Hurry over to The Wall Street Journal and read this article (before they yank it away) on Tim Hanni. He has an unusual story. An entrepreneur and Master of Wine, plus a top advisor to large restaurant groups, Hanni is a recovering alcoholic, who hasn't touched a drop in 14 years.
Actually, they're careful to say in the article that he "RARELY even sip(s) and spit(s) wine to taste it", but does, occasionally, at wine tastings.
Anyway, he's an anti-establishment wine professional, who hates it when normal folk are made to feel inferior for liking so-called tacky wines like White Zinfandel. He doesn’t use the commonplace system of flavor notes to compare wine to chocolate or berries or herbs. He instigated the "progressive wine list" method of marketing wines, which arranges wine lists by factors such as "sweet"," light" or "full intensity".
The amount of taste buds an individual has also affects what kind of wine one likes. He takes an individual’s food preferences into account (how they like their coffee, for example) and uses that to select a wine. He also delves into flavor pairings, which brings up the umami link. Wines taste different when served with certain foods.
H and I learned about this at Copia last year. We tasted rosemary then drunk a glass of cabernet (I think it was...I was so sloshed, I suppose it could have been Kool-Aid). The wine tasted bitter and metallic. Then we had a potato chip and then more wine...heavenly. That is certainly one reason why restaurant food is often heavily salted. It makes the wine taste better.
Tim Hanni has come up with a flavor potion that is boomingly umami - Vignon - for chefs to use on food to boost its wine pairing capabilities. Vignon is made up of umami rich ingredients: shitake mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, soy sauce. Interesting.
I'm still not sure HOW he can do all this without actually tasting most of the wines, but it seems as if he's more on the mark than some of the folks who drink hundreds of bottles a year.
He has developed a test called a “budometer” (for taste buds, not Bud beer) for choosing which wines a consumer would like. You can take a mini-version here. Again hurry, it may not be there long.