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Jan 21, 2008 03:00 PM

Tim Hanni MW - The Wine Antisnob in the WSJ

Saturday's Wall Street Journal featured one of my favorite wine personalties, Tim Hanni MW. The article is free for viewing here,

And to hear from Tim directly on his ideas in a few posts, here's a link to a vintage thread,
" does the taste of umami exist in humans?" July 2000 -

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  1. Heavens, two wonderful links, especially that last link. Thank you.

    This somehow links in with an aha moment I had at Copia this weekend in regards with my own presonal wine tastes (or lack of). I'm not sure how yet, but it gives me something to think about.

    I was about to reject the dismissal of conventional food/wine pairings because I have some amazing, memorable ones in the past despite my own personal lack of wine sophistication. Then I stopped to think about it. What did make those pairings so amazing?

    Anyway. I'm looking forward to playing with wine salt, lemon and asaparagus. I want to somehow have my own budometer tested. And I will be on the lookout for Vignon so I can play with it.

    Then maybe I'll go back to some places where I've had amazing pairings like The Dining Room and re-evaluate why those pairings were so terrific.

    This works out well with my New Year's resolution to make this my year o' wine.

    8 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      RW, there's a budometer link in the middle of the article, if you didn't see it already.

      1. re: DezzerSF

        Budometer pretty much confirms what I already know: I'm on the sweet side of "hyper-sensitive" with a low tolerance for oak in my wines. Interestingly, his budometer doesn't seem to consider preferences for acidity/tartness at all, which I find to be an important omission as someone who likes wines with a good sweet/fruit/acid balance.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Totally off for me. I came up in the middle of hyper-sensative. I detest the majority of reislings. I haven't had enough of them, but i'm unimpressed enough about the German and Alsatian wines. I can take or leave dry roses, but the wouldn't be the first glass I'd grab. The only thing close was that I like almost any Chardonnay from anywhere.

          The tea/coffee question was off for me. I liked three catagories equally well.

          I am still looking forward to playing with wine, salt, lemon and asparagus. But, alas, if it works. I can just seeing myself the next time I'm at Chez Panisse asking for a lemon half and some salt so I can adjust my dish ... even better ... it might even be worth a few hundred bucks to do that at The French Laundry just for the entertainment value.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            I also ended up in the same "hypersensitive" range; and similarly, it told me two things I already knew: I have a low tolerance for oak in wine, and that I tend to dislike high alcohol wines. I also went back and re-took the test, changing my answers to what would have been my second choice for the questions I wasn't sure about or hesitated on (which was many of them, actually, the only ones I could answer with no hesitation at all were the ones on preference in beer, and my gender :-)), and when I did that I ended up squarely in the sweet category. Is this why I am such a dessert wine fan?

            I did find it interesting that the recommended wines for me to try (in the hyper sensitive category) were types that I have always enjoyed when I've tried them (dry roses, Alsatian and German wines, and Reislings) but that aren't the wines I typically gravitate towards when I am the one choosing the pairing: in terms of white wines, I tend to choose Sauvingon Blancs, for example. So, if nothing else, this gives me something to think about, and I think I am going to start tasting more of the wines in the recommended category, to see if I can find some new favorites.

            1. re: susancinsf

              did anyone else have a completely inaccurate response from the budometer? the result was that i'm hypersensitive to bitterness (laughably untrue) and need sweet flavors. i was advised to try white zin, moscato, sweet rieslings, and fruit-flavored wines. the "bottom line" was that i should avoid anything dry. huh? this is basically a list of the wines i'd run a mile to avoid, generally speaking.

                1. re: Landenistim

                  interesting! i got a completely different result doing the test at, using the basically the same answers. i'm a "tolerant taster," whereas through the wsj link i was placed in the "sweet" category. the former seems much more in line with my preferences.

        2. re: rworange

          The wine, salt, lemon, asparagus bit was the the part I liked best. My wife and I have often wondered about why asparagus is always on the list of tough foods to pair with wine. Reading this, we learned that it's apparently just the way we prepare the asparagus which is, about 99% of the time, roasted with kosher salt and finished with a squeeze of lemon juice.

          I generally like the ideas about the progressive wine list and we found the budometer to be fairly on target for us...but so general that it gave itself a lot of room for error.

        3. My sense is that Tim Hanni's emphasis on umami in wine pairing was a horse he could ride that could allow him to continue to talk about food and wine pairing WHEN HE COULD NO LONGER TASTE WINE.

          It disheartens me to say this. Hanni has a terrific wit and personality, and I've attended several of his talks. But his sobriety has meant that he can no longer taste a dish and a wine together to see how they pair.

          So any expertise that he may claim on food and wine pairing is, well, suspect. He simply cannot evaluate how the two go together, even how his own system for pairing works, or more accurately, doesn't work.

          His over-riding food and wine pairing philosophy "Drink what you want" and the subsequent use of salt and acid to make "drinking what you want" work as well as it can comes out of his inability to taste and recommend wines.

          Better for the aspiring food and wine pairer to learn a few basic pairing rules, and then learn to pair by using the interaction of the flavors of the dish with the flavors of the wine.

          The use of salt and lemon (or other acid) is close to a gimmick. No chef or good cook is going to want a guest to add additional salt and lemon to his/her perfectly honed dish to make a better pairing. The better approach is to choose a wine that works with the flavors of the dish. That requires learning the taste of as many wines as you can, and, as mentioned, a few simple pairing rules.

          Hanni is a bright man, but he's wrong on this approach to food and wine pairing.

          3 Replies
          1. re: justalittlemoreplease

            Re: justalittlemoreplease's post:

            First of all, I'll make it clear that I personally agree with your post in many ways. I do believe it is important to pair wines with food and taste them to see how they go. For me, one of wine's greatest assets is how it can pair with food and elevate a simple meal into a luxurious sensual experience that could not be achieved by having each element alone. I love finding a wonderful wine-food pair, and I feel that the basic rules of pairing are an excellent guideline. Like all rules, they are generally sound, and leave room for the odd exception. I also agree that some chefs may not appreciate tinkering with levels of salinity and acidity in their dishes.

            But I am an aspiring wine and food geek. I have a long way to go, still a bit of a novice. I defer to experts in the field. I'm willing to try to learn the basic rules, and then to start to experiment. I enjoy the process. Not everyone does.

            I live in a place where food and wine is an important part of life, and I hang around with a lot of people who love to eat and drink wine. (Province of Quebec, Gallic influence, plus lots of Italians, Portuguese, Greeks, etc. Wine is a way of life). I have observed that although many people love wine, most people are not as bothered about the basic food pairing rules. They just pull out bottles and start to drink. Red, white, fish, meat, french, asian, doesn't matter, just make sure there is enough good wine to last us. Usually, its red. Everyone likes red. And except in my circles of wine geek friends, I have almost never heard someone say "Woah, that red wine is terrible with that curry fish dish!" or something similar. Most nights, people eat and drink until the last plate is clean and the last drop is poured from the bottle. The wine can often continue well past the cheese course into dessert. And if people are still thirsty, well, open another bottle of red. All good. If I pull out what I consider to be a blockbuster wine, they will comment appreciatively about it, and may really love it, but then will just as happily go back to drinking a very nice $15 bottle of wine if that is what is left on the table. They'll finish the blockbuster wine first, but they will also finish the other bottles too.

            Please let me clarify that these are not necessarily people who have no tastebuds, or who have poor taste. I'll have very intense conversations with many of these people about food and wine, and they are very passionate and often well informed. We'll discuss the best Quebecois cheeses and how they compare to their French counterparts, or about the nice new wines they have tried from Faugeres or Pic-St. Loup or Alentejo, or where to get the best natas or canoli or duck confit or calamari. They clearly appreciate good food and wine, they just aren't fussy about making sure that everything is perfectly matched. They have a much more casual attitude towards wine drinking. Wine is not something they need to learn about, and they are not intimidated by rules of wine pairing. It is very refreshing to be in an atmosphere where wine is a fun beverage, appreciated, but not stifled by rules and what people think. Wine is considered a normal part of the meal, not some magic holy water that is accompanied by special rituals. (except in Holy Communion of course).

            Part of the problem in many parts of North America is that wine has an image of being a "special occasion" drink. People are intimidated by wine and wine-food pairing rules. Wine is not a part of daily living. Until we can break that barrier, the wine market will continue to be a niche market.

            So to say that Hanni is "wrong on this approach to food and wine pairing"....well, I wouldn't go that far. I've seen many people break basic wine pairing rules, and have even participated in my share of iconoclastic behavior. None of us have lost a limb yet. And we've had many lovely meals along the way. If Hanni's approach means more people drink more wine, then all good. More wine drinkers = more market = more wine = more choice.

            I will continue to learn about wine-food pairings because it is my hobby and passion. But I will not worry if the rules are disregarded. I don't necessarily agree that you can always "Drink what you want" and get the best results. I love the classic combinations like crottin de Chavignol and Sancerre, Stilton and Port, coq au vin and Burgundy, Champagne and seemingly everything. But I appreciate Hanni's approach, and feel there is a place for being less "Type A" about wine and food.

            1. re: moh

              What you have discussed here, moh, is a spectrum of interest and skill in food and wine pairing. Yes, there are what you refer to "Type A" food-and-wine-pairing types, who perhaps agonize over pairings to achieve some level of holy grail perfection (what I call the creation of a third flavor). At the other end of the spectrum are folks who drink what they want with want they want to eat. They don't care about the synergy between food and wine: It's not on their radar.

              Many folks are in the middle somewhere. They care some but not a great deal about FAWP and for those folks there are easy basic techniques like justalittlemoreplease mentioned -- techniques like match intensity, match region, find commonality in flavors, etc. These easy techniques can be employed by anyone to make food and wine together a heightened experience.

              What Hanni has done, I agree, is odd, and sad. Sobriety is a delicate subject. It's true that because of Hanni's successful sobriety, he can no longer taste wine, or recommend specific wines to go with a certain dish, or dial-in pairings based on specific wines and dishes. It does seem, as justalittlemoreplease has stated above, that Hanni's inability to recommend wines has caused him to adopt the "Drink whatever you like" approach -- a line he says often -- and then doctor the food at the table with salt and acid to make the pairing better. That's a flawed approach, based on a lack of sensory information. Especially when basic pairing rules are simple, and the results so gratifying if and when they're used. If the diner is interested in more advanced, even innovative, pairing techniques, then those are easily learned when the interest is there. Experimentation -- the tasting of many, many food and wine combinations -- makes the learning all the more fun.

              1. re: maria lorraine

                "Creation of a third flavour" - Yes, that is exactly it! What a great way of expressing this concept. Personally, I love it. I like agonzing over this.

                I'm merely pointing out that in some places, wine is just another beverage that you have with a meal, like water (or in place of water). People are much more laissez-faire about it, and a higher proportion of the population drink it regularly. That is not the case in North America (with some notable exceptions like Quebec and hopefully, California?). If Hanni is successful in demystifying wine for North Americans, I'm in favor. More people will then hopefully try more wines, more wine stores will open up, there will be more interest in obscure wines (the Stepping-Stone concept, where some of the masses become more interested in the subject after their initial easy exposure), more choice for all! And when I go to a party or a restaurant in a place other than Quebec, there may be better choice of beverages. And more people will become comfortable with wine-food pairing after their baby steps with "Drink what you want". As more people are exposed to wine and comfortable with wine, we'll all have more opportunities to have wonderful food-wine experiences. I see "drink what you want" as an important start.The rules will follow, and quickly.

                Perhaps I am being overly optimistic. But it seems to me that there has already been a great improvement in the N.A. wine culture over the last few decades. It used to be that no one knew anything about wine, and everyone drank bad beer and pop. Now we have fine wine and dining opportunities in many different locales. Part of this phenomenon is related to the demystification of wine.

          2. *does the taste of umami exist in humans?*

            Don't know, never ate one.

            3 Replies
              1. re: Frodnesor

                Approximately 4 pounds of a 150 pound human is glutamate so, if prepared correctly, the umami taste would exist in humans. If you were to wrap one in bacon or 'hang' the human you would increase the deliciousness of said human. :-)

                1. re: Landenistim

                  Is the bacon necessary? Aren't humans referred to as "long pig" by those in the know?

              2. "Drink what you want" is a key adage, almost an obvious one, but the wine choice shouldn't steamroll the food. I don't like the idea of Vignon, a magic pixie dust that makes all food play nicely with all wines. I just don't get the point - people who want to drink chardonnay with their steak should just do it, right? Anyone who would care about that being a bad match would know which wine to uncork to begin with, and wouldn't need a sprinkling of some funny concoction that's supposed to broker a truce between meat and beverage. I can't help but wonder if Vignon would give food a standardized taste, as well - why bother?

                Hanni's progressive wine lists are very smart, and a great development for restaurants that don't have a sommelier. but Vignon and the "budometer" seem like another way to tell the non-wine-expert public what they should be drinking rather than leading them to what they might like to drink. Heading to the wine store and picking up wines that pique your interest is still the best way to learn about wine.

                23 Replies
                1. re: mlaas

                  I dislike the progressive wine lists. If you choose a wine simply b.c it has cherry flavors you might as well drink juice. The approach over simplifies wine and makes it boring. If looking at a list that divides wine into flavor profiles, don't you wonder what the difference is between a $20 bottle and one that sells for $40? They are both light and crisp wines, so what is it in the $40 bottle that makes it special?

                  There is so much more to discover. What makes wine an exciting drink is the cultural context, the philosophy of the wine maker and how that is reflected in his wine, exploring the idea of terroir even if you think it is only myth. While this may seem daunting to a novice, there are plenty of knowledgeable sommeliers, shop owners etc who can make it easy for you with out treating you like a two year old.

                  Why are we willing to pay so much more for wine than any other drink? Why doesn't milk range in price the way wine does? There is simply so much more to it than flavor or weight. And CARING about issues beyond flavor DOES NOT make you a wine snob!

                  As for the wine pairing- i do beleive that synergy is created by certain wines and foods, but i won't discount someone's tastes. there is no point in recommending a red wine to someone who says they will only drink white. In those occasions, drink what you like. and even then wine pairing is more versatile than some suggest. there are no hard and fast rules- which creates even more to explore and many exciting discoveries to be had.

                  don't let someone take away from you the best thing about wine, just because wine can be intimidating. it's true that with wine, there is always more to learn, but there are thousands of passionate individuals who would love to share their years of experience with you. wine can give so much to an evening with friends, a bottle can bring back so many wonderful memories, and can connect you with so many fabulous places and times and cultures. I have never been to Italy, but i feel like i have experienced so much of it's people and culture, simply by drinking it's wine.

                  1. re: pierrot

                    You're implying there's a direct correlation between price and quality? While this may be true at the far ends of the spectrum, I think most people would say that a $40 wine isn't necessarily more "special" (to use your term) than a $20 wine. And if it doesn't suit your tastes, then it's not worth anything.

                    I like progressive wine lists. They help me find a wine that I'll like and that will go well with the meal I'm having, even if I'm not familiar with the specific wines on the list. With wines coming from all over the world these days, lists often contain quite a few wines and producers I've never heard of, whose wines I wouldn't try unless I had some kind of idea what they were like. Yes, it would be nice to have more exact information as to their specific qualities, but how many wine lists go into that kind of detail about the things you care about, the "cultural context, the philosophy of the wine maker and how that is reflected in his wine"? Most don't tell you anything other than the type, region and/or price, none of which are at all helpful if you aren't already familiar with the specific wines or regions or the terminology.

                    Basically, a progressive wine list is simply another way of presenting the same information about the wine that wine experts have already internalized, but without relying on the assumption that people will know, for example, the difference between a Pinot Noir from France (if the French wines are even identified by varietal instead of region) and one from Oregon or New Zealand.

                    A progressive wine list is going to make people more likely to try an unfamiliar wine that is presented as something they might like, rather than the familiar "sure thing" name on the list. It seems to me that promotes the kind of exploration you're advocating a lot better than the traditional wine list.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      I think that the correlation between price and quality shows a lot more at the lower end of the spectrum than the high end. try three of the same variety at $10, $20, and $30.

                      to make price points work, the wine at $10 is likely a bulk production, where the grapes are sourced from a broad area that is not ideal for quality grapes. at $20, perhaps the vineyard manager lowered the yields a bit so that his grapes would ripen better and give more flavor. and maybe at $30 the vineyard is located on a sunny slope, with a particular mix of soil that gives a wine greater character, that shows something truly distinctive.

                      you may not like the more expensive wine, but it should certainly give you more than one at $10. I am honestly curious though, how you choose a wine if you believe that price does not imply anything. (this does not take into account those coveted collector's bottles- at that point, it's the label, rather than what's inside that people go crazy for, and most of those will only be sold and resold- never enjoyed)

                      i don't expect a wine list to give paragraphs about each wine- i object to the over simplification- the idea that wine is flavor only. for with this idea wine quickly becomes a bland, generic drink. the progressive wine lists encourages the selection of wines that do not reflect a distinctive style, a unique character and the cultural context, etc is completely discounted.

                      perhaps that is why you do not see any difference between a 20 and 40 dollar bottle. the selections on that style of wine list do not try reflect anything about the soul of wine. they treat it as a bland and generic drink.

                      1. re: pierrot

                        Perhaps progressive wine lists can be considered more of a crib sheet than an encyclopedia? I agree, I get annoyed with them too because the wines aren't presented in their standard geographical categorization, a method that gives more information to the knowledgable than to the non-knowledgable. That's the important part about them.

                        Progressive lists are not for you, the wine enthusiast; they're for the person who just wants to drink wine with dinner and needs some sort of organizing principle to help them choose. Sure, it's taking wine out of it's fascinating context, but any simplified guide tends to flatten complexity. The "progressive" formula has worked brilliantly for Best Cellars - a wine store that I don't much like because they don't have a wide selection; but I can't knock it too hard because others find it useful.

                        1. re: mlaas


                          I think that you hit it squarely with the last paragraph. Especially considering that part of the thrust, mentioned in the article, is to introduce more Americans to wine, and make it easier for them to order it. Using the stated demographics, I fell completely out of their target audience with the first grouping, I drink wine nightly, and cannot recall a dinner in years, that did not include wine.

                          As a vehicle to introduce more Americans to wine, I think that this type of list is a good one. The restaurants listed are not ones, that I turn to for wine, but they are mainstream. Even though Paul Flemming (founder of P F Chang's, and franchiser of Ruth's Chris Steak Houses) lives on a vineyard, only his Flemming's and Ruth's come to my mind for wines. Based on my last visits to each, Flemmings has a progressive list, and Ruth's still has a more traditional list. That might have changed, as I do not spend much time at chains, even higher-end ones.


                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            Slanted Door has a progressive list

                            However, part of the reason I don't like it are many of the reasons that pierrot has mentioned in various posts. It is often a sign of a lazy restaurant and takes the responsibility out of having an educated staff to help direct dinners.

                            I mean ...look at PF Changs

                            I don't see how this entices someone who might be more comfortable with a beer.

                            And here's the scenario that gets played out at too many of these places

                            Diner: What would be good with my beef and brocolli?
                            Server: Any of the red wines go well with beef.

                            It still boils down for most people ... red for red meat, white for white meat and fish ... and dang ... they don't even have the house red or white that resolved this for most people.

                            With a place like Slanted Door I'm still relying on the server because I have no clue what category goes best with my shaking beef. Only with Slanted Door there is a wine knowledgable staff available.

                        2. re: pierrot

                          Sorry, I have to disagree that the difference between a $40 bottle of wine and a $20 bottle of wine necessarily has anything to do with anything inherent to the wines. Very often, is has more to to with the marketing of the wine: a "name" wine from a "name" region will be more expensive simply for that reason than a wine that could be just as good, just as "soulful" and just as reprensentative of its varietal and terroir but that is less well-known, has less marketing behind it, or that comes from an area where the costs are lower or the value of the dollar is higher.

                          In the real world not only is there not an "encyclopedia," but wine lists often give *no* information other than the region, varietal and producer. Unless you are already an expert who recognizes the wines from that minimal amount of information, then you have very little to go by in choosing a wine.

                          I've lived in California all my life and grew up drinking California wines. I consider myself moderately knowledgeable about California wine regions, producers, etc. I've learned a bit the last few years about French wines, but since those are often identified not by varietal or even by region, but by producer and micro-region, unless you know the names of all the wine producing villages in France, identifying them can be a real test. I know very little about Spanish and Portuguese wines, and only slightly more about Italian, Argentinian and Australian and New Zealand wines.

                          I just don't see the objection to giving people more information about what the wine tastes like. Really, I don't care how soulful the wine is or how representative of the terroir if I don't like it! People who want to choose the wines by the producer can still do so from the information provided, although it may be ever so slightly more difficult (really, if you're as knowledgable about the nature of wines as you think, you should be able to figure out where the wines you're looking for are located on a progressive list). Meanwhile, progressive lists make choosing wines easier for the vast majority of people who aren't experts -- doesn't it benefit everyone who cares about wine if more people are drinking it and becoming more knowledgeable? It sounds like you want to limit wine drinking for an elite group who are willing to devote themselves to the serious study of wine.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            I don't know much about wine. Yet I'm offended by progressive wine lists personally. I WANT to know more about the wines. That being said, if it helps more people, I'm for that. I just wish they'd give more info for people who aren't experts but want to continue their education.

                            1. re: rworange

                              What's the most important thing to know about a wine? Isn't it the way it tastes? Knowing the biography of the winemaker, the history of the producer and even the region where it was produced doesn't tell you anything at all about the way the wine tastes unless you already know what it tastes like.

                              I don't see why a progressive list is seen as some kind of barrier to becoming more knowledgable. I really don't. It's not like they omit any information that other lists provide, they just organize the wines to provide additional information.

                              In fact, I think it's a lot more educational to look at a list and see what wines are similar to each other across regions and producers than to know that these six (or 12 or 50) wines come from France, which tells me ... nothing other than the fact they come from France. When you see "Sancerre" on a list, isn't it more educational to know that it's a dry, minerally Sauvignon Blanc than that it's a white wine from France, which is all the information you'd get from most wine lists?

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Only problem that I have found with some "progressive" lists is that they stop at "body." When it comes to food pairing, I find many New World and Old World Charonnays as being very similar in body, but worlds apart (pun intended) in their flavor profiles and in what I think they will pair with. OTOH, if one breaks the progressive list down into all elements, well, then they are back to regular wine list.


                            2. re: Ruth Lafler

                              I don't deny that marketing plays a factor in determining a wine's price, but a $40 bottle SHOULD give more than a $20 bottle. Otherwise there is no point in buying a more expensive bottle That does not mean that there are not HUNDREDS of over priced wines.

                              In my experience places that have progressive wine lists are LAZY in the way they choose wine. They choose generic representations b/c they are taking only flavor into account. They then pick two or three different price points that offer very little in quality. They tend to pick larger producers who have bulk wine- who produce wine in a modern "international" style that represents very little about either varietal or place.

                              If i go into a restaurant, and pay good money, I expect a little something for it. If i am an elitist b/c i have high standards than fine. I see absolutely nothing wrong with expecting good quality wine for the money i pay. I rarely go out to eat any more b/c very few restaurants deliver anything, food, service or wine that does anything to impress, let alone taste good. Am I a snob b/c I am tired of wasting my money on food/beverage/service that disappoints? Perhaps ignorance is bliss- and if i hadn't taken the time to learn a little something about wine I wouldn't have this problem. But in the end, I think I'm better off for it.

                              I in no way want to limit wine drinking to an elite group. It makes me laugh that you said that.

                              About a year and half ago I knew JACK about wine. I didn't even drink the stuff. I had never had a good bottle. Dining out, I never got a good recommendation b/c the staff was not properly trained. Progressive wine lists did not make it any better.

                              And then, by chance, I wandered into a small independent wine shop in my neighborhood that was run by a very passionate individual. He was more than happy to take twenty, thirty minutes to answer questions and help me find a bottle that I would like. It didn't even matter that I wasn't buying expensive wine. In fact I rarely go above the thirty dollar mark and nothing makes me happier than a well made $10 bottle. Every wine in the shop had a hand written tag with a brief summary including interesting facts about the region, the winemaker, as well as a brief tasting note. While this information may not seem necessary to you, in added much more the my enjoyment of the wine. I like knowing WHY a wine tastes the way it does. And also why two of the same grape taste different when they come from different areas. It doesn't take long to learn this stuff. It just takes the willingness to try. The shop worked hard to share their passion and education. It soon became infinitely easier to go out and find a good bottle of wine.

                              This is what I am advocating! Educated, passionate individuals sharing their knowledge and experience! Most restaurants do very little when it comes to their list. Typically, a large distributor comes is and says, "we will print all your lists for you and give you steep discounts if you give us 75% of your wine list." LITTLE TO NO thought on the restaurant's part goes into the list. And they think that a progressive list frees them of the responsibility to know anything about the wine!

                              I in no way am saying that the way a wine tastes is not important. I am only saying THERE IS MORE to wine than flavor. Isn't it interesting to know that a specific wine is a traditional style? And maybe the next time you can try one that is more modern, just to compare? There is such an exciting and interesting journey awaiting you. Don't let someone rob you of that or convince you that there isn't something more to be had...

                              I think that a progressive list will in the end hamper the experiences of a budding wine drinker. They leave very little to explore or learn. After you have covered basic flavors where can you go from there? Not the mention the likelihood that someone will right off entire categories b/c they think cab can only taste this way, sauv. pinot grigio is always light and fruity. It will limit their experimentation further down the road. Eventually there will be a point when you will want to delve a little deeper and there is no variety or region than can be so simply covered. There is so much more to van gogh than paint on a canvas. picasso's blue phase was about more than color.

                              1. re: pierrot

                                "I think that a progressive list will in the end hamper the experiences of a budding wine drinker. They leave very little to explore or learn. After you have covered basic flavors where can you go from there? Eventually there will be a point when you will want to delve a little deeper. and there is no variety or region than can be so simply covered."

                                I don't disagree. But the progressive wine list is less intimidating than a regular wine list. It encourages a novice to try wines, gives a bit of guidance. The budding wine drinker shouldn't be learning off a wine list, that is way too expensive a way to learn. The next step is, as you say, to start trying more and more wines hopefully with the guidance of those who are more experienced. But hopefully there will be more non-winedrinkers who see a progressive wine list and say, "oh, that's a little easier, maybe I'll try wine instead of beer today". And how about someone who is not as familiar with some of the lesser known wine regions? On a regular list, they would just be ignored. On a progressive list, a novice might look at that obscure Sicilian or Austrian or Spanish wine and say "hmm, fruity and light, maybe I'll try it" and thus be exposed to a new wine region. Exposure is a good thing.

                                1. re: moh

                                  I understand your point. However, I think it is better solved by having a little blurb about the wine while they are organized by place. This way, when looking at, say, a group of Tuscan wines, the description will give you an idea about the wine, you can see similarities between several from the same region and and get a better sense about what you are drinking. To me, this approach would seem to be the most helpful and friendly to a wine novice.

                                  And if it's a long list? They shouldn't expect a customer to go it alone. If they invest in a thousand bottle cellar they should also invest in a sommelier- one who is friendly, knowledgeable and eager to help. This way, they customer can get the best service, the best wine for their evening and the restaurant isn't wasting their own time and money by foolhardy purchases.

                                  1. re: pierrot

                                    What you are describing is wonderful! I just wish more restaurants would do this sort of thing.

                                    There are very few restaurants that really put any significant effort into a wine list. Often you are stuck trying to choose the least offensive wine. There are some places where I don't bother to order wine and stick with water or pop, or I just get a glass of the house wine and accept that the evening will be a wash re: wine.

                                    1. re: pierrot

                                      I agree about the availability of a sommelier (or several), or a good, well-trained wine steward. Often, I'll not wish to look over a 60 page list, especially if it's just my wife and I, dining. There, we so often look for a "sommelier's pairing," especially if we're doing the chef's tasting. OTOH, we just did a week at a resort, with a 140,000 btl. cellar and a wine list, just behind Bern's, though not hard-bound. I did the pairings for all but the last night. Now, it was great, that they'd keep our opened bottles, purged and stored, until the "next night." Last night, we were flying out the next AM, so I wanted to do nothing but half-bottles, and turned myself over to the owner, who is their head-sommelier. Some nights, we had 4 leftover wines, and then added a few more. Note: we only had to drive our golf-cart, to our cabin, and no highways were used.

                                      Still, having a good person to guide you is well worth the extra, that a fine restaurant might charge. Besides, he/she knows how the kitchen is operating that day, and can steer one in the right direction. Not sure if this goes against Mr. Hanni's ideas, or not. Without trying Vignon, I do not know if it really does magically pair all foods, with all wines, but will test it out.


                                  2. re: pierrot

                                    I see. So the only way to learn about wine is the way you did it. And if the whole wine world isn't run along the lines you think it should be, then it shouldn't exist. And people who just want to drink a decent bottle of wine without having to become experts should be left in the dark because they're so lazy they don't deserve better. This from someone who is "better off" now that his level of wine sophistication is so high that he doesn't even drink wine in restaurants because it isn't good enough for him. I think I'd rather be out enjoying my wine and food in blissful ignorance than sitting home feeling superior.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      Now you are just being silly. I wanted to share my experience because i felt i gained very much for it.

                                      I do not want to spend what little money i have on a bad bottle of wine. Especially when i am paying 300-400% markup at a restaurant. For that kind of money, i simply demand more effort on the restaurants to provide wines of good quality and character.

                                      And i can't believe you are faulting me for not blindly returning to establishments that gave me bad food, bad service and bad wine. Is this really the "bliss" that you are experiencing?

                                      By the way, you keep referring to me as if i was a man. does it make a difference to you that i am young and female? That there are plenty of jerks out there who have treated horribly b/c they think a woman couldn't possibly care or know about wine? why on earth do you think that i would support this sort of elitism?

                                      the kind of wine list i am suggesting is helpful to all people. I want restaurants to properly train their staff, to provide wine of good character and quality and to make it approachable and easy for all people- not by oversimplifying it as a progressive wine list does- but by actually knowing something about it, and being able to communicate that to their customers in a friendly and convenient manner.

                                      if you just want to keep calling me a snob, than fine. What is so wrong with wanting to learn a bit? And what is so wrong with encouraging others to learn a bit? I do not expect everyone to go out pick up some huge encyclopedia of wine. I am simply saying, there's some cool stuff there and plenty of easy ways to find out about it.

                                      1. re: pierrot


                                        I side with you on a well-trained staff, that knows the wine list, and the kitchen. It is my hope that they, the staff, have actually tasted the items on the menu, especially any specials, or tasting menus, so they can do their job better. I rely on the service staff, and especially the sommelier, or whatever they are called in any particular restaurant, to steer me in the right direction. As noted on another thread on the Wine Board, so very much depends on the prep of a particular dish. I know my wines, and I know a lot about food/wine pairings, but I cannot know every kitchen, every chef, and then the vagaries of THAT night. A good staff fills in the blanks, and I appreciate that greatly.


                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          A progressive wine list is simply another way to organize the information.

                                          A progressive list organizes by style; a regular wine list organizes by region.

                                          The main problem with progressive wine lists, as I see it, is structure: usually there are too few style categories so wines are mischaracterized when they're assigned to a particular category, or the style categories aren't descriptive enough to be helpful.

                                          Often, also, wines are placed in a single category when they might easily be appropriate for two categories, possibly more.

                                          Unfortunately, as frodnesor says, most progressive wine lists have limited choices within the categories. But that's a separate problem from the way the wines are organized.

                                          On the plus side, a progressive wine list is organized in gradually increasing levels of intensity, from light white wines to white wines of greater intensity to light reds, medium reds, and big reds. This is in keeping with the most basic technique one uses when making a food and pairing: match intensity. Actually, the wine drinker with some knowledge does this both intuitively and intellectually.

                                          Sadly, a knowledgeable waitstaff seems more and more difficult to come by these days. Many restaurants with progressive lists are the type whose servers are not trained in food and wines, merely the food and wine of that particular restaurant, and often not even that.

                                          My personal preference is, if there is a progressive list, then I like it to be followed by the same list organized in the traditional sense, by region. Then it's like having both a table of contents and an index.

                                          Finally, a thanks to Bill Hunt, for always keeping the conversation cordial. He's terrifically well-informed, and such an appreciator of good wine and food. The only bad thing about that is he may not be the target audience for the progressive wine list -- those folks who might require a little guidance! My guess is he rarely needs that, and, if he does, the server and sommelier at the restaurants at which he dines are able to answer the question.

                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                            OMG, you made me blush! I do not think that I deserve those kind words. As to the "guidance" part, I seek it all of the time, and greatly appreciate a staff, that can accommodate me. I am always open to learning, and welcome the option to go outside my "comfort-zone." When allowed, we almost always go with the sommelier's pairings (for the better, or the worse), and I learn something every time - not always in a positive way. Still, I like to "take the night off," and let the sommelier do the heavy-lifting. It really feels good to be considered a "guest," and not the "host."

                                            As you state, I realized that I was outside the demographic of the article, and the major thrust of the concept, and tried to put myself into that target, imagining, what would I do, if I were not a wino. It's like going to different ethnic restaurants, where I have little knowledge of the cuisine. I explain this, and then put myself in the hands of the server to help me navigate their menu. As you also state, the training of the service staff (wine AND food) is too often remiss, but often, they are the only resource, that one has. I feel that more restauranteurs should concentrate on the training aspect, but then too many are dealing with high turn-over, a limited abundance of employees, etc. That is one of the things that I love about menus and wine lists posted as PDFs on-line. I get to do a bit of my homework, and often know what I will order, before I leave my home, unless a good server/sommelier steers me in a different direction.

                                            I agree that the base concept behind the "progressive list," is to sell more wine, and make the client feel more comfortable. In that respect, I think that it works. At what level? I cannot comment, as I am not in the business. If it introduces more Americans (the target of the article's references) to wine, and they end up enjoying it more (either quantity, or quality), then it does work, and that is the point. Does it help you, or me? Probably not, or at least not that much. I, as you, choose a more traditional list, though some times those can be daunting, especially for the first bottle for the table. Here, the PDF on-line works very well. If I know that they have a few Meursaults, that are fairly priced, I can go to one of those, while the major decisions are being made. To be handed a 200 page list, and immediately asked what wine do I want, is out of the question. Heck, unless I have studied the menu, or know the restaurant well, I might not have a clue, as to what the cuisine will be. And the server has not given me the time to even find the index!!! No possible structure for a wine list is perfect, and faced with different clientele, it's not an easy call on the part of the restaurant. However, a knowledgable service staff works wonders.


                                    2. re: pierrot

                                      *In my experience places that have progressive wine lists are LAZY in the way they choose wine. They choose generic representations b/c they are taking only flavor into account. They then pick two or three different price points that offer very little in quality. They tend to pick larger producers who have bulk wine- who produce wine in a modern "international" style that represents very little about either varietal or place. *

                                      All an incredibly good assessment of the unfortunately common "lazy wine list." Yet I think this happens equally often in restaurants using a progressive wine list as those that don't.

                                      And I've also found restaurants that do have progressive wine lists that also have very knowledgeable staff, who know their wines, and who can make recommendations whether using the "progressive" list structure as a starting point or not.

                                      Progressive wine lists are not to blame for lazy or uninspired wine lists. They also don't hinder a place that is dedicated to a good wine program from providing one.

                                      If they make it a little easier for someone who's otherwise intimidated by wines to order them, great.

                                    3. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      Are you kidding about the no-difference-other-than-marketing comment? I hear you that prices get jacked up as brand power increases, but there are often critical differences between 20 and 40, such as perhaps new french oak, super low yield fruit, the soil itself, etc.

                                      Case in point is Chateau Fonsalette, which is by category a lowly Cotes Du Rhone for $40+. To me, it's one of the finest Rhone wines at that price point, and it requires expensive tactics to make it taste that great.

                              2. re: mlaas

                                Just launched the wine list at Michel Richard's new Citrus at Social in Hollywood. The Sommelier's love the new tool and the easy amnner in which they can quickly and accurately present really esoteric wines to their clientele.

                              3. Yikes, I took his "budometer" test to determine the best wine for me, and it said "White Zinfandel." I sure hope that budometer was broken.