For anyone who isn’t a pedantic wine geek, knowing the name Tim Hanni may not be a priority. From his bio, at the website, www.timhanni.com…
“Tim Hanni is an internationally renowned ‘flavor maven.’ A professionally-trained chef, he is one of the first two resident Americans to successfully complete the examination and earn the title Master of Wine. He is a Certified Wine Educator accredited by the Society of Wine Educators. He has been involved with wine-and food-related businesses, education and research for over thirty-five years. Hanni has a unique perspective on food and wine, providing a modern and innovative approach to the subject.”
Without intending to infer any sort of personal relationship between Tim Hanni and me, (I’ve never met him and, recluse that I am, don’t expect to) our lives share a certain symmetry. We’re both “professionally trained chefs“, both been immersed in the American wine culture for thirty+ years, and share what his bio refers to as “a unique perspective on food and wine.”
Which may be putting that mildly.
Tim’s been referred to as “the Wine Antisnob” by the Wall Street Journal, while I’ve been referred to as “that cranky asshole” by countless people, both for the same reasons: a flat refusal to accept or validate the smarmy, pedantic, exclusionary ‘Tudes and posturing of what I call “wine weenies” – those folks who have staked out All Things Wine as their personal domain and derive much of their enjoyment of the culture by lording it over the Great Unwashed.
In the pages of drinksbusiness.com, this past Tuesday, Hanni is quoted as saying, “France has “no history of food and wine matching” – “we made that up” and ““A perfect wine pairing doesn’t exist. We’re doing a lot of damage the way we’re matching wine and categorising it. We need to start a campaign to stop wine and food pairing as we’ve created a lot of bullsh*t around the idea.”
I wanted to grab Tim Hanni and kiss the guy right squarely on the mouth. Fortunately for us both, I dunno where he is and I think we should keep it that way.
I don’t drink wine with food and never have. The whole idea of wine pairing and referring to a bottle as “a food wine” is basically saying the wine isn’t interesting enough for you to enjoy by itself.
This has frequently resulted in my being called a dolt and a simpleton or, by those trying to be nice about it, “misguided”. A few years back, I had a light dinner with the Italian race car driver-turned-winemaker, Antonio Sanguinetti, who noticed that I wasn’t consuming his Chianti with our meal and almost fell over dead when I said I don’t drink wine with food. For him, a native Italian and a passionate gastronome, the thought was nothing short of heresy. To be polite, I did drink some of the wine with our dinner and made appropriate noises of approval. But he wasn’t convinced, though he was too much of a gentleman to make an Issue of it. Make no mistake about it, though, millions of people do get their panties in a huge knot when their fetish for wine/food matching is challenged. In the comments section of the drinksbusiness page with his article, we find effete gems like this one…
“The quest for perfection may be bullshit but the divine synergy of goose and Volnay is not.”
Oy-fuggen-vey…there is SO much silly about it that I don’t know where to begin.
Hanni is going to get hammered even more about this, as the weeks trudge by, but the inescapable thing about it is…he’s right.
FACT: When you put wine into your mouth with food, you cease to taste either the food or the wine. What you’re left with is a frequently ill-advised mash-up of both that tells you little about either. On RARE occasions, the two will produce a new set of flavors that is unlike either the food or wine but is striking, even sublime, on its own, and that can be remarkable. But that set of flavors is NOT wine and it is NOT food. It’s Something Else and is fundamentally not reproducible. The next time you have that combo, maybe a vintage has lapsed or the food item is made by a different chef. It’s likely to be – and often is – a totally different experience.
Even more ridiculous is the shotgun marriage of red wine and chocolate, two things which can be scientifically proven (and have been) to be incompatible. The list of foods that people insist on shoehorning into cohabitation with wine borders on appalling. If I’ve been asked once, I’ve been asked a literal thousand times, “What wine goes with Mexican/Southwestern/Cajun/Szechuan food?” My answer has ALWAYS been “Iced tea, soda pop, or beer but preferably water.” I dealt with this wine/chocolate obsession – something that is to wine culture what athlete’s foot is to personal hygiene – in this post from 2014: “Red Wine & Chocolate: The Conflict of Concept and Reality“. It may be worth a read, as the “scientifically proven” bit is contained within.
We as wine fanciers have inherited a wide range of assumptions from our European forebears, in much the same way our emerging soccer culture has assumed affectations like wearing wool scarves in 95 degree heat, bouncing up and down and chanting, aping phrases like “It’s the most popular sport in the world!“, and parroting Euro-terms like “nil” and “pitch“, despite the fact that, uh, we don’t fuggen live in Europe and already have common-usage words for those things. (I suspect our hooligan wannabes won’t be satisfied until we get some people killed in a soccer riot) We swallowed the Italian and French assumption that wine is what you drink with food without ever really questioning it, despite the FACT that in neither country do they do anything like our gnashing of teeth and wailing about “the proper pairing“. (They just grab some wine and drink it.) In fact, beer is quite often a FAR better companion beverage to food, as in the inarguable affinity of oysters and Stouts. Ginger ale or beer is a wonderful accompaniment to the sweet sauced Asian cuisines. But most telling is how we describe the act of drinking with food: “And to wash it all down…” A phrase with all the sophistication and allure of watching somebody hose down a clump of grass trimmings into a storm drain.
Wine sipped in between bites of your dinner? Sure, why not? It’s not, at that point, two wildly different substances – a liquid and a solid, both with their own flavor paradigms – competing for your tongue’s attention.
Worst of all is that the whole rigorous set of parameters that we’ve placed on pairing is just one more thing for wine weenies to cop Attitudes about. Mr. Hanni NAILS this absurd, exclusionary puffery perfectly: “We need to celebrate the diversity of consumers, not make them feel stupid. You can serve Sauvignon Blanc with steak – why not?” I’ve been hammering on this very point for twenty-eight years. Wine snobbery is NOTHING but an affectation and does less than nothing to “educate those seeking wine knowledge“, (the weenie’s all-purpose justification) while reinforcing every single stereotype about wine snobs and what one has to endure to A) enjoy wine, while B) setting foot outside your own house to do it. ALL it accomplishes is to make the pedant feel superior.
DRINK WHAT YOU LIKE. There IS NO rule for what you’re going to enjoy in either your food or wine and if you listen to criticism about either, you’re helping to keep the gigantic broomstick lodged up the ass of wine and food, two disciplines that already REEK of hauteur and condescension. I get AT LEAST fifteen queries a week from readers and, maddeningly, my family and friends: “What wine should I serve with _________?” I’ve had to stop telling people that it doesn’t matter because they all just dismiss that as “Steve being Steve” because I am without doubt a curmudgeon and embrace that label proudly. But even cranks are right; sometimes frequently, and dismissing the message because you don’t like the messenger is the same bonehead play it is in any other human interaction. With family, I mumble something non-committal (usually either “white” or “red”) and try to get them to opt for some other beverage. It rarely works but nobody seems inclined to stop asking me, either.
With readers, I TRY to be diplomatic but occasionally fall short and come off as just the “dip” syllable.
In the final analysis, a LOT of what makes wine seem so vital as a food pairing is the near-universal article of faith that says that wine is the beverage of the sophisticated and that serving anything else is likely to mark the host as a clod or somehow perversely slumming it with their pairings. I’ve served raw oysters to people with both a big Stout and a Melon or Champagne and, though those tasting may well admit (and about 90% of ’em have) that the Stout is more compatible, they’ll still drink the wine because that suits their self-image. Wine is Chic and worldly and sophisticated. Beer, shockingly to me, still carries that “Joe Six-Pack” stigma but, curiously, those who think that way, when pressed, usually admit that what “beer” means to them is BudMillerCoorsPabst. They generally have zero idea that anything like a Stout or a Belgian Tripel or a Berlinerweisse or any of the other classic food beers even exists. And past wine and beer, the thought of accompanying a meal with a peaty Scotch or a great Grappa isn’t even a theoretical possibility in their little universe.
It would be nice to suppose that the Europeans, having centuries more history as wine cultures, wouldn’t be as much prey to this mindset. But they are, drinking wine with everything edible – even if they don’t agonize over “pairings” – and as long as this manic pursuit of Hipness persists and people are incapable of see themselves NOT tied to wine with dinner, this silliness will just sail on and on, unabated, despite the clarity of people like Tim Hanni and his brave assertion of February 19, 2019.
My final word on it is this: What you’re really doing when you seek out the advice of some wine-savvy asshat like me about what’s going to go with your spit-roasted pork loin is Validation. People want to think that they’ve hit it out of the park with their preferences, so we ask from “experts” what we are fully capable of providing ourselves. You have a tongue and a brain. USE BOTH. The correct wine to have with your dinner is…your favorite wine. The one that brings you the most pleasure. As Tim Hanni said: “…Sauvignon Blanc with steak – why not?” I don’t drink wine with food not because I’m in love with my Curmudgeon Cred but because I AM in love with both food and wine. I want to taste and appreciate the food that I or someone else has labored over for my enjoyment. And I want to taste the wine that Trey Busch or Helen Turley or Telmo Rodriguez or Arianna Occhipinti or Jeff Stewart or Martina Prieto or Jules Taylor has sweated and bled to put on my table. I spent 30+ years as a chef so I could put food on my own table that I could eat avidly and proudly serve to others. And I want, especially, to taste what chefs put their names and reputations behind, every day, in restaurants all over the world. It’s FAR more about Respect, for me, than aesthetics. I could easily forget all of these reservations and produce that same muddled, unfocused slurry of food stuffs and grape juice in my mouth and just get on with my life. Anybody can. And there is nothing wrong if you choose to do it. Just don’t erect a facade of pretense about it and bang on about the “perfect pairings“. There is no such thing. And pretending there is just leads to a quest that has no real end and is intensely annoying to a LOT of the people you’ll encounter on your journey.