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Tim Hanni, MW on Food and Wine pairing: It's Bu@^#%t!

Was this comment meant to appease a specific group of people at a Sauv Blanc Convention or is he trying to start a revolution? 

I guess I understand some of what he's saying about generalizations not necessarily matching people and specific dishes, but then he goes off topics and starts talking about arrogant categorization, so I'm having trouble following his entire argument. Having spent hours finding the best pairing for a dish at times, I think I can comfortably say I disagree with this type of sentiment. 


  • This conversation has been fermenting in my mind the past few days, but I've finally had a chance to sit down and put down some coherent thoughts.  This Forbes article does a great job of expanding on some of the concepts that Hanni is talking about.

    1. Re: The Drinks Buisness article: A short article with a lot of quotes from a talk without any real context behind them, but he's an MW.  There's a lot of thought and knowledge that goes behind what he's saying, but it seems deliberately edited to make it controversial.  Add to that, the guy is in recovery and though he doesn't drink, it doesn't mean he doesn't taste - he does taste (and spits everything).  And give him credit, he's also a former executive chef who's done extensive research into food and wine pairing ... he even created a product called Vignon (discontinued) that would help balance food to make it pair with any wine - and when you look at the ingredients there (salt, lemon juice, soy sauce, mushroom powder, parmesan cheese) you can see why that would work.
    2. Did anyone read the history of wine guide?  The argument that there's no history of food and wine matching kind of makes sense ... until recently, wine (like many fermented beverages in Europe) has been used primarily by peasants as a supplement for calories ... considering that many wines would have been tart, green, often riddled with flaws from infection, oxidation, and probably it also had some RS because the fermentation didn't finish.  You'd often then adulterate to make it palatable - this was going on for millennia.  How is that a classic pairing?  Even in recent history, the wines that were being drunk were quite different.  As he said in the Forbes article, they found Champagne from 170 years ago had 140 g/L RS ... think about that.  Coke has about 108 g/L sugar ... that's 30% sweeter than coke.  Think that's not going to affect food and wine pairings?  Personally, I don't know how much I'd like Champagne and oysters at that point.  When he brings up the Cheval from 47, it's because that even 70 years ago, wine was a massively different thing than what it is now.  Just because the only Cote Rotie that somms of our generation have tasted have been dry doesn't mean that it was dry 70 years ago (and if you have some 70 year old Cote Rotie that you want to share with me for research purposes, I'm all for it).
    3. There are genetic predispositions to liking/disliking certain flavors.  Not every "perfect pairing" will work with all people.  You might not like someone drinking Sauvignon Blanc with steak, but some people do.  And I bet if you amped up the oak and the skin contact, gave the steak a lemony beurre blanc, you'd find that the pairing wasn't that bad.  Hanni likes to talk about matching wine to the diner rather than the dinner.
    4. As a guy who sells a lot of Riesling, I agree with him when he says that there's too many different styles, but I'd add that quite often there isn't enough information on the bottle for the average consumer to know what's going on.  Is it dry?  Is it sweet?  Will it have botrytis or be clean?  Am I going to have a lot of dry extract?  MLF?  Even, horror, oak?  German labeling doesn't help with many of these issues and as a group Riesling producers can't even put together a sensible standard of indicating dryness.  Many European producers will put TA on their spec sheets, but that doesn't really tell you how tart the wine is going to be, etc.  It's a minefield for someone who has no knowledge.
    5. Also, as a guy who works in a restaurant with primarily Chinese cuisine, I'm interested to see him talk more about food and wine pairing in China.  Personally, I find it to be a huge challenge since there are a lot of strong flavors (especially fermented ones) that can play havoc with your pairings, especially umami.  There's a lot of hidden umami in Asian cuisine ... there's a reason we call fish sauce "Chinese ranch".  Throw in the heady aromatics being used (ginger, garlic, etc) and the ever present smokey taste of wok hei, and you've got a minefield to navigate.  When you find them, they're kind of amazing, but I've found that you're pairing to the sauce, rather than the dish, much more often than in western cuisine.
  • Thank you Martin for this one. It puts the whole thing in context

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