemma, and people who love spicy food will be delighted to learn why,” he said.
“Your brain may have a way of processing what you sense,” he said. “You may not like something as a child, but as you get older, you may acquire a taste for that same food.
“We can also dispose of tastes, such as cutting down on sugar or salt for health reasons. Then there are physical responses to certain foods. A good example is cilantro, which some people love and others simply cannot stand.
“The only thing that matters is what we like. True hospitality will come when we don’t tell people what they have to drink. We can offer options.”
Dennis Sienko, who operates the Bend Wine Cellar, is one of Hanni’s biggest fans. “Tim is incredibly entertaining and full of joy, which infects the audience,” he said. “Attending a ‘Timinar’ is worth it solely for the entertainment value, but it is also empowering.
“The wine world is full of people who will tell anyone who will listen that Wine A is better than Wine B, and they should like Wine A and not like Wine B, and you should drink Wine A with this food and Wine B with that food. They’re wrong. We’re all different. We all taste different things, and it is relative as a result.
“Tim empowered my wife to trust her palate and to enjoy the wines she likes, regardless of whether the wine snobs of the world approve.”
Advance registration is required for the Sept. 20 seminar, either by email at email@example.com or by phone at 541-383-8200. The two-hour Wednesday program will begin at 5:30 p.m. The cost is $65, or about the price of one good bottle of wine.
— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.