I often find myself apologizing for my tastes in alcohol. I love a cocktail that tastes like juice; as a St. Louisan I consider Bud Light to be a refreshing local beer; and I’m constantly searching for the perfect fizzy, pink wine. As I’ve gotten older and have met people who are “serious” alcohol drinkers, I’ve broadened my horizons a bit. But if I’m given a choice between a sweet and a dry wine, I’m going to choose the sweet one, 100 percent of the time. Even if it doesn’t pair “right” with whatever I happen to be eating.
Though I’m the farthest thing from a wine expert, actual wine experts think I’m on the right track.
New Michigan State University research suggests that people who are in the business of recommending wine should make recommendations based on the drinker’s vinotype—a fancy word for your typical wine preferences—and not on what they’re eating. So, just because you’re eating a steak doesn’t mean you need to order a bold red. (But if you love it, go for it.)
Some people are immersed in wine culture and are fluent in the lingo. Others want to enjoy wine but are worried they’ll do it “wrong.” I get so nervous when I have to pick out wine for other people that I avoid it at all costs.
But maybe we should just—gasp—ask people what they want to drink, rather than trying to force something we think they should be drinking. It would take the pressure off both sides of the equation.
“The palate rules–not someone else’s idea of which wine we should drink with our food,” said lead researcher Carl Borchgrevink, associate professor and interim director of MSU’s School of Hospitality Business, in an interview with MSU.
Servers and sommeliers “shouldn’t try to intimidate you into buying a certain wine. Instead, they should be asking you what you like.”
Professionals should base pairings on your personal vinotype rather than what’s traditional, Borchgrevink believes. The MSU research suggests that most people fall into a category when it comes to what they like in their wine.
Don’t know your vinotype? This website will assign you one of four after you answer a few questions about your personal taste: sweet, hypersensitive, sensitive and tolerant. The concept was developed by wine master Tim Hanni.
I took the quiz—unsurprisingly, I fell into the “sweet” category. (They give you a lot of affirmations when you get your results—it’s kind of like reading your horoscope.) Apparently, people who like sweet wines also love soda, salt and spicy foods. Check, check and check. If you love black coffee and other intense flavors, you might be in the “tolerant” camp. Interestingly, a lot of what we like is determined by genetics and how our taste buds are set up, but preferences can change over time and with experiences, Hanni says.
This research was the first scientific study of Hanni’s vinotype theory. The MSU scientists surveyed a group on their food and beverage preferences, then held a reception where the participants rated the food and wine presented at 12 stations, both individually and together.
The researchers found that Hanni’s theory checks out. They could predict the wine preferences of the participants by studying the other foods and drinks they preferred.
Next, Borchgrevink and his research team will test the vinotype concept globally by working with scientists around the country and the world.
As for me, I’ll continue my quest for the perfect pink fizz—with science on my side.
Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.