SEARCH FOR A WINE

MY BOOKS ON AMAZON
  • 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
    by LINDA JOHNSON-BELL

ARTICLE INDEX

Diary of a Wine Critic

 

Saturday
Sep152018

EAT ORGANIC? DRINK ORGANIC! Oxford Wine Class

EAT ORGANIC?  DRINK ORGANIC!

WINE CLASS

Do you like your eggs free-range, your chicken corn-fed and your vegetables, organic? Then you probably would like to apply that same preference to your wines. Whether for environmental reasons or for your health, or both, the “trends” in green wines have firmly taken hold. But are you confused by all of the hype? Would you like to know the difference between wines that are “natural”, “sustainable”, “green”, “bio-dynamic”, “organic”, “vegetarian”, “eco-friendly”, “dry-farmed” and “carbon neutral”? You will not be surprised to know that these are not new practices … just new names given to the old ways of making wine properly. As with the food industry, the wine industry, too, has succumbed to the allure of the mass market and technical convenience. Let award-wining wine writer, judge and author, Linda Johnson-Bell, answer all of your questions as you sample a few examples of these wines.

Linda is the CEO of Oxford’s Wine and Climate Change Institute and her most recent book is “WINE AND CLIMATE CHANGE: Winemaking in A New World.”

Monday, October 22nd at 7 – 9pm

Upper Wolvercote, Oxford

£20 per person including wine

Reservations: linda@thewinelady.com


Thursday
Jul052018

Dry lawns, dry farming, and wine ...

Wednesday
Jun272018

BLINK DRUNK: Wine or Water - my Indiegogo campaign

Sunday
May202018

OLD VINES are not NEW. Grow up “trend-making” New World!

As I have sat back and watched this wine industry evolve over the past 25 years (I started my career very young!)… it never fails to amaze me how often New World “trends” are just things that quality Old World wine makers have ALWAYS done. It’s like watching teenagers ignore the advice of their experienced parents and go off to make all of the same mistakes. When they finally figure out that perhaps their parents were correct, they act as though they have “invented” the answer. I want to scream, “I TOLD YOU SO!”

The latest trend to piss me off is South Africa’s OLD VINE PROJECT and its accompanying certification programme. The vines have to be at least 35 years old. For xxxx sake, that’s nothing in Europe – it’s a baby. Do these people ever travel and educate themselves? I remember my first trip to Napa and watching 20 year-old vines being pulled because they were “too old” and were not producing enough fruit for the yield –hungry mentality.  I was horrified, as my classic education had taught me that the vines were only just getting interesting at 20. Like people, actually.

The most frustrating thing is that the Old World producers have quietly been going about their business and the consumer has no idea what really is entailed in quality wine production, so if some flash New World wine association comes along and does a PR-job on how smaller yields are better, or how organic, natural wines are set to take the world by storm, or how they are now planting on hillsides and not in valleys, or are favouring indigenous yeasts, or are dry farming, etc., the poor consumer, understandably, gives all the credit to the New World teen-age trend-setter. Ack! I just wish that  they would hurry and grow up.

 http://www.winesofsa.co.uk/news/440/world-first-as-a-new-certification-seal-is-launched-by-the-old-vine-project/ 

 

Sunday
May202018

THE ORGANOLEPTIC ORACLE

In much the same way that climatologists follow the grapevine because of its sensitivity to climate changes, I consider wine to be the “Organoleptic Oracle”. I am certain that viticulture is the perfect “poster child” for transitioning other crops, both luxury and staple, to embrace and transition to dry farming. If it can work in this sector, the methods could be super-imposed and adapted to others. The more I research, the more I am learning that there is almost no crop that cannot be sustained with a minimum winter rainfall and under desert-farming conditions – the issue is always the need for obtaining higher yields than this will allow. Still, I think that the wine sector is a good place to start because wine is a known and “safe” industry to all international stakeholders. It’s a “famous” product. There also exists valuable historic climate data recorded by winemakers and a strong, coherent network between the players (producers, shippers, retailers, etc.), not to mention all of the international marketing and media and communication structures that are already in place. Grape farmers already have experience in adaptation techniques for long-term resilience and on the whole, the industry has a strong sustainability mind set. The wine industry is also investment-friendly, possessing the magic trilogy of economic viability, technical possibility and political acceptability. It is an industry with a very long value-chain, which means that it offers more opportunities for adaptation products. And most importantly, it is a highly-visible, consumer market: wine producers must be seen to be taking action for reasons of brand protection. All of these factors make the wine industry a natural leader in the global struggle against climate change.

Tuesday
May012018

What is dry farming? Nothing new!

Dry farming is nothing new. It’s how European vineyards have always been farmed. When I tell a consumer that irrigation has always been illegal in the quality vineyards of France and Italy, they are shocked. Water usage and wine are not dots that consumers have ever connected or cared about.  Never mind that your glass of irrigated South African Chenin Blanc required more than 150 litres of precious freshwater to produce.  Dry Farming is not just simply “not irrigating”. There is more to it than that. There needs to be careful soil preparation so that the soils retain winter rainfall: only nine inches annually are required. We know that when we irrigate, we artificially increase the yields, decrease the wine quality, deplete and over-salinate the soils (look at Australia), and increase the plant’s vulnerability to climatic stress. This is because irrigated vines have shallow root masses whilst dry-farmed vines are forced to dig deeper to find water and nutrients – and taste – this is where “terroir” is found, by the way.

Irrigation is used primarily in the New World regions to increase yields. Period. In Napa Valley, spray irrigation systems were initially installed in the 1960s to combat winter frosts and were not really used throughout the growing season until the 1980s to coincide with the New World wine boom. The Californian wines that won the infamous Paris Tasting, were all dry farmed! There are still pockets of dry farmers in Napa, in South Africa’s Swartland, Chile, Lebanon – in fact, we know we can grow wine in the desert. More and more New World wine producers are transitioning to dry farming and letting the consumer assume that it is some new trend. It is not. It is the way in which quality wines have always been grown.

What worries me, is that now that the wine laws in Europe are loosening and irrigation is being allowed that we will see more of the Old World vineyards churning out New World yields. And perversely, as water legislation tightens and water supplies dry up in the New World, dry farming will become their norm and we will have a reversal of roles – how ironic. For there are plenty of European wine producers who would kill to be rid of the yield restrictions so that they could compete with international yields. But this is how the wine industry got into such a mess in the first place. It is time to create a level playing field- something Mother Nature seems to have already figured out.

Tuesday
Mar132018

Why am I picking on Wine?

You may ask why I am picking on wine and its water use, as surely there are crops that are far thirstier than the wine grape. There are. And I will cover those in later chapters. I could easily rant about the amount of water that is used to irrigate corn and other cereals that will then be fed to the animals we eat. The insanity of that sends me over the edge. Cotton, which relies on freshwater (or blue water) irrigation to rainfall (or green water), can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton; equivalent to a single T-shirt and pair of jeans. 73% of the global cotton harvest comes from irrigated land (WWF). But I have narrowed my focus to the use of precious freshwater (blue) supplies to irrigate luxury crops: tea, coffee, cacao, sugar, and wine. We don’t need these to live. And dry farmers across the world prove to us every harvest that the vine is a resilient beast that can survive on as little as 9 inches of winter rainfall if the soils have been prepared correctly and are of the right sort. Some soils are too porous. I am simply asking that we set out priorities straight and to find a way forward in which we can have our planet and drink it, too.

Where irrigation is legally practiced (mostly in the New World), this is the greatest blue water, or freshwater, use. And 83% of the New World wine regions are irrigated, where only 10% of the Old World is irrigated. But the use of irrigation in Europe risks increasing as legislation gets more lax, and as wine growers ignore and leave the appellation system in order to compete with international yields. There are some European producers who are thrilled to be able to irrigate and to compete with the international volume of production.  And when we place wine into the context of fruit - wine grapes are the most important fruit crop. There may be only 8 million global hectares planted, but its blue water use is disproportionate to its production value. And all of the “foot-print” data is so difficult to gather because wine’s blue-water footprint is unique in that it varies dramatically from country to country, from region to region, and even from vineyard to vineyard.

Trying to convince the entire industry that dry farming is the future, is a fascinating but challenging goal, as the industry has so many factions. In any one region, and Napa is a great example of this, we can find die-hard dry-farmers who insist that the European ideal of terroir can only be achieved by dry farming, pitted against those who insist that we can manipulate nature and still make a great wine. The great John Williams of the iconic Frog’s Leap Vineyard in Napa says that by dry farming, he saves 10 million gallons of water a year, or, 64,000 gallons saved per acre!

 

Thursday
Oct262017

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

Tuesday
Oct242017

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.



 

Tuesday
Oct242017

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. 

Tuesday
Oct242017

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



Friday
Mar312017

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.

Friday
Mar312017

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

Monday
Mar202017

WHAT HEAT DOES TO WINE ...

 

 

 

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.

Monday
Mar132017

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