Beyond the Budometer: Tim Hanni’s Vinotype Analysis

Tim Hanni, Why You Like the Wines You Like2013.

Writing about the problems of “misunderstood” Riesling earlier this summer (and why people are so hung up on the dry-sweet thing), I was struck by a distant memory of … the Budometer! I recalled reading an article some years ago about a wine expert who had taken the qualitative differences in personal wine perception and taken them to the next level by quantifying them through painstaking experimentation.

The result was the Budometer which was not a measurement of how many Budweiser beers a person could drink (although that would be interesting, too), but a way to determine what types of wines an individual consumer might prefer, with the seemingly inevitable trial and error  phase eliminated. Budometer and is taste buds if you see what I mean.

It seemed like a great idea when I read about it, however I admit that I didn’t do much with it at the time.  But it was easy enough to find that old Wall Street Journal interview online and so I set about to retrace my steps.

From Budometer to Vinotype

I have bad news to report. The Budometer is no more. But don’t despair because it’s been replaced by something better, the Vinotype. And the wine expert who got all this started is still at it, too. His name is Tim Hanni and he’s a famous person in American wine history. He and Joel Butler were the first Americans to pass the devilishly difficult Master of Wine exam. Fewer than 400 people in the world have survived the rigorous process that gives them the right to wear the initials M.W. next to their names.

I’ve never met Hanni but he seems like an unusually interesting person. Although he knows pretty much all there is to know about wine he doesn’t drink the stuff (or any alcohol) any more. His mission now is to help others enjoy the beverage that he no longer imbibes.

Hanni’s research indicates that wine drinkers hardwired into four basic groups or Vinotypes, which he calls sweet, hypersensitive, sensitive and tolerant. It you want to know all about Hanni’s system you should probably read his 2013 book, Why You Like the Wines You Like or visit his websites and I’ll provide a quick summary here, but I risk over-simplifying. You should seek out the more complete reports available in the book on the websites.

Sweet to Hypersensitive

Prefers Brown Sugar … Probably a Sweet.

“Sweet” wine tasters are very sensitive to anything that assaults their senses (not just in wine, according to Hanni). Bitterness and alcohol in wine must be covered up with a blanket of sweetness.  Women (about one in five) are three times more likely to be Sweet Vinotypes. White Zinfandel is their kind of wine. It isn’t a lack of sophistication (White Zin drinkers get a bad rap in wine circles), it’s just the way they are built.

A little more than a third of both men and women in Hanni’s surveys are Hypersensative Vinotypes. They have intense sensory experiences as the name suggests. Hanni says they love fragrances and “revel” in aromatic memories. Rather than cover up offending flavors with sweetness, however, they instead seek out delicate wines that are dry or off-dry, aromatic (obviously) and very smooth. They avoid big red wines with lots of oak (or any wine with overt oak treatment). Sparkling wines, drier Rieslings and Sauvignon Blanc wines fit this profile very well along with lighter reds like Pinot Noir.

Are You Sensitive or Tolerant?

“Sensitive” vnotypes make up about a quarter of the wine drinking population and Hanni says they are the most adventurous drinkers (and eaters, too). They like to try new things. Accordingly they enjoy a broad range of red and white wines while leaning towards the drier side of the sweetness spectrum.

“Tolerant” Vinotypes are less sensitive when it comes to harsh, bitter sensations such as you might find it rugged, high alcohol red wines.  Given a choice, Hanni says, Tolerant Vinotypes head for the big reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and are not daunted by high alcohol levels because the smack of the alcohol is mitigated by a deceptive sweetness that they perceive even in a completely dry wine.

You won’t be surprised to learn that men outnumber women two to one among Tolerant Vinotypes. The next time you see a couple drinking in opposite directions – he with a big, bold Aussie Shiraz and she sipping a delicate Oregon Pinot Gris, don’t shake your head, just appreciate that you’ve stumbled onto a “mixed marriage,” Tolerant male and Sensitive female.

You Are What  You Drink

The key to the Hanni’s Vinotype analysis is that people are very different from each other and their wine preferences are not just about wine – they reflect a person’s sensibilities more generally. Thus in one incident reported in his book, Hanni pressed an apparent Hypersensitive vintoype all the way and asked if by chance he sometimes wore his underware inside out (to avoid the relative harshness of the interior seams). “How did you know!” came the response.

I hope you take Hanni’s test and find out your Vinotype. It’s fun and also useful to think seriously about your habits, attitudes and sensory experiences. What will you learn when you are finished? Well apart from Hanni’s cool list of suggested wines,  I hope this helps you accept that people really are different when it comes to wine and other things in life. There is no reason why you should like everything your friends like in wine (and indeed there are good reasons why you might disagree). If you are a Sweet Vintotype you are never going to enjoy that Napa Cabernet and the Cab lover is never going to understand your passion for White Zinfandel.

The Riesling Question

Hanni has gone far beyond the Vinotype in his research and I encourage you to check out his work because there is a lot that might stimulate your imagination (if you are a Sensitive type) or challenge your firmly held habits and beliefs (if you are on the Sweet side and unwilling to break out of your comfortable routine).

For me, thinking about the Riesling problem, there were several key points. The sweetness scale that the International Riesling Foundation promotes is probably more important than I thought since both Sweets and Hypersensitives might look at Riesling wines, but they will be looking for very particular styles.  Senstitives might find something interesting in all Riesling styles, but Tolerants will want nothing to do with the wine.

This is a problem, according to some research that Hanni reports, because Tolerants buy wine much more frequently than Sweets. Getting Sweets to drink more Riesling could be problematic because they just don’t drink it very often in the first place.

Food for thought, don’t you think?


In other news … the Kindle version of Extreme Wine has been released!

5 responses

  1. Mike, Glad you enjoyed Tim’s book. For 15 or so years, when I was coordinating the (then) 3 week OIV wine marketing short course at Davis, I had Tim be the closing speaker, with his message that consumers differ in many ways and that a business’s real purpose is to meet and satisfy customer needs–not to meet the pyschological or emotional needs of the owner. It was both entertaining and educational to watch Tim’s ideas evolve over the 15 years. The book is an excellent compilation of scientific research and observations from a keen intellect. Thanks for bringing this book to the attention of your readers.

  2. Mike – thanks so much for the coverage of the book. Dr. Ken Fugelsang has added Why You Like the Wines You Like to his enology courses and Fresno State University in addition to the WSET and Society of Wine Educators. I am really proud to see the concepts taking hold. It is fascinating to see what happens, like the current Moscato boom which is eclipsing Riesling like a freight train, when one considers the actual market versus just through the eyes of the ‘conventional values and wisdoms’ of the wine cognoscenti.

    The BUDOMETER was doomed when I got a very threatening letter from Anheuser-Busch telling me they would crush me like a cockroach unless I abandoned the name. Funny thing is there are HUGE insights for the beer industry in this work and we have collected a large amount of information that would be valuable to them. Oh well!

    Thanks to everyone (Jim Lapsley included!) for listening, participating and helping my learning curve on all of this. It is greatly appreciated and the mission continues apace. Sasha Paulsen and I are applying the principles in what we expect will be a game-changer in China.

  3. I’m curious to find where psychology plays into the equation of tastes? In this day and age where trends are so easy to track and follow, and where millennials are constantly plugged in to ratings apps, I think there is a lot to say regarding the “subliminal” psychological aspect of things.

    Mike, I just began reading “Money, Taste, and Wine: It’s Complicated!” (still going through it for my thesis) and you I know you touch up on the interconnectedness of all these elements. But do you think a person’s psychology/mindset can offset these natural (physical) predispositions that we have that may group us into these “Vinotypes?”

    Currently I am developing a thesis on how Millennials are reshaping this “conservative” industry. I would love to get a chance to discuss these topics further and hear your input on where the industry is headed, and the opportunity for new styles of wine with this expanded consumer palate–and predisposition to experiment and try new things: the rise of mixology, craft cider, craft beer (amongst other things)…

    Thank you and look forward to hearing what you have to say!

    • Hey Laura. My work is unique in that it covers the combination of physiological (genetic) variables of what we perceive (the range of perception of taste, smell, sight, hearing and touch that can vary dramatically from one person to the next) and at what intensity (intensity/amplitude of the sensation) and then how the information that is transmitted is processed and evaluated (neurology/psychology) and can change over time due to culture, peers, learning and life experiences (neural plasticity). We use this learning to gain unique and relevant insights into wine consumer preferences, behaviors and attitudes.

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