Tim Hanni is a wine expert who was one of the first two Americans to pass the famously difficult Master of Wine exam. He’s now on “a mission to combat snobbery in the wine industry” and he’s developed “the progressive wine list,” which organizes bottles from lightest to heaviest. It’s currently used in 30 percent of chain restaurants and even in some fine-dining restaurants like Nobu. Oh, and also—Hanni hasn’t had a drink in 14 years.

According to the Wall Street Journal profile of the remarkable and very strange Hanni—who was a food and wine nut early on in life—while at the University of South Florida, he “once fattened a pheasant on Fritos in a dormitory closet. (A friend slaughtered it, and Mr. Hanni wrapped the breast in bacon and roasted it in a toaster oven.)” After he became a Master of Wine in 1990, Hanni lost control of his drinking, knocking back alcohol until he blacked out. He had what the Journal calls “his last drink” in 1993 and checked into rehab. Nevertheless, Hanni somehow still tastes wine: “With an ability to control himself around alcohol that addiction researchers say is highly unusual, he can occasionally sip and spit at professional tastings without being tempted to imbibe, he says.”

After he stopped drinking, Hanni concluded that most wine talk is hooey. He consulted sensory scientists and “became convinced that some people prefer light, sweet wines to high-alcohol, high-intensity ones because of factors such as the number of taste buds they have.” That’s what explains the progressive wine list and Hanni’s “‘budometer,’ which consists of a series of questions about a drinker’s preferences in coffee, beer, cocktails and soft drinks.” New York’s Grub Street sums Hanni up: “[He] recommends bottles based on how you take your coffee. Or something. It sounds pretty shady to us, anyway.”

The profile gets even weirder: Hanni’s now founded a company called Napa Seasoning, which makes Vignon, a condiment sprinkled over foods that are hard to pair with wine. (Its ingredients include salt, lemon juice, soy sauce, shiitake mushroom powder, and Parmesan cheese.) At a tasting for Kendall-Jackson winery chefs, Hanni demonstrated how Vignon solves the off taste that asparagus produces when accompanied by wine. Only one problem: “[S]ome quibbled with Vignon’s flavor, which is salty and slightly lemony.”

See more articles