• 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


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).


"Vins Virtuoses", St Chinian: Decanter



Climatologists love the wine industry. They love the record keeping and the harvest reports. They love the plethora of references found in classic literature. They love the tomes of wine tasting notes. More particularly, they love grapes. Grapes are considered an “indicator crop”. It is a researcher’s dream: constant, reliable and meticulously detailed record keeping. Even my humble, personal research brought me to wine producers who have compiled harvest records that date back 150 years and more, in many cases. All of this provides a wealth of information.  “Because wines are constantly being tasted and rated for quality, wine grapes are a particularly good indicator of changes that are probably affecting other crops in the same areas.” (Gregory Jones, Southern Oregon University).  Those wine grapes grown in their European indigenous climates are the “control group” against which all others, from other climates, are measured. They are the yardstick of quality. Don’t forget: wine is grapes and grapes are fruit and fruit is farming. Wine production is glorified gardening – the same golden principles apply. The greatest wine maker I ever met (in my view) once told me that he considers himself a “farmer”, nothing more.


In his article, “Climate Change and Wine”, Gregory Jones refers to the grape as the agricultural “canary in the coal mine” in reference to the impact that climate change will have in wine production. He writes: “Climate is a pervasive factor in the success of all agricultural systems, influencing whether a crop is suitable to a given region, largely controlling crop production and quality, and ultimately driving economic sustainability. Climate’s influence on agribusiness is never more evident than with viticulture and wine production, where climate is arguably the most critical aspect in ripening fruit to optimum characteristics to produce a given wine style. He continues:

“History has shown that wine production occurs in relatively narrow geographical and climatic ranges. In addition, wine grapes have relatively large cultivar differences in climate suitability, further limiting some wine grapes to even smaller areas that are appropriate for their cultivation. These narrow niches for optimum quality and production put the cultivation of wine grapes at greater risk from both short-term climate variability and long-term climate changes than other more broad acre crops. In general, the overall wine style that a region produces is a result of the baseline climate, while climate variability determines vintage quality differences. Climatic changes, which influence both variability and average conditions, therefore have the potential to bring about changes in wine styles.”

Linda Johnson-Bell




VITIS VINIFERA ... Bags Packed and Ready to Go ...

It's not because Chardonnay CAN be grown everywhere that it SHOULD be grown everywhere ...


Throughout my career, my experiences in the vineyards have confirmed my belief that because the vitis vinifera is indigenous to Central Asia and the Mediterranean basin, that any attempt to grow it outside of its home habitat would produce an inferior product. It is a cool-climate plant and has no business in a valley floor in Napa or Maipo. I have always contended that whilst variations of a theme of Chardonnay (for example) should be accepted, for me, all non-indigenous, or non-Burgundian versions were not only “different”, but “inferior”. A rather conservative view that is not always appreciated.  But, would you rather eat an apple grown in Florida, or in Washington state? That said, if I follow that thread to its logical conclusion, I would then have to pretty much discount all wine regions west of the Black Sea. Because, in a properly historical context, France is “New World”. So I thought about it some more.

We are happy to say that Sauvignon blanc, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are “indigenous” to Bordeaux. But they are not. They were brought there. I once overheard a very heated discussion between two colleagues at a wine judging event in Bergamo, Italy. We were tasting only Merlots from the surrounding region. The debate was concerning whether or not Merlot was “indigenous” or “traditional” to the region, having been planted there over 150 years ago. The winner of the debate (if such a debate can be won) argued that 150 years constitutes “traditional” and anything much older, as “indigenous”. But as climates changed, and as humans travelled towards Europe, they took the wine grape with them and cultivated it in their new homes … in Greece, in Italy, in France. The wine grapes acclimated and adapted. Which means that vitis vinifera should do the same in the New World. So I thought about it some more.

This is what I came up with. If vitis vinifera adapted so well in Europe, it was because its climate was so similar to that of its original home. Also, it was given a very long time to settle in. Which means that my stance still holds water. Sending the wine grape off to warmer and drier climates than to which it was accustomed, without so much as a bottle of sunscreen, and telling it to move-in, unpack and to immediately prepare a fresh, elegant and sophisticated 5-star meal in a new kitchen is ludicrous. And if that kitchen has no running water, has a cupboard full of tin cans and is equipped with only a microwave, then it is nigh impossible. That’s the analogy. I like to think of it another way, too. A traditional species imposes itself upon a new climate, whilst an indigenous one, flourishes in the natural conditions of its home environment. A being should not have to “force” itself to survive in a climate. If you have to live in a place where water is fed via canals, in an air-conditioned house, drive an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned mall to buy imported, vacuum-packed vegetables or vegetables grown under poly-tunnels or reliant upon irrigation, fertilisation and extreme mechanisation, then, isn’t something wrong?

So I will go on record as saying that perhaps we should have foreseen that some of the struggling New World wine regions would have their vitis vinifera visit end in tears, as welcoming as hosts as they were. But now, even my “perfect model” of Chardonnay, back in its “home” in Chablis, is lacking its luster. Home isn’t as hospitable as it once was. Its climate, too, is changing. The Burgundian model  ever-increasingly resembles the warmer-climate models. And wine producers all over Italy and France are harking back to other grape varieties that used to be grown in their region, varieties even  more indigenous to the internationally –known varieties of today. Bordeaux used to legally grow Carmenere, for example. And with its Merlot plantings increasingly becoming unviable, many producers are upping their doses of Petit Verdot in the recipe, or adding Carmenere. Is it time to change, or move?

Linda Johnson-Bell


Tasting Tuscany's Ornelliaia in Basel for the LUXURY CHANNEL


Tuscany’s Ornellaia makes a Splash at Swiss benefit auction….

Ornellaia 2012 L'Incanto Classic and Splash by John Armleder

Ornellaia 2012 L’Incanto Classic and Splash by John Armleder

Well into his 70s, Marchese Ferninando Frescobaldi is still an attractive man. So much so, that his second wife jealously hovers about as he skilfully plies his well-honed charm before his adoring congregation of fans. We are in Basel, at the Fondation Beyeler in the grounds of the Villa Berower, for the unveiling of the iconic Tuscan wine, Ornellaia’s 7th annual Vendemmia d’Artista. This year, the Swiss artist, John Armleder, was commissioned to interpret the Ornellaia 2012 vintage by creating a piece of artwork to adorn a limited number of special-edition bottles to be auctioned by Sotheby’s for the benefit of the Beyeler. This glittering annual event celebrates the intimate relationship between wine and art, and cements the Frescobaldi family’s continuing commitment to support and recognise the great artists of their time.

Giovanni Geddes, John Armleder and Ferdinando Frescobaldi

Giovanni Geddes, John Armleder and Ferdinando Frescobaldi

This ancient Florentine family has always known how to marry their passion for public works, art and wine. Experts in all things beautiful, the family funded the original wooden Santa Trinita bridge in 1252 and later, were instrumental in the construction of the Santo Spirito, with Stoldo Frescobaldi positioning himself as an operaio, one of the committee members responsible for collecting and distributing the building funds. The family sponsored the cappella maggiore, and as patrons, were able to procure an additional unbuilt chapel. Members of the family were painted by Michelangelo, and they also supported Donatello and Michelozzi, all of whom became clients and bought their wines – or bartered them for their works.


Today’s Marchese initiated the Vendemmia d’Artista project in 2009, with the intention of creating a modern interpretation of his family’s long association with artists. Although it was the Château Mouton Rothschild in 1945 that originally came up with the idea of having an artist design each vintage’s label, the Frescobaldis take it a step further. Proceeds from past auctions have gone to the Witney Museum in New York and the Royal Opera Foundation in London – hardly entities “in need,” you might say, but each recipient provides to Frescobaldi their plan for the funds: new acquisitions, funding artists, etc. This year’s exclusive auction offered 9 lots, which included 9 of the special-edition bottles which, with the help of Sotheby’s Senior Director Stephen Mould, raised 202,700 Euros.


When Armleder tasted the 2012 Ornallaia for the first time, he was immediately “taken by surprise,” thrown into a pool of unexpected pleasure, a trance….and so he called the wine “L’Incanto” (the enchantment) and created “Splash,” an opulent glass sculpture that cradles and caresses the neck of the bottle. A stunning piece of fluid creativity, it transports us into Armelder’s dream. You must have a taste of your own.

Salmanazar (9 liters) Ornellaia 2012 L'Incanto by John Armleder

Salmanazar (9 liters) Ornellaia 2012 L’Incanto by John Armleder

As beautiful as the artist’s creation, the true star of the evening was the Ornellaia, one of the most famous Super Tuscans ever produced. What is a Super Tuscan? A Tuscan wine using a majority of international grapes as opposed to Sangiovese – the indigenous grape of the Chianti region. Tired of their clownish caricature of the 1970s, and the antiquated and restrictive appellation rules, Chianti Classico producers re-invented themselves in the 80s. Partly because the poor quality Chianti was making fools of them, but also because they saw what the New World producers, especially in Napa, were doing with the international (Bordeaux) varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The market was exploding with these bold, oaky, fruit-driven, high-alcohol New World monsters, and the Old World felt left behind. The Chianti Classico of old was issued mainly from the indigenous Sangiovese and Canaiolo Nero grapes, but were also 30% or more of the white grapes Trebbiano and Malvasia. A disastrous recipe. So quality-driven, and commercially-minded, Chianti Classico producers, started planting the “international” varieties which, when added to Sangiovese, greatly improved it. It also gave them a wine with which they could compete against the French and the Americans on the international market.

Ornus 2010

However, the Chianti Classico authorities did not permit these grapes for the DOC or DOCG quality designation. In response, the producers sold their wines as Vino da Tavola, or IGT, the lower quality designations with more lax laws, and thus, the “Super Tuscan” was born. They also started planting further south where land was cheaper and not constrained by appellation law. So the Bordeaux-blend Super Tuscans ended up creating what they were trying to escape: a DOC, created in Bolgheri in 1994. The Super Tuscans, whilst huge hits on the international scene, lost their Italian identity. Today’s producers are trying to go back to a more restrained, Tuscan style of wine and some are returning to Sangiovese in their blends, but a new and improved version of the grape. They are using high-quality, low-yield Sangiovese clones to produce wines that are terroir-driven and that taste of Tuscany.


Straddling both the Old and New Worlds in terms of style, Ornellaia is grown in Bolgheri, on the southern Tuscan coast of Maremma. The wines are cooled by the coastal breezes and given structure by the alluvial and volcanic soils. The wines served on the night were indeed, enchanting. The Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia 2013 (70% Sauvignon blanc, Viognier, Verdicchio, Vermentino) was fresh and lively with great acidity and structure, and a perfect accompaniment to the sautéed Swiss chard on asparagus salad with a warm hazelnut sabayon. Then came a creamy veal tartar with a sour cream dip on roasted mushroom and endive salad, which we had with Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2007 (Bolgheri DOC), a Bordeaux bland of 40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot.

Le Volte 2012

Slightly marked by oak and alcohol on the nose, it developed into a vibrant, dense and intensely appealing wine. For the main course of beef tenderloin, we were spoiled with two vintages of the flagship wine, Ornellaia, in 2003 and 2013. The 2012 (56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot) is rich, fruity and spicy and slightly slumbering at the moment, as it matures, readying itself for its next explosion of power. The 2003 was an intensely classic Ornellaia vintage – all power and vibrancy with plenty of concentration of extracts to carry it for years to come. Their 2009 Ornus dell’Ornellaia stole the show (100% Petit Manseng). This unctuous, late-harvest wine was served with an assortment of divine puddings and then followed by the Eligo dell’Ornellaia Grappa Reserva. You must have a taste of perfect luxury of your own….

Visit www.frescobaldi.it or www.ornellaia.com to get a taste. For more information about Linda Johnson-Bell, visit www.thewinelady.com.