There are 378 Masters Of Wine in the world (which is different from a Master Sommelier). Total. Tim Hanni is one of those 378 people, and one of the first two resident Americans to complete the rigorous exam required to earn the title. In short, he knows his stuff, and I am confident he’d be cool with that colorful language because he’s got a bit of a knack for the art himself. He demonstrated both his areas of expertise in a recent speech, during when he said, “We need to start a campaign to stop wine and food pairing as we’ve created a lot of bullshit around the idea.”
Forgive the GIF, but it’s warranted:
The Drinks Business reports that Hanni was speaking “passionately” at January’s 2019 Sauvignon Blanc Celebration in Marlborough. The speech concerned the need for the wine industry to begin celebrating wine drinkers, rather than finding ways to exclude or belittle them. Suggested food pairings need, in his mind, a complete rethink.
“A perfect wine pairing doesn’t exist. We’re doing a lot of damage the way we’re matching wine and categorizing it... A lot of people enjoy being arrogant about wine and consider entry-level wines as being unsophisticated... We need to celebrate the diversity of consumers, not make them feel stupid. You can serve Sauvignon Blanc with steak—why not?”
But it isn’t just that food and wine pairings tell consumers that specific pairings are somehow wrong. It’s also, according to Hanni, just bullshit in general. He said that France has no history of matching food with wine. “We made that up,” he said, adding:
“We need to get over the notion that food and wine grew up together. Food and wine matching is pseudo science full of metaphors and misunderstandings.”
I spent a lot of time working in a fancy wine and cheese store, and it’s true that people often steer away from what they actually want to drink because it’s not the “right wine” to pair with a steak or whatever. But not everyone likes reds, man! This is incredibly refreshing. Hanni isn’t saying that food and wine can’t be enjoyed together. He’s just saying there’s no correct answer, and also that people should’t be dicks.
It’s not the first time he’s raised the point. Here’s a 2012 Q&A in which he calls the idea of traditional food and wine pairings “an imaginary la-la-land that lives in the minds of the practitioners as reality” that’s just a “basis for telling people what they should, or should not, eat and drink.” Here’s a piece on a 2013 event during which Hanni, also a chef, argued for “flavor balancing” as an alternate activity and said: “Wine pairings are a fraud.”
In short, he’s been banging the drum for quite some time, and it’s just the swearing that got our attention (thanks to The Drinks Business’ report on the speech).
There’s one last delight to be found in TDB’s piece. A poster claiming to be Bartholomew Broadbent, another revered wine expert, left this gem in the comments:
I know what my friend Tim Hanni is trying to say and to some extent I agree. However, I think he missed the point of wine and food pairing. Any wine can be paired with any food perfectly enjoyably. However, a great food and wine pairing is one which improves the experience of both the food and the wine, indeed, creating a new gustatory experience which isn’t accomplished with either one on its own. Mature Vintage Port and Stilton cheese is a perfect example. Or, as Julia Child once told me right before we were about to conduct a Madeira tasting together: “Bananas, we must have bananas! The greatest food and wine pairing in the world is Madeira with bananas.”
Add that to the list of things I learned about bananas today.