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By Erin Rose
Assistant Executive Director
Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail
We recently asked our Facebook followers to confess their dirty wine and snack pairing favs.
“Cherry wine and brownies!”
“Dry sparkling wine with mac and cheese.”
“A bold Cab with smoked whitefish dip.”
“A Semi-Sweet Riesling with Jarlsberg!”
“Cabernet Sauvignon and baked brie.”
“Chardonnay with popcorn…”
So who among these brave souls has the “best taste”?
If you’re imagining what a sommelier or wine expert might choose and then quietly wonder “what’s wrong with me?”, you’re not alone. Many people have been conditioned to doubt their own taste buds, looking instead for the right answer; an answer that only a wine master or aficionado would know and understand—or so we’re often told.
But look back at the list, pretend there’s no one judging you and choose what appeals to you most. A dry white wine lover might opt for the mac and cheese paired with dry bubbly—or the popcorn and chardonnay if a creamier, oakey profile is more his/her style. Those with a sweet tooth might lean toward the Semi-Sweet Riesling and cheese or the Cherry Wine and chocolate. Or perhaps nothing really jumped out at you.
Whatever your preference, wine expert Tim Hanni would enthusiastically support it—and he’d even go as far as to say that if you chose a sweeter wine pairing, you have more exquisite taste.
“People in this segment are physiologically among the most sensitive,” Hanni writes in his book Why You Like the Wines You Like: Changing the way the world thinks about wine. Not only do sweet wine drinkers have more taste buds, according to Hanni, but they are “highly sensitive tasters who want sweet tastes to mask bitterness and alcohol.”
Hanni believes that sweet wine drinkers are one of four wine-drinking types, based largely on what he calls our Sensitivity Quotients (SQ). “This is literally your level of perceptive sensitivity that determines the range and intensity of sensations [in] your experience.” The tie between your SQ and genetics, which Hanni closely studied alongside Dr. Virginia Utermohlen, an Associate Professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University, combine with your cultural and social conditioning to form what Hanni playfully refers to as your Vinotype.
Sweet Vinotypes naturally enjoy sweet, aromatic wines, such as Late Harvest Rieslings, Muscats and Gewürtztraminers with more residual sugar. They’re also the most likely to fall for ice wine—a sweet honeyed style that’s produced on the Leelanau Peninsula during occasional winters when the grapes actually freeze on the vines prior to harvest. According to Hanni’s survey, 21 percent of women and 7 percent of men fall in this category.
Hypersensitive Vinotypes are the most popular, accounting for 38 percent of women and 36 percent of men according to Hanni’s survey. Like Sweet Vinotypes, Hypersensitives tend to perceive higher alcohol wines as bitter tasting and will often experience a burning sensation. For this Vinotype, low alcohol, dry-to-slightly sweet wines are the winners. Think Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay (either traditional or unoaked) and Dry Rieslings. Hypersensitives are also likely to enjoy soft, light-bodied red wines like Pinot Noir and Gamay. Rosés are a natural fit for this Vinotype as well, so long as they are delicate, fruity and made from unoaked varietals, such as Pinot Noir grapes.
The sensitive type are what Hanni calls more adventurous wine drinkers because their palates, whether through genetics, cultural conditioning or a combination thereof, are more tolerant to alcohol and tannins. Still, Hanni has dubbed these drinkers “sensitive” because they prefer a smooth, balanced wine as opposed to a loud, oaked red. Sensitive Vinotypes will likely revel in the wide range of wines our tasting rooms offer—particularly the dry white and red styles—and are more likely to enjoy exploring the medium-bodied, food-friendly reds we’re known for on the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail, such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Blaufränkisch. Approximately 25 percent of the population is believed to fall into this category.***
If you truly like a “big red”, a.k.a tannic, intense and full-bodied (think Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah), you fall into the fourth tier of wine drinking. This distinct Vinotype is categorized not for its sensitivity…but the lack thereof. These drinkers are imperceptive to the bitter and burning sensations that other Vinotypes are more likely to perceive in more intense wines, which is why Tolerants typically fawn over bold reds—though the flip side of this less sensitive palate is that everything else often tastes sweet. Whereas a sweet Vinotype might find a Dry Riesling with little residual sugar a bit too bitter, the tolerant wine drinker will instead perceive this same style as very sweet. 16 percent women and 32 percent of men are thought to be Tolerant Vinotypes.
Intrigued? It gets even more interesting. Hanni believes that our Vinotypes not only reflect the kind of wine we like and dislike, but our general personalities and personal preferences as well. If you enjoy Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and other dry wines like Chardonnay and Dry Rieslings, along with lighter-bodied reds, you are likely also more creative, easily distracted, and sensory-loving (fragrance, touch, sound and taste has a big impact on you)—all traits of the Hypersensitive Vinotype. On the other hand, if you enjoy the thrill of competition, tend to think more black & white than gray and feel comfortable speaking your mind (and in whatever decibel it takes), you’re probably a Tolerant Vinotype who enjoys bolder red wines, along with black coffee (the stronger, the better), Cognac and Scotch.
Regardless of your Vinotype, which may have grown more tolerant of dry or bolder wines depending on your cultural conditioning, circle of friends and lifestyle, drinking wine can be even more enjoyable once you realize how much your taste buds and their sensitivity impact your experience. The great news? Whether you naturally gravitate toward Late Harvest Rieslings, Pinot Blanc, Cabernet Franc or richer red blends, Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail tasting rooms offer an expansive list of wines for every wine drinker to enjoy. The key, as Hanni notes, is to find your place among these sensory sensitivity groups and proudly taste, pour and share your favorite wines—whatever they may be!
So what’s your Vinotype? Take this quiz and plan a time to come up for a weekend or week-long wine tour, where you will find friendly, accommodating tasting rooms that are happy to pour whatever you’d like to try—and no one is ever offended if you decide to make use of the spitoon (a.k.a. The small bucket-looking apparatus next to your crackers where you are free to dump your remaining wine). Cheers to your wine journey—and may you take home and pour your Dessert Wine, Dry Riesling and Pinot Noirs with pleasure!