What's your vinotype?

It really is a matter of taste, writes Jo Burzynska.

Julicher Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011; Calmel & Joseph St Chinian Les Terroirs, France 2011; Mudbrick Vineyard Reserve Waiheke Island Viognier 2013. Photos / Supplied.

Tim Hanni is an American Master of Wine who thinks our individual taste preferences start in our genes. This flavour maven and author of Why You Like the Wines You Like hits Auckland next week on a mission to help wine drinkers tap into their tastes. I caught up with him to discover what participants can expect.

Why do we like the wines we like?
Our individual likes and dislikes for wine and everything else we experience are dependent on our unique sensory makeup and the way our brains process the information sensations provide. It's the combination of unique genetic makeup and then psychological or neurological factors that determine what sensations represent and evolve over time due to our culture, learning and life experiences.

Do genetics influence a person's taste?
Our ability to see, smell, taste, hear and feel are functions of the type, configuration and number of sensory receptors we have. Thus genetics determine the range and intensity of sensations you experience. Specifically related to the sense of taste, the range of actual taste receptors varies from as few as 500 or even less, to more than 11,000 from one person to the next.

This does not relate to ability or expertise. There is not a "better or worse", just different.

In fact, people with a much higher than normal number of taste buds are overwhelmed by the cacophony of sensations they experience and find it very difficult to identify and articulate what they are perceiving. And a sensation that is perceived as very intense for one person may be non-existent for another. Therefore, many of the arguments over wine flavour descriptions and preferences that occur in wine circles are simply a matter of these genetic and perceptual differences.

What other factors play a part in wine preference?
We all come with pre-programmed sensory software: these are instinctive attractions and aversions that allow us to survive, and can be observed in a newborn child spitting out bitter foods and smiling when exposed to sweet or umami tastes. Over time, our preferences change when, for example, the neural pathway for a sensation that is programmed as unpleasant becomes rerouted to elicit a pleasant memory or experience.

It is a mistake to think that expertise equates with understanding! The more trained and expert we become, the more our preferences become distorted and removed from reality. This is all a natural part of human nature - my vision is that it becomes better understood and ensures that part of the process of wine education involves learning and understanding our differences in perception. This would go a long way to ending a lot of the arguments about wine quality and characteristics, while also eliminating much of the arrogance associated with wine.

So what's "my vinotype" all about?
The word vinotype is taken quite literally from the word phenotype, which is used to describe the process of evolution of an organism in terms of genetics and adaptation to different environments. A vinotype is simply a wine-drinking organism. The myvintoype.com website uses a set of simple questions about everyday things you might love, hate and want using simple, non-wine questions, that have been validated though our research to correlate with general sensory sensitivities and tolerances.

How can it expand people's wine drinking horizons?
If we can better understand the factors that create myriad personal preferences, we can all become better at guiding people to the distinctive and different wines that are available from around the globe. People who feel their personal tastes are understood and honoured are much more adventurous than people who feel the will of the expert is being imposed on them.

What will you be exploring in your seminar in Auckland?
All of these things with sensory demonstrations of perceptual differences. I will also discuss how wine and food pairing has gotten totally out of hand - through demonstrations of simple solutions for getting the greatest enjoyment in matching the food to the diner, not the dinner. I'll be talking about how we can all benefit from a better understanding of each other and how to explore the wonderful world of wines on a personal and individual basis.

• For more on the workshops, hosted by the New Zealand School of Food and Wine, visit event.foodandwine.co.nz.


You can identify your vinotype by taking Hanni's online test at myvinotype.com. It said I'm a sensitive type, which apparently puts me in the centre of the sensory sensitivity spectrum and means I'm apt to appreciate the widest diversity of wine styles. Here's what I've been enjoying this week:

Julicher Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011 $42
Silky and elegant, this poised pinot possesses fresh cherry and plum fruit laced with fragrant notes of exotic spice and herb over a subtle savoury undertone and lifted line of acid and mineral. From julicher.co.nz.

Calmel & Joseph St Chinian Les Terroirs, France 2011 $13.99
A delicious blend of syrah, grenache and carignan, with amazing class and concentration for this price. Supple, rich, with and fresh raspberry and dark berry fruit and hints of herb. From winedirect.co.nzblackmarket.co.nz.

Mudbrick Vineyard Reserve Waiheke Island Viognier 2013 $45
An opulent creamy textured viognier from Waiheke, with notes of apricot and spice. From mudbrick.co.nz.

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