By Becca Yaemans of The Academic Wino

The concept of wine and food pairing is one that is well ingrained in many people’s minds: red wine with red meat, white wine with fish, etc.  The idea is that the complexities of a specific wine will complement best with the composition of a specific type of food. For example, as Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein suggests in his book Perfect pairings: A Master Sommelier’s Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food, Cabernet Sauvignon works very well with red meats as the body and big tannins require fat and protein to balance out and harmonize with the wine.

There is another, more recent approach out there, Vinotyping, that effectively throws out the whole idea of one perfect wine pairing with one perfect food type and instead focuses on the consumer themselves, which is led by Master of Wine Tim Hanni. A play on the word “phenotype”, the Vinotype approach focuses on an individual’s own genetics and experiences, and categorizes that individual as one of four different Vinotypic classifications: sweet, hypersensitive, sensitive, and tolerant.

Stepping back a little bit to take a quick glance at the science behind the Vinotype concept, it helps to have a basic understanding of “genotypes” and “phenotypes”.  In the most simplistic terms, your genotype is basically your genetic code.  You get half your genes from mom, and half from your dad, and the combination of the two for any given trait is your genotype.  Phenotype, on the other hand, is this genotype in “real life”.  In other words, it’s the observable characteristics that you see based upon your genotype and interactions with the environment.

For the Vinotype theory, it focuses the phenotype on how it relates to wine and wine preferences.  As Hanni defines in his book Why You Like the Wines You Like, the “vinotype” is “the set of observable characteristics of a wine-imbibing individual resulting from the interaction of its genotypic sensory sensitivies in a wine-related environment”.  So, in other words, your vinotype is a combination of your genetics and your experiences with wine and other beverages, and the interaction between the two.

Putting Vinotyping to the Scientific Test

In a new study published in the International Journal of Wine Business Research, researchers from Michigan State University aimed to evaluate the Vinotype theory from a scientific perspective, by looking at any association between everyday food and beverage preferences to wine preferences, as well as whether one could predict what kinds of wines someone would like based upon their everyday food and beverage choices.

The Study Approach

To answer these questions, participants first completed a questionnaire to determine their food and beverage consumption habits as well as their preference.

Next, participants were invited to a reception where they would taste 12 different food and wine combinations at different stations. At each station, participants were asked to taste the wine and food items separately and to rate them separately.  Then, they were to rate their how much they liked or disliked the combination of the two items.

For the food and wine pairing stations, the researchers recruited some of their students to identify combinations they believed would be either well liked or disliked by most people (which they determined via investigations and research).

The reception lasted about 2 hours, with the total amount of wine and food consumed per participant adding up to about 530mL of wine (44mL pour per station) and a full meal of food (appetizer sized portion per station). Participants approached each station in random order, depending upon how busy a particular station was at the time.

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