• Wine and Climate Change: Winemaking in a New World
    Wine and Climate Change: Winemaking in a New World
    by L. J. Johnson-Bell
  • Pairing Wine and Food: A Handbook for All Cuisines
    Pairing Wine and Food: A Handbook for All Cuisines
    by Linda Johnson-Bell
  • Home Cellar Guide Hb
    Home Cellar Guide Hb
    by Linda Johnson-Bell
  • Quel vin pour quel plat ?
    Quel vin pour quel plat ?
    by Linda Johnson-Bell
  • Great Wine Tours of the World
    Great Wine Tours of the World
    Barnes and Noble Books
  • The Wine Collector's Handbook
    The Wine Collector's Handbook
    by Linda Johnson
  • De juiste wijn bij het juiste gerecht
    De juiste wijn bij het juiste gerecht
    by Johnson-Bell Linda

  • Good Food, Fine Wine: A Practical Guide to Finding the Perfect Match
    Good Food, Fine Wine: A Practical Guide to Finding the Perfect Match


TASTING NOTES: Diary of a Wine Critic


The Wine and Climate Change Institute's Founder comments on world wine shortage on SKY NEWS


The Circle of Wine Writers: Our trip to the SWISS WINE FAIR 2017

THIS was a press trip with a difference: we were treated to an elegant gamut of gastronomic, scenic, cultural and viticultural splendours. For some, this was an introduction to Swiss wines, whilst for others, it was the opportunity to dig deeper into a region long-appreciated. There were a few major themes that we were encouraged to take away with us.

Firstly, that their wines continue to suffer from a lack of international exposure due to low production and small export figures. But with the warming climate, increased plantings may help towards solving that problem. 

Second, that they are posturing themselves as the next Rhone Valley and are making great strides with their Syrah (which were gorgeous).  As one producer put it to us “Forgot France, the Rhone River starts here.”

Thirdly, that they are also pinning their bets on Merlot as the star of the show in Ticino, which personally, I think is missing a trick. They were some of the most structured and interesting Merlots any of us had ever had, but we all fell in love with their whites, both international and indigenous varieties. All were crisp, clean, complex, low-yield, personable and Swiss. Merlot, as original as their interpretation was, will still always be the “sugar” in the Bordeaux recipe for me - it will never be a great mono-cépage. Even Petrus was always 20% Cabernet Franc until the market forces shaped by the American critics dominated the scene with their preference for sweeter, hotter wines and the quantity of Cabernet Franc was gradually decreased to nothing. Petrus has only been 100% Merlot since 2010. I feel that the Merlot is not a grape worthy of their enormous wine-making talent, experience and terroirs. Interestingly, when I collated our collective Top Ten wines, our favourite red variety was the Pinot Nero, followed by Syrah…


And this leads us onto the last point that was high-lighted during the trip: the effect of climate change. While it is allowing greater maturation for the white varieties, the reds are already suffering. When Paolo Basso, and many others, tell us that they won’t be able to grow Pinot Nero in ten years, where does that leave Merlot? It's next in line. Already, many of the Merlot in Ticino we tasted were on the verge of being unbalanced and dominated by alcohol. I got a bit tired of feigning, politely, to producers, “Wow, its 15.5 ABV and yet still so fresh and acidic. So balanced!” Perhaps this makes their Syrah initiative that much more viable.

Annoyingly, the irrigation debate is already raging in Switzerland. With the increasing temperatures many winemakers are starting to irrigate, despite having dry-farmed since the inception of their vineyards. When I challenged them on this, pointing out that they are lucky to be going into this warming climate with deep root systems, healthy soils and the resulting low yields – so why spoil it? – I was told that it was too hot to not! Yet, a greater majority of winemakers told me, scathingly, that their colleagues who irrigate only do so out of laziness and greed – that they want to increase their yields now that legislation is getting more lax. Apparently, there are some who are thrilled to be able to adopt more New World practices that will allow them to compete on a more international level.

This never-ending debate over quality vs quantity saddened me – especially to hear it rage in this tranquil alpine paradise. But I was bolstered by the fact that this seemed to be the minority view amongst those I interviewed. And, more importantly, I was bolstered by the fact that the overwhelming message we brought home, and I think I can speak for the others, was one of passion, excellence and an inescapable frisson of excitement for their future.



Rocca Alata Amarone 2014

Rocca Alata Amarone della Valpolicella 2014

I have decided, after yet another spell spent in Venice, the place I go to for succour and inspiration, that life is too short to not drink Amarone, and only Amarone. The problem though, is that this nectar, like all things that are too good to be true, has fallen prey to the modern trend of “internationalism”.  I am not the only follower to notice that they are becoming lighter and drier – attempting to fit the mould of something more “understandable” for the consumer. The pull to go “modern” and the supposed fear of remaining “traditional” is too strong. But the beauty of Amarone has always been its defiant quirkiness and uniqueness. The call of modernity is a false friend. There is no other wine like it – and unfortunately, many producers are cutting corners. And frankly, with the new wave of consumers who don’t want to spend the money, who don’t’ appreciate or care about the time and effort that goes into this wine style, and who blindly follow wine pundits and their star ratings, I, too, might give up and just play the game. But I hope that this will not be the case. I consulted my Veneto guru, Patricia Guy, THE expert of all things Amarone … and she concurs, and tells me that she noticed this trend far before I did.

This one is well-made … from the Cantina di Soave, a cooperative. Aromatic, but light-weight. The body that should be there, is not. The nose is pleasant but doesn’t smell of its iconic drying process -  there should be smoky, sultry, incense-like layers and this is just fruity – clean and fresh, but nothing more. The palate is mid-weight and the finish is short. Amarone is meant to make you swoon … to seduce you and transport you. Alas, this one leaves my feet firmly on the ground. Come on, guys. 


Welsh Wine Awards 2017 - 7 November


The WELSH WINE AWARDS 2017 with Lesley Griffiths AM, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs

Vale of Glamorgan – This year’s Welsh Vineyard Association’s annual awards will again be held at Llanerch Vineyard in the Vale of Glamorgan, with Special Guest, Lesley Griffiths AM, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs. The AM will be accompanied by Dorian Davies, the new Food and Drink representative.

Welsh wine-making has increased 70 per cent over the past decade as production soars to more than 100,000 bottles a year. (Welsh Wine is the Toast of Bordeaux, The Telegraph, May 2016).

 “The interest in Welsh Wines is growing as the quality improves and production is set to double by 2020.” – Robb Merchant, WVA Chairman.

The expert judging panel is comprised of Linda Johnson-Bell, wine judge, author, and founder of The Wine and Climate Change Institute, Sue Tolson, wine educator, judge and editor of the popular website, WineSofa.eu, and Dylan Rowlands, Welsh radio and TV personality, co-author and owner of the award-winning wine merchant and bar, Dylanwad. They will be tasting over 40 wines from 10 vineyards.

This year’s event will have the added addition of a TRADE & PRESS tasting (14.00 – 16.00).

For more information about the Awards, the TRADE & PRESS tasting or the Welsh Vineyards Association, please contact Robb Merchant at 01873 821 443 or at info@whitecastlevineyard.com


Umani Ronchi - an emerging classic


I have been a fan of Umani Ronchi wines since my first visit to their glamorous set-up in Marche about four years ago. And at yesterday’s Enotria tasting at the Saatchi Gallery, I was given the opportunity to update my notes and chat with Giorgio Pasanisi. Their 210 planted hectares are sprawled between the hills and the sea with their toes dipped in the Adriatic, giving the wines, no matter the variety, a salty sun-kissed minerality.  So, of course I love their classic renditions of Pecorino and Verdicchio and the 2016 do not disappoint.  Their Verdicchio Classico Riserva has a touch of oak, but it doesn’t dominate the fruit or quiet the lovely acidity. My favourite red is their San Lorenzo Rosso Conero DOC. It’s 100% Montepulciano (no Sangiovese), a late-ripening variety that does well in their hot climate - and which should serve them well as the heat mounts. The fruit in the 2014 is so clean and the extracts so solid but not overly so, that this wine has a lovely structure and personality. This is a modern commercial operation but they manage to get the balance right between international and traditional. Their wines taste like an Italian wine from Marche – a mean feat these days. I think this is because they focus on indigenous varieties, employ judicious oak programmes (meaning very little new barriques), control yields, and hand-harvest. My least favourite of their wines, for example, is their Pelago, a Bordeaux blend. Why? They also respect old vines, farm organically, and use sustainable practices in the vineyard and winery. They use light glass bottles, synthetic cane sugar stoppers that are 100% recyclable, and get their energy via a photovoltaic array. Most importantly, they have no plans to irrigate if and when the summer rainfall dries up completely as they believe that their soils, predominantly clayey and calcareous, are well-suited to dry farming.

Worth a taste – and even better, a visit: Azienda Vinicola Umani Ronchi, Tel. +39 071 7108019, www.umanironchi.com.


Luxury Crops and Water Footprints

Wine’s average global water footprint may not be enormous compared to other crops, or even other beverages, but it ranks as the most important fruit crop in the world in terms of production and economic importance (Cramer et al. 2006 and Vivier and Pretorious 2002). This is a footprint clad in Louboutins. Wine’s footprint is also unique in that it varies dramatically according to country and even region. More so than any other crop. Further, the blue water component (irrigation) is the variable in the equation that is the most dramatically variable. So, where coffee or tea have amongst the highest global average embedded water content (blue and green), the water use is predominantly green water, not blue.

Though coffee, tea and rice – responsible for about 23 percent of the world’s blue and green crop water use – are notorious water guzzlers, the majority of these crops are grown using green water which has less of an impact on the environment than the use of blue water. In contrast, cotton, which only uses about 2% of agricultural water (green and blue), is 70 percent irrigated. Only about 15 percent of the world’s crops are irrigated, but this tiny group is responsible for 70 percent of the world’s blue water (freshwater) withdrawals” (Waterwise 2007), while 22 percent of the world’s freshwater is used for industry and 8 percent for domestic use. And when we remember that over 80% of the world’s vineyards are irrigated, and as both the need for irrigation in current planted acreage increases as well as the additional acreage that will need irrigation as the warming trend continues, a theme emerges.

L.J. Johnson-Bell






When we talk of climate change and wine, we are really addressing the increasingly erratic weather patterns within an overall warming trend. Vintage variation has always been a hallmark of the finest European vineyards – but enough is enough, when a Côtes du Rhône, or Languedoc producer is hit by a freak hail storm in May, after budburst and loses 30% of her crop and then is hit by drought in August and loses another 10%, that is no longer climate variation – that is a climate risk too hard to bear.

And for the grapes that do survive, higher temperatures, especially at harvest, mean more sugars in the grapes, which means more alcohol in the wine once fermented. Christian Seely, Managing Director of AXA Millésimes, opened the first international symposium on “Alcohol Levels Reduction in Wine” in 2013 with these remarks:

The increase in alcohol level related to climate change is one of our major challenges. This phenomenon observed all over the planet shows that grapes ripen more and more early, and would mainly result from global warming. It is now common to see quality wines with an alcohol by volume (ABV) of 13, 14 or even 15%. Since the eighties, each ten years, alcohol levels gained almost 1% with an average increase of 2 to 3%, if not more. This historical surge of ABV was measured in many countries: in the South-west of France, 15 years ago, the average alcohol level amounted to 11%; it now ranges between 13 and 14%. In Australia, the average was 12.4% in 1984; in 2004 it reached a striking 14%. In California, the average ABV was 12.5% in 1978 and soared to 14.8% in 2001.

Today they are even higher.


PRIVATE SECTOR INVESTMENT: The Wine Industry is Ripe for the Picking ...

Climatologists consider the vitis vinifera to be the “canary in the coal mine”: so sensitive to climate is this fruit crop that many climate change models are based upon its migration patterns. So, forget “coal mine” and think “gold mine”. Even with the dampening prospect of climate change forcing many well-known wine regions to cease viticulture, and others to adapt, those that are improving and emerging mean that this $300 billion global market – not including its myriad of satellite industries – is witnessing soaring global consumption and production trends. It’s all about huge lateral shifts. But the larger this industry gets, so also grows its footprint. Today’s viticultural industry is ripe for the picking: it needs sustainable eco-friendly innovation that creates new activates in the industry, as opposed to merely sustaining it. It needs innovation that goes beyond adaptation and promises resilience. In fact, in the world of wine, most adaptation techniques (such as irrigation) directly contradict mitigation’s principal goals and undermine long-term resilience. As the world’s wine map shifts, new demands are created every harvest season.  The opportunities for private-sector investment and invention to make eco-friendly technology accessible and understandable to an as yet relatively untouched client-base/market segment, are significant.

@TWACCI 2017




Wine or Water? Dry-Farming Needs to be a New Consumer Trend

Water or Wine? If you really want to show off your eco credentials, then start insisting on dry-farmed wines when dining in a restaurant. If you are a fan of European wines, then you are most likely already doing so, as irrigation is illegal in the quality designated appellations. But not for water conservation reasons - for quality reasons. Europeans have already embraced that indelible horticultural fact: water dilutes. But severe droughts have meant that irrigation legislation is loosening in southern France, but only for the entry-level or bulk wines, not the AOC wines. Soil experts such as Dr. Emmanual Bourgignon inform us that irrigation creates shallow root systems, dilutes fruit concentration, dilutes terroir, artificially increases yields, salinates soils, and, uses up too much water. Certainly, my twenty-five years of tasting notes confirm this.  

At first, New World wine growers used irrigation to bump up their yields and compensate for the lack of summer rain. But soon, the increasing heat and droughts will mean prohibitive water costs, tighter legislative allocations and ultimately, a lack of water. If wine makers don’t establish their new plantings as dry-farmed and weaning their established parcels off water, which can take years, then they will get caught unprepared. And if they are caught unprepared, then they will be forced to employ crop diversification or cease production and migrate. After all, that’s what other crops are having to do right now, all over the globe: Pack up, and move to more viable climates. We are seeing this already with the other luxury crops such as coffee, cacao, tea and tobacco.

For the moment, the wine trade is fighting any real mitigation measures. Heck, they have only just acknowledged that climate change exists. And this is only because when there are ten international journalists standing in their vineyard watching plants shut-down under the heat or being harvested three weeks earlier than they were a decade ago, they can’t hide it anymore. And when wines that used to be fresh, elegant and distinctive at 12.5% ABV are now coming in at 15% or more, and taste hot, alcoholic, dry, and boring and as if they were grown anywhere, they can’t hide it anymore. And, they can’t blame high alcohol wines on “consumer preferences” anymore, either.

So, whilst the market place does not (at the moment) reward grape farmers who dry-farm (so, where is the incentive?) and since we know that public policy won’t move fast enough to keep up with what is happening on the ground, there is only the consumer who can affect any change in this situation. The consumer has to be informed about viticulture’s global water footprint and insist on properly sustainable wines. Only then will the playing field level out enough to provide enough incentive for grape farmers to take what they perceive as the risk towards a dry-farming transition. We have to make it a “trend”, just like we did with “organic” and “meritage” and “unfiltered” and all the other European practices that the New World pretended they invented when they finally figured out for themselves that they were the better practices!

We have to now take responsibility for what we drink. In a world where water licenses are being allocated to local wineries instead of consumers or farmers of staple crops, we need to think about why we are using precious ground water supplies for this luxury crop. We need to only source the wines we drink from climates and from winemakers who do not irrigate. If wineries in Turkey and Lebanon who survive on 400mm of winter rainfall a year can do it, then California, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Chile can bloody well figure it out.

We really have to start asking ourselves: “Wine? Or water?”



LJ Johnson-Bell Guest Speaker at Oxford Adaptation Academy




LJ JOHNSON-BELL to present paper at RAI

Johnson- Bell will also be presenting a paper to the global water resources Panel of the Royal Anthropological Institute of the British Museum's 2016 Anthroplogy, Weather and Climate Change Conference in May.

See more: https://www.therai.org.uk/conferences/anthropology-weather-and-climate-change-2016


TWACCI Founder to present paper at 2016 World Conference on Climate Change

L.J. Johnson-Bell will be presenting her paper: Water into Wine: Irrigation in Viticulture to the 2016 World Conference on Climate Change, 24-26 October, in Valencia, Spain. Johnson-Bell is the CEO and Founder of TWACCI, the Wine and Climate Change Institute (Oxford, England).