Picking out wine at a restaurant can be an intimidating experience. After all, you want to make sure you select something you’ll like, and that can be tough if you’ve never tried the options on the menu. And while sommeliers or servers can help, they often make recommendations based on what they enjoy or the food you’re eating — which doesn’t necessarily synch up with your own tastes.
But a new study published in the International Journal of Wine Business Research suggests that we’re going about this this all wrong. Instead of choosing wine based on what you’re eating, the researchers discovered that picking a bottle based on your “vinotype,” i.e., wine categories that each person tends to prefer, was much more accurate. Vinotypes are based on your genetics, your environment, and your experiences, which explains why your tastes can change over time.
There are four main vinotypes: sweet, hypersensitive, sensitive, and tolerant. People who like sweet, fruity wines fall into the “sweet” camp, while those who like bold, strong red wines are classified as “tolerant.” The “hypersensitive” and “sensitive” labels fall somewhere in between.
The classification goes beyond wine preferences too. People who like sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks, as well as salty foods, are more likely to be a sweet vinotype, while those who like strong black coffee and intense flavors are more likely to be a tolerant vinotype.
The vinotype theory didn’t come from the researchers — instead, it was proposed by Master of Wine Tim Hannai. But it had never been tested before. For the study, the researchers polled participants on their preferences and put them in one of the four vinotypes. Participants were also invited to a reception with 12 different stations where they rated how much they liked the food and wine at each station individually and together.
The researchers discovered that they were able to accurately predict a person’s wine preference by their vinotype. The most common vinotype was hypersensitive, followed by sweet (for women, at least — 20 percent fell into this camp), sensitive (about 25 percent of men and women), and tolerant (15 percent of women and about a third of men were in this category).
Lead study author Carl Borchgrevink, PhD, an associate professor at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he decided to test the theory because he has felt that well-meaning people in the hospitality industry have been intimidating patrons rather than helping them. “We need to be more attuned to consumers,” he says. “We’ve done them a disservice. They feel inadequate or like their palate is not discerning enough if they don’t like a wine that was recommended.”
That’s why he recommends servers and sommeliers ask customers what they usually like when the servers are asked to give a recommendation and follow that up with a few additional questions about the customer’s food and drink preferences. For example, someone who likes blue cheese tends to prefer red wine. Fans of brandy and barbecue seem to like reds even more. Borchgrevink isn’t sure why these associations exist, but his work has found that they do.
So, next time you want to ask a restaurant staffer for a wine recommendation, mention the other types of wine you like, as well as foods you enjoy. It could go a long way toward making sure you enjoy the bottle you’re served.