• 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

Diary of a Wine Critic




This is a huge topic. Ultimately, all practices in the vineyard will eventually play a part in the taste of the final wine, but none so much as the practice of irrigation. There is a huge debate about this between the Old and New Worlds, naturally. The Old World camp has always said that irrigation dilutes the wine and that better fruit relies upon rainfall – but they had the climate that allowed them to say that. The New World producers have always said “if a tomato needs water, you water it. Grapes are the same” – but then, they have the climate that forces them say that. The crux of the argument is that once we grow a fruit in its non-indigenous environment, and have to radically manipulate its new home in order to accommodate it, then we have irreparably altered the fruit’s taste and composition. Stuff starts growing where it does, unaided by man, for a reason.


Irrigation is a wide term, encompassing a variety of practices according to the amount of water used and the frequency with which the water is applied: from flood, or furrow irrigation, to spray irrigation, and to drip, or trickle irrigation…and them from first day of the growing season and throughout to harvest, or once a week, or once a day, or continuously … Unirrigated vines are forced to dig down deep to find moisture and they pick up nutrients through the soil formations as they do this. Irrigated vines often miss out on vital nutrients because their root systems remain on the surface, where the moisture is. So, the produces make it even easier for them – they add fertilizers to the water in the drip irrigation system (called “fertigation”!). So the vines are fed and watered without even having to get out of bed – literally. All that they need is home-delivered directly to them. They are lazy. And like lazy, spoiled children, they will not grow up into very interesting adults, will they?


With heat erasing varietal character and soil influences, and irrigation diluting it, good wine, forget fine wine, doesn’t stand a chance. Irrigation also is the most damaging and wasteful viticultural practice. Although Carmel Kileline MW points out in her dissertation that “while 99% of the water used in wine-making is used for irrigation rather than in the winery, grapes are still a relatively modest user of water. In Riverland (Australia), 290 litres of water are used per 750ml bottle fo wine. Rice, by contrast, requires 2,380 litres per kg, and cotton, 5,020 per lg pf cloth”. But this is a faulty argument: being the best of the worst is nothing to be proud of  - and wine is not a necessity food crop. So, perhaps some wine producers don’t feel enormously guilty. But, irrigation remains our biggest dilemma, both in terms of effecting wine’s quality and taste, and in terms of conservations practices. Does a dry region keep increasing its irrigation until they run out of water? At what point should a region change crops or consider other agricultural uses? More frighteningly, over irrigation depletes a soil and renders it unable to grow anything …. This is what we are experiencing in Australia to a devastating degree.


Growing grapes is growing fruit. The basic gardening principles and fruit-farming provide the needed guidance. Any good gardener will tell you that over-watering, either through rain or irrigation, dilutes fruit flavour and increases yield. This is the first thing one is taught in “wine school”. It is part of the Wine 101 curriculum, and it is embedded in the European psyche. It is illegal to irrigate in Europe, and for good reason: you can taste the difference.  They didn’t just make up the rule because they felt like it. If they thought irrigation was best for the vines, or that there was an easier, less expensive way to water their vines, they would have done it. What’s interesting is now that they are experiencing heat and drought in New World proportions, they suddenly are saying, “well, a bit of drip-irrigation here and there won’t hurt”.


But it can. Remember, irrigation allows the vine to be lazy; the roots stay in the top 40 centimetres of soil and don't seek out the water or nutrients in the sub-soils and sub-solum. As Dr. Emmanuel Bourguignon states: “Permanent irrigation leads to a shallow root system. You get a really big mat of fine roots in the first 40 to 50 centimetres of soil. The most fertile horizon in the soil is in that first 40 centimetres because that is where you have the organic matter. If your roots stay in that horizon you will end up with some slight vigour problems.”

This increased vigour, or vegetative growth, creates a large canopy, which is particularly problematic in sunny climates because “you end up getting massive photosynthesis – you just end up with a high level of sugar and your alcohol potential is high," says Bourguignon. "So you dilute the terroir, but you tend to increase the varietal character. You can have a good canopy and make a good varietal wine.” Think of a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc and its loud, cartoon-like varietal profile: it screams “I am Sauvignon blanc”. This is exactly the result to which Dr. Bourguigon is referring. There is nothing wrong with that if that is the result you want - if you are “making an entry-level fruity wine, but you can forget about minerality and sense of place.” But if you want to be unique, irrigation will make that very difficult.
(Source: Rebecca Gibb, One of the world's leading soil experts tells wine producers to turn off their irrigation, February 5, 2013. Note: Dr. Bourguignon and his family have worked with clients all over the world,  including Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Dujac in Burgundy, Domaine Huet in the Loire, Vega Sicilia in Spain and Harlan Estate in the United States)


Another huge problem presented by irrigation is the increase of the soil’s salinity, which harms the grapes. In Europe, where the soils’ (terroir) are King, and the so much a part of the wine’s composition, changing its very composition will change the taste of its fruit. Salt build-up is such a problem in some southern Australian vineyards, vineyards that have had to rely upon heavy irrigation since their inception, that the winemakers have had to abandon them. Another example of how manipulating the environment eventually catches up with you. Ideally, irrigation would perfectly mimic the effect of rainfall, with a heavy “deluge” in winter or early spring, as long as the soil is not so parched and compact that it cannot store or hold the water adequately. This is often the case when the rest of the season is not humid enough and any moisture in the soil is evaporated. So, such “copy cat” actions would simply mean that the water sits on the top of the soil and causes problems.


In his article, The Dangers of Soil Salinity, Tim Teichgraeber examines the problem of salinity in the US. He quotes biochemistry professor Grant Cramer, of the University of Nevada, Reno: "Anywhere you have arid climates, you're going to accumulate salt in the soil. Australia has significant salinity problems, and I would imagine some of the North African grape growing areas have significant salinity issues too. It's a worldwide problem. Certainly the San Joaquin Valley would also have problems." Teichgraeber explains that when salt levels get high enough in the vine, the leaves start to display "leaf burn" or browning, as they do with some other vine afflictions like Pierce's disease. Another salt accumulation problem is caused by the way salts change the structure of the soil itself, and the effect that has on plants. Salt also changes the way the roots grow. “Salts are more than just the sodium chloride you might use to garnish your margarita or make your strip steak really pop. They're a whole class of ionic compounds made up of positively charged cations and negatively charged anions that are neutral when combined. Among the potentially phytotoxic salt components are sodium, chloride and boron, all of which can cause crippling decreases in vine vigor or even vine death at elevated levels.”


So perversely, the best way to cope with soils with high salinity is to flush them out with huge doses of fresh rainwater. But if these places had enough fresh rainwater with which to flush out and drench their soils, they wouldn’t need to be irrigating in the first place. I know that I am over-generalising a bit here, but when you look at this with some perspective …

LJ Johnson-Bell



CLIMATE CHANGE: What wine producers are doing in the vineyards ...



  • Use a carbon merchant for tree-planting (a fee is paid to plant the amount of trees needed to take out of the air the same amount of CO2 as is emitted by winery)
  • Using less glass in bottles to reduce weight and shipping costs
  • Reduce use of herbicides and fetilizers
  • Abandon glass and use plastic PET bottles or Tetrapak
  • Using photovoltaic and solar panels to generate energy and hot water
  • The introduction of wind farms
  • Complete energy-efficiency audits
  • Winery and warehouse lighting refit – replace incandescent bulbs with fluorescent
  • Replacing old machinery with more energy-efficient models
  • Increased tank insulation
  • Create and use own bio-diesel or ethanol in vehicles and farm equipment
  • Turn animal wastes in methane gas, with a methane digester, for heating
  • Water-management in general
  • Store and use rain-water for irrigation
  • Ship wine in bulk and have it bottled at the destination: re-use bottles
  • Hand-harvest rather than machine-harvest
  • Ensure new buildings are carbon-neutral and retro-fit where possible
  • Employ gravity-fed operations,
  • Engage in organic and biodynamic farming
  • Increase planting density – better land use
  • Reduce tillage and machine harvesting
  • Soil stabilization
  • Canopy management and pruning
  • Trellis modification to ensure aeration
  • Use screening for shade (expensive)
  • Spot spraying and use of pheromones for pest mating disruption
  • Northern Hemisphere can try to adjust slope exposition to northern-facing and not southern
  • Change or ignore local appellation laws
  • Plant warmer-climate grape varieties
  • Reduce irrigation (to mitigate)
  • Increase irrigation (to adapt)
  • Select clones that withstand temperature and drought




VINTAGE VARIATION ... Enough is Enough

Variable weather is good, extremes are bad. There is clearly a lot of emphasis on hotter vintages, but, in truth, what seems to be happening is that there are more extreme cycles of weather within the larger cycle of an overall warming. Harvest variations used to be the guarantee of wines with character and personality, but too much climatic variation means too much unpredictability and ruined crops. As NASA’s Bill Patzert asks: “What is the amount of risk we can tolerate?” Harvest variations are the hallmark of Europe’s fine wine regions. The challenge to work with or to overcome Mother Nature, is the “point” of the entire viticultural exercise. A great winemaker is one who can navigate the vagaries. The New World wine regions were pooh-poohed for being lazy: Wine-growing in a constantly sunny climate is considered easy work—too easy—and the wines reflect that.

But now, all is changingtoo much is too much. Confirms Gregory Jones, "While 2010 was the warmest year on record for the northern hemisphere, more worrisome is the increasing climate variability—record cold winters followed by record hot summers, droughts and fire season giving way to extreme rainfall and flooding.” Indeed, wine producers are experiencing extremes, not only in one country, say,  a north/south  divide, but even in one region, and during one growing season. For example, producers are suffering extreme hail and snow in the spring, which destroys half the crop. Then, just as they think that they have recovered from that, along comes an extreme heat wave or drought before and during the harvest period that reduces what was left of the crop.

The United States has always had extreme weather, continues Patzert. “We look back on our weather history. It’s been punishing: floods, droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, great forest fires . . . Is global warming happening? No doubt about it. We’re living in a warmer world, we’re living in a melting world, sea levels are rising. We’re seeing more frequent, more intense, and longer lasting heat waves. As far as hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, floods, and drought, the evidence is definitely not in.”

At first, the previously much cooler and wetter climate regions, where it has always been difficult to mature white grapes, much less red ones, will flourish and enjoy a relative period of stability. But then as the hotter peaks create shorter, hotter maturation periods, raising sugar levels and lowering acidity, they will decline into non-quality. In Napa and Sonoma Valleys, the climate has become so warm that ripening fruit is not an issue. In Bordeaux, where chaptalisation was a routine practice in order to ensure ripeness and to get the sugar levels up, now, even without chaptalisation the wines are shooting up to 17%. Retaining acidity and developing flavour (that’s flavour from the fruit and the soil, not from the selected yeasts used in fermentation, from over-extraction, or from new oak barriques) is now the primary goal. 

Winemakers can no longer keep up ....



The Secret in the Vineyards is Out ...


The Secret Is Out
As recently as five years ago, if I were on a press trip and I or one of my colleagues brought up the topic of climate change, our questions were ignored and glossed over. But during my most recent vineyard visits, it has been the winemakers who bring the topic up. This could be simply because they no longer have any choice. The evidence is so physically visible. We are walking among shriveled vines and parched soils. The screaming headlines after the 2012 harvests alerted us to the fact that Europe is experiencing its worst grape harvest in fifty years. But for those of us who have been judging wines and visiting vineyards for twenty years (and more), this is not news. NASA reports that the year 2012 was the ninth warmest in their analysis of global temperatures that stretches back to 1880. In itself, that sounds fairly unremarkable, they remark. But as climate scientists note, what’s important is the long-term trend. The 10 hottest years in the 132-year record have all occurred since 1998, and 9 of the 10 have occurred since 2002.
“What matters is, this decade is warmer than the last decade, and that decade was warmer than the decade before,” says Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “The planet is warming.” This is manifested in the fact that, for example, Bordeaux’s alcohol content has been creeping higher and higher for years now, due both to a desire to emulate the high-alcoholic (heat-induced) Napa wines so beloved by the American wine critics, and to having fallen victim to Mother Nature’s unwittingly ironic plan to do it for them.
The New World wine regions of California, Australia, New Zealand, and South America have already been experiencing problems for much longer. These countries do not have indigenous grape varieties. The Vitis vinifera species was brought to them via the Europeans. Purists are perfectly entitled to argue that trying to grow grapes in a non-indigenous climate and soil was always going to end in tears. Australia is losing vineyards to extreme drought and rain conditions and has been producing hot, heavy, over-extracted brews for decades. Even allowing for natural variability, when paired with climate change, climate records get broken (Karl Braganza, A Land of More Extreme Droughts and Flooding Rains?, 2012).
But now, as the Cabernet-colored heart of our fine wine regions in Europe is finally hit, the issue has become mainstream and is no longer the preserve of the eccentric or scholarly few. The world is paying attention. It was acknowledged in the French press as early (or as late!) as 2003 that an unprecedented summer heat wave devastated the European wine production, which hit a ten-year low in crop yields. France suffered a loss of billions of euros. While the warming of the climate of Bordeaux, and other “then” cool-climate regions, in the second half of the twentieth century was welcomed for allowing more consistently ripe harvests and maturation, now the changes have swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction and the effects are anything but favorable.
Winemakers warned that the increasing number of hot days during floraison (the fruit’s flowering season) speeds grape ripening, but not necessarily its maturation. These are two different things. This means a longer growing season and earlier harvest, which correlates with lower yields and poorer-quality grapes. Usually, low yields are considered a sign of wine quality; keeping yields down is a practice quality winemakers employ. Low yields are a good thing when they are a product of perfect climate conditions and expert vineyard practices. But when yields are rendered low due to extreme heat, drought, disease, rain, or hail, the fruit can be distressed or over-concentrated. This translates into unbalanced wines, wines whose longevity is compromised - that are not worth cellaring. But as the modern consumer no longer buys wine to cellar but for immediate comsumption, longevity is a quality only sought after by the wine investors, for whom wine is a commodity.




Watching a Wine Die on the Vine

Watching a Wine Die on the Vine

I am standing under the shade of an olive tree that still clings to its sweetly pungent, oozing fruit. Sweaty grape-pickers frantically race up and down the sloping hill before me. I am in the scorching heat of Emilia-RomagnaItaly’s famed “fertile crescent”—its food basket. But the land beneath the vines is compacted and dry. Dust devils swirl between the gnarled roots. I am in the way and feel helpless. There is much shouting, and a busy hum with an undertone of worry. The owner looks tense and agitated.

The grapes need harvesting. Subito. But he has a dilemma. If they cannot get the grapes in fast enough, by hand, before the vines shut down from the heat, or the grapes burn, they will have to machine-harvest. He is against this. It bruises the grapes, and in this heat, they would oxidise in a very short time. Plus, with all of the bits the machine collects in addition to the grapes, triage back in the winery would be that much more labour-intensive. Still, better to machine-harvest than to let them die on the vine. But his planting density in many of his older parcels won’t allow the space for a machine harvester - and even if he wanted one, there aren’t any more available, as his neighbours are all experiencing the same panic.

His calculations tell him that his yields are already down by 20 percent and it looks as though it is going to get worse. The heat means that his red varieties have matured at the same time, as opposed to in a staggered fashion, and he doesn't have the manpower to hand-harvest all the parcels. They can’t seem to get the picked grapes into the winery fast enough before they are affected by the heat. He knows that many of his larger neighbours have invested in huge refrigerated trucks they park at the end of the rows so that the harvested grapes stay cool. He does not have this luxury. There are all sorts of practices he has had to consider in the past few years of drought and heat. Last year he had to resort to lightly irrigating some of the more vulnerable parcels for the first time in the history of his family's 500 years of winemaking. His list of compromises is growing, and it does not sit easily with him.

I can see him weighing the pros and cons in his head, his struggle with the gamble he is being forced to take . . . the added expenses . . . the possibility of changing his wine’s identity forever. The taste of this wine that he has known since a boy hangs in the balance. I know that I am witnessing the involuntary abandonment of centuries of traditional and quality wine-making methods.

There are winemakers who hold on to “traditional” winemaking methods for too long and for the wrong reasons. Then, there are the sort of winemakers who buy every new machine and adopt every new method, devoting themselves to maximum output with maximum marketing, dressing their wineries up as chemistry labs, forgetting that they are farmers, really.

But this winemaker is one of those who sit in the middle, wisely judging where it is logical to adapt and how to judicially apply new or different methods. A winemaker who puts the wine quality first. This temperate, Mediterranean climate has afforded him this liberty. Now, with the increasing heat, every year, he is facing new problems and being forced to adopt methods that have already been embraced by the hotter New World wine regions from their inception, as their climates had not given them the choice. Now he fears that his wine, a wine that has been bred to speak of its unique terroir and to express its varietal character, will be suppressed, and forced to join the mass voice of the ubiquitous, international choir.


How Climate Change is Affecting the Wine Futures System


July 2, 2014

The hot topic of the international wine trade is whether or not to conduct the 2013 Bordeaux en Primeur campaign. Investment in the fine wine sector has been decreasing steadily and the market is growing tenuous. There is much speculation as to why this is so. Apart from the effects of varying market mechanisms at play, yields are down across France, due to extreme weather events during the growing season, and quality is becoming unreliable. The critics are staying away from the barrel tastings and many châteaux are deciding to not declare this year.

Consequently, everyone is asking whether the campaign should be cancelled. Well, yes and no. If the reason is because they are hesitant to proceed without wine guru Robert Parker’s scores, as they are stating, then that is not a sufficient reason and they should proceed without him. One critic should not be allowed to hold the market to ransom.

However, as to the question of whether the system in general should be cancelled, I would reply in the affirmative – En Primeur may have had its day.

Harvest reports are the key instruments upon which all projections concerning a particular wine’s longevity are based. Logically, then, they are also the key instrument used to guide any investment in that projected longevity.

This projected longevity is the backbone of fine wine investment, an ironic game that has warped the industry, and wines, so unrecognisably. The traditional investment model is faulty. Even Thomas Jefferson thought as much when he wrote that purchasing wine directly from the châteaux was the only way to buy it, stating that “it is from them alone that genuine wine is to be got and not from any wine merchant whatever”.

The system was meant to give the châteaux a two-year period during which the wines await retail release at hopefully higher prices – this did not happen in 1970-1971. It is a sort of game of ‘Cabernet-curtain twitching’ between neighbouring châteaux, and a case of ‘keeping up with the Latourses’.

If one dons rose-coloured glasses, the En Primeur system could be seen as originally having been for the good of the producer – a benevolent sort of investment. But if the original intent was altruistic, it was quickly replaced by opportunism.

Investors & Climate Change

Companies that invest in wine seem unwilling to acknowledge the changes unfolding before them – in the real world, everyone talks about climate change. The wine producers– the men and women in the fields – are living this reality, daily. But in the virtual world of London investment firms and wine industry trade journals, there is rarely a whisper. Since 1988, when reliable data first became available, the fine wine investment market has generated an annualised return of 12.1 per cent – why mess with that? Fine wine consistently out-performs shares, bonds and other asset classes, delivering annual double-digit growth. Well, it used to...

What has climate change got to do with this? The system became further mired in the ambiguous ‘point’ systems of American wine critics, whose palates had been trained with warm-climate wines and who prefer the big, oaky, ultra-ripe examples. Suddenly, their opinions were having a greater influence on the prices than the guidance of the negotiants.

The Bordelaise started emulating this New World wine-style, adopting the methods to achieve ultra-ripe grapes with the high extraction, raised alcohol, sweet style that got the attention of the New World critics. They did not realise that Mother Nature was creeping up behind them and planning to do this for them anyway. Higher temperatures create more sugar, which means increased alcohol, and this produces additional imbalance which compromises longevity. And longevity is what all the En Primeur bets are based upon.

Uniqueness & Reliability

These Bordeaux that are now unbalanced by alcohol – first by man’s desire to please the critics, and now by climate change – have had their aging potential compromised and, consequently, their value as a commodity has lessened.

Jean Claude Berrouet, formerly at Petrus and now the winemaking director for several Pomerol estates, said that he has seen alcohol rise 2-2.5 degrees in Bordeaux during his 40-year career. This commodity is losing its uniqueness and its reliability – the two basic tenets of investment.

The current situation prompts many questions: If these wines do not cellar as long as they used to, will this mean that investors will get a smaller but faster return? Should the En Primeur system remain in place but merely in abbreviated form? And will the investors and the consumers accept the new Bordeaux profile? How sweet does it have to get before people say ‘no more’? If Médoc grows Carignan or Carménère (again), how will that change the Bordeaux brand? The classic Bordeaux model is already non-existent, so, in what is there to invest?

Perhaps, we should invest in the future of wine – in the land, the people and the improvement of the technologies that we have today, to make them more affordable. And to invest in the technologies that are going to be needed in the future, as we re-map the world’s vineyards.

Linda Johnson-Bell is a US-born, French-raised, award-winning wine critic and author based in London, Oxford and Venice. To learn more about this topic, read Linda’s upcoming book, Wine and Climate Change, to be published by Burford Books, NY this summer.

From France Today magazine


French Winemakers react to Climate Change


July 3, 2014

In 2006, some 50 leading wine producers wrote an open letter to President Sarkozy, stating, “Marked by higher alcohol levels, over-sunned aromatic ranges and denser textures, our wines could lose their unique soul. Viticulture will slowly die out as vineyards cross the Channel and head north”.


In response, many French appellations are experimenting with lesser-known varieties that are permitted in and indigenous to their region, in the quest to regain varietal character and expression of terroir. In addition, regions that once excelled in white wine production are moving into reds. Here are some delicious examples, all at 12.5 per cent ABV:

Roussette de savoie, Bruno Lupin, Frangy, Savoie, 2011

Rolly Gassmann, Réserve Millésime Sylvaner, Alsace, 2010

Domaine de Montredon, Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc-Roussillon, 2012


Domaine du Cros Fer servadou, Cuvee Lo Sang del Païs, Marcillac (SW), 2012

Domaine Guillaume, Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes, Jura, 2010

Philippe Alliet tradition, Cabernet Franc, Loire, 2010

Anne Claude Leflaive’s Grolleau, Clau de Nell, Loire, 2011

Find your local merchant using

Linda Johnson-Bell is a US-born, French-raised, award-winning wine critic and author based in London, Oxford and Venice. To learn more about this topic, read Linda’s upcoming book, Wine and Climate Change, to be published by Burford Books, NY this summer.

 From France Today Magazine



2010 Château Romassin, Domaines Ott, Bandol rouge

The wines of the Bandol AOC are robust proof that the wines of Provence are grown-up, serious affairs. Too often associated with frivolous, holiday, beach-side cocktail fodder, the reds, whites and rosés of Bandol are anything but. This Bandol from Monsieur Ott, is one of my favourites, and I have been enjoying his wines for twenty years... his rosés are legendary.

2010 Château Romassin, Bandol

Superbly balanced, fresh and mineral with a nice finish. Only 12.5% ABV, thanks to that perfect micro-climate cooled by salty sea breezes. It is peppery, savoury, and reminiscent of grilled lamb chops smothered in herbs de Provence and olive oil. Notes of lavender, smoky, dusty old lace yet bright and personable. 



Tasting the Heat: Where's the Bite?

Tasting the Heat – Where’s the Bite?

Important in the understanding of the warmer climate changing the taste of wine is the analogy of how the warmer climate changes the taste of other fruit. We want our fruit to be fresh, lively and refreshing. Let’s go back to Eden and take apples as an example. We want those to be crunchy and firm. A forty-year study of Japanese apple orchards has found that global warming is producing softer, sweeter, apples, writes Heidi Ledford (Climate Change Threatens Crunchy, Tart Apples, August 2013). She quotes a study published in Scientific Reports on how changes in climate are affecting a huge variety of our staple foods, such as Fuji apples, sugar maple trees, and …wine grapes.  “Climate changes are impacting the everyday lives of real people,” says Christopher Field, an ecologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, who was not involved with the work. “It is not just an abstraction.”

Fruit-tree specialist Toshihiko Sugiura of the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization in Tsukuba, Japan, and his colleagues decided to study how warmer temperatures cause the apple trees to flower earlier and produce a riper, sweeter fruit. Ledford writes that they established that the “hardness and acidity of the apples had declined during that time, while their sweetness had increased.” Mr. Sugiura says: “The changes may not be apparent to consumers because they took place so gradually. But if you could eat an average apple harvested 30 years before and an average apple harvested recently at the same time, you would really taste the difference.”

Wine tasters have experienced exactly the same phenomena, and we have the tasting notes to prove it. Our favourite wines are tasting differently, and they are not as good. We miss that “bite”. As Jamie Goode of the concurs:

“Relatively small changes in alcohol content can have quite a strong influence on how the other components of the wine are perceived. I find I don’t really enjoy wines with higher alcohol as much because of the effects of the alcohol on the nose of the wine, and the bitter/sweet/salty character the alcohol lends to the palate…..The other significant concern surrounds issues of ‘style’ or ‘taste’. Decisions about when to pick have quite an influence on how the wine will come out. In recent years there has been critical influence, largely from the USA, pushing red wines (in particular) towards a homogenized ‘international’ style. I realize this statement could form the basis of a feature all on its own, but for now, I’m tempted just to say that red wines showing higher levels of ripe fruit, accompanied by softer tannins and plenty of new oak influence often get very high scores from the leading critics, whose ratings then influence sales, most notably in the USA where critical scores have a strong effect on sales. When grapes are picked late to achieve this style, and lots of new oak is employed in the élévage, the sense of place (or terroir) of a wine is often masked. Wines ending up tasting similar no matter where they have come from.”

He is not alone in his views: this is what is being said out in the field by both winemakers and wine tasters. Everywhere I travel, I am being hit with two stylistic camps of wine: the traditional and the international, as I wrote earlier.  Recent trips to Tuscany found us despairing over the popularity and prices of those alcoholic, in-your-face, boring Super-Tuscan monsters. And even amongst those produces who did stick to their guns and to their Sangiovese, there was an inordinate amount of sickly sweet, over-boiled samples.  If it’s not Sangiovese, it’s not Tuscan. And if it’s over 14-15% alcohol, it’s not wine.

One afternoon during a tasting last year, held in a stunning 13th century monastery, my colleagues and I were trying to figure out why this was so. We had compared notes and had all chosen the same estates as our favourites. We were a mixed group of nationalities:  German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Czech and British. But we all shared the same concept of what a “good” wine was. Heartening. We had also all identified one estate as being particularly “international” and commercial and we decided to go back and give it another try, so scathing had been our notes. But, wait ….. we could not get near the producer’s table. There was a queue …. of four Chinese journalists and three British supermarket buyers, all placing orders, filling in payment forms, all in a cloud of smiles and wildly happy international gesticulations. What does that tell us? Is this then, the link in the chain that is broken? The buyers?

When I started out as a wine writer for Vintage Magazine in Paris, in the 1990s, the Bordeaux were at 12 and 12.5% alcohol. As the years have advanced, so have the alcohol contents. We are now drinking Bordeaux at 15% +. Even the 1959 Bordeaux which was noted by Michael Broadbent as “the vintage of the century and one of the most massively constituted wines of the postwar era” and which was a very hot, dry year, produced wines at decent alcohol levels.  Château Latour was 11.6% (Andrew Jefford).

The hotter climate in Bordeaux is not entirely responsible for the increase. The higher alcohol levels everywhere are, in fact, due to, yes, rising temperatures, which means riper grapes with higher sugar levels, but also to improved viticulture (which means grapes are being picked in a riper state than they were before), and, to stylistic changes, as winemakers have opted for later picking to produce that sweeter wine profile that marks the “international” style, as recounted above. That said, at a recent tasting of the 2011 vintage of Bordeaux, I asked numerous producers, that if all variables such as style and viticultrual practices were elminated and there remained only climate - could they make a 12.5% wine again? Each and every one replied with an emphatic "no".



The European Planting Rights Debate: Freedom at last? 

The Europeans are missing quite a few legislative tricks when it comes to plantation laws. They are fighting all of the wrong fights, becoming their own worst enemy. Grape growers all over Europe are opposing a move by the European Parliament to relax planting limits in 2016. Currently there is a protective tool in place that limits vine plantings and it is due to expire then. This is a good thing. Right? But those who have vineyards in protected appellations, do not want to see them expanded. They want to “protect” their product and feel that ending planting restrictions would “further weaken a sector that is already battling cheap imports, overproduction and declining demand.” Translation: “But if there are more wines produced in my village, I will not be able to continue charging my exorbitant prices.” This is incredibly short-sighted.

After a three-year battle, the European Commission renounced their decision to get rid of planting rights regulations and retain them until 2024, but  French wine producers are calling for the European system of planting rights to be preserved until 2030. Proponents of the plan point out that wine is the only sector in European agriculture that is subject to planting restrictions, and that the European wine regions are the only restricted ones in the world. Countries within the EU will be allowed to increase their vineyard planting by up to 1% each year until 2030, when the system will be reviewed once more. Wahoo. The new scheme is so mired in legislative red-tape, that frankly, it is ineffectual. It is obsessed with controlling production limits (i.e. prices / market control) – which it does not even achieve, and ignores the need to plant new varieties for either climate change adaptation, or simply, for the pure joy of experimentation, progress or creative novelty. Think European: Change is bad!!!

How does one tell them that they are risking all to protect a commodity that will no longer exist in 2030, that by hanging onto these pseudo-protectionist policies, they are actually placing themselves in a far more vulnerable position. And who are the wine producers pushing for stagnation? When I am out in the field, the producers I meet want freedom to grow, change and adapt. Do the two sides never convene? Apparently the act was pushed through by Member States that are non-producing wine countries who wanted wine to be treated as any other agricultural crop.

But still, it is inconceivable that the European wine producers would try to restrict their flexibility when at the same time, they are part of the international wine trade – the first industry sectors worldwide to agree to a consistent system to calculate carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, as devised by the International Organisation of Vine and WINE (OIV). Called the “Greenhouse Gas Accounting Protocol”, the system is set up to help companies assess the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their activities and also to offer guidance on the emissions associated with the vine and wine products. The UK’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association backs it So, whilst they are clearly up-to-speed on climate change (which is indeed what I am getting from my travels in the vineyards), some still have not connected the dots between climate change and the need for flexible replanting rights. Are they placing too much faith in the resilience of the vitis vinifera? True, she is a feisty beast who has been adapting for hundreds of years to changing climates, and the hottest years in the classic European fine wine regions have often produced great vintages. They also have great faith in their own vineyard practices, experience and savoir-faire, and rightly so. As Muriel Barthes, the technical director at the CIVB (Conseil interprofessional des vins de Bordeaux) points out: “in the past 30 years we have evidenced a marked rise in temperatures, but in the scale of 100 years, we know nothing, except for the know projection models.” Perhaps their plan is to wait it out, hoping that the projections are not true and that another mini-cycle of cooling will hit and save their vineyards for another few generations?

If it is commonly accepted that “dans cinquante ans, le Bordelais et d'autres régions viticoles auront des encépagements et des porte-greffes très différents” (in 50 years, Bordeaux and other regions will have very different root-stocks and grape varieties), then how do they suppose that they will get there if they fight any liberalised planting schemes? Serge Delrot, the Director and a professor of the l’ISVV, continues to affirm that “if the droughts continue, it will be necessary to plant new, late-ripening grape varieties instead of those known to us today. » He is far from alone; a fellow professor at Enita insists that there will be a time when wines have a different taste and typicity. And Gregory Jones asks “If that ground is the best in the world for Pinot Noir, will it be the best for something else? If Burgundy warms to the point where Pinot Noir and Chablis are not longer the best grapes for that region, will people buy a new product? … At some point a grower in a region that has become too warm has to make a decision. It’s like if you’re selling widgets, and widgets don’t sell anymore, what do you do? You have to come up with widgets 2.0.”

The biggest problem with replanting, and one that some may find insurmountable, is that it is best for those regions that are starting new plantings or have the space for new plantings. If you are already established, if every parcel is planted, the lifecycle of the vine makes this a very difficult process. Once you plant a plant, it is in the ground for 50 years. And it takes at least 10 years to figure out it if you got it right – and by that time, the climate conditions for which you planted it, will most likely have changed again.

The Germans are all up-in-arms. Like everyone else, they are petrified of the possibility of over-production if planting laws are loosened or lifted. Steffen Schindler, marketing director for the German Wine Institute, said: “At last we are in a situation with no over-production but this would threaten that position.”  He also expressed concern that the decision could undermine Germany’s recent success in raising its prices. With total exports in 2012 worth €321 million, the country’s average price rose by 8.4% to reach €2.46 per litre. Again, they are thinking too short-term. They have hindered their own success in the global marketplace, not protected it.

In Spain, recent changes in appellation laws in Rioja has meant that we now have a  “new” white Rioja made with newly approved grape varieties (as opposed to Viura). So, it is finally happening. In 2007, the Rioja Regulatory Council approved six new white varietals: the local varieties of tempranillo blanco,maturana blanca and turruntés, and the international chardonnay and sauvignon blanc and Rueda’s verdejo.  The Council agreed that while the local whites could stand alone, the international varietals could be no more than 49% of a white blend, with 51% reserved for local varieties. There has been a push to revive and revere the lost indigenous varieties of Rioja, especially the reds, like maturana tinta. Again reviving the argument that indigenous is best: the maturana tinta, with its late budburst, early ripening, high acidity and medium alcohol content, is far better suited to the warming climate.


But again, the push for these changes may not be for the reasons you might think. The main reason is Rioja’s desire to produce more individual and terroir-driven wines and to move away from the international obsession with the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Winemakers in Rioja do not see the point in trying to compete with the rest of the world to make the same wine, when they have such individual and unique varieties at their feet. This is to be applauded. Apparently, Rioja winemakers have also been frustrated with the mediocre results of the Viura for years, partly because Rioja whites are made the same way as their reds – oaked and heavy. They are also frustrated that whites from other Spanish regions, Rías Baixas and Rueda are having a greater commercial success than theirs. But, having spoken to Viura producers, they all told me that the heat means that the Viura wines are becoming increasingly insipid, especially in Rioja Baja, the southern-most and warmest of the La Rioja sub-regions, where the climate is more Mediterranean than Continental and the red wines can reach 18% alcohol.

Although, this is not the reason being given for the stylistic shift. Again, several producers told me that people are either still not connecting the dots between rising temperatures and their increasingly boring wines, or, if they have, it is not a subject they wish to highlight, for fear of alarming the consumer and upsetting the market. There is also the same fear that the relaxed laws will be exploited by some producers who intend to make more international wines and in great quantities. The new planting laws can be used to pursue two different market strategies/goals. But this has always been the case, everywhere in the world (and in all industries). Those who wish to produce mass-market wines will never be restrained by legislative tools; they will always find a way around them. Whilst those whose intention is to produce indigenous, traditional wines must not have their efforts confined nor stunted by these same tools.

Not surprisingly, England is one of the few nations that supports the EU’s “liberal” planting move. “We should have the freedom to plant where we want," says Julia Trustram-Eve, of English Wine Producers. "Planting restrictions have held Europe back, allowing some areas to continue to produce poor-quality wine and falsely inflate the value of land." Perhaps the change is simply too frightening to face. Even the most forward-thinking of producers have moments of reserve. Lamberto Frescobaldi of Tuscany was quoted as saying that “old traditions should not be allowed to hinder winemakers from adapting to climate change – even if it means permitting new grapes in their wines.” But he doubts that Tuscans will let go of their Sangiovese very easily, if at all.

The restriction in surface area to a rise of  1 % each year (if you are in a certain area, if you promise to grub up an equivalent amount of vines first, if you only plant varieties that were already authorized, if you belong to a Member State that applied before 2007, or if you name your first born either Adelbert or Anique and promise to serve them frites at every meal), is a frantic and futile attempt to avoid over-production. Smart – limit production some more when your yields have already been decreased between 20-40% due to recent harrowingly disastrous harvests. An EU representative complained that “the wines of Bordeaux and Cognac endured a terrible crisis due to a large increase in the number of vineyards during the 2000s.” He further argues that sales of Australian wines were booming in the 1990s and became “the international model of success in the winemaking world, and particularly in exports.”  The positive reaction to this export success led to a slew of new vineyards in the absence of any laws limiting quantities. Australia, he says, now faces “uprooting, bankruptcy, non-harvesting, sequestration, a rapid drop in land values, the purchase of assets by foreign investors.” Yes, but not due entirely to over-production, but to the costs over-heads needed to force wine production in a hostile environment and the over-salination of the soils. Even if they had stemmed their production, these problems would not have gone away.

If I were a European wine producer, I would be furious and start looking for loop-holes. In the EU’s working document of April 2012, “Rule 1” under planting rights granted from a Reserve, states that “the location, the varieties and the cultivation techniques used guarantee that the subsequent production is adapted to market demand.” It explains that these qualitative criteria are not determined which gives a Member State room for interpretation on a regional level. These criteria also allow “taking into account territorial considerations. For example, it may be decided that no planting rights are granted to certain regions of a Member State, to certain types of soil-climate conditions or for the establishment of vineyards which so not respect certain technical specifications, as long as this is justified with - lack of adaptation to market demand”. So, if my Meursault was so flabby and sweet that it no longer fit the classic model of “Meursault” and I could not sell it as such, does that not mean that my product no longer is able to adapt to “market demand”? And doesn’t that mean that I should be able to grow a grape in my “soil-climate conditions” that would adapt to market demand? Perhaps this how they are secretly hoping that these instruments will be applied. They like a good haggle and a bit of jumping through hoops. And what about the good old “force majeure” card? I’d petition the INAO for a demande d’autorisation de plantation de vignes based on a few “intempéries graves” (severe weather conditions). Or, use the rule where you are allowed “experimental” plantings as certain Bordeaux châteaux are doing, such as Château Cheval-Blanc or Larose-Trintodon in the Médoc.




Another fight that seems to be being waged for the wrong reasons is the one waging in Sancerre. When the INAO (l’Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité) announced that it was closing its office in Sancerre and centralizing it in Tours, 210 kilometers away, the producers, represented as the Union Viticole Sancerroise (UVS) angered at the fact that they would still be paying their fees to the INAO, but receiving a reduced service. They are now considering leaving the INAO and creating a “Sancerre” trademark and are seeking legal advice. Critics of the move take a conservative stance and suggest that such a move would destabilize the entire appellation system. But again, so what? It is being destabilized as we speak, anyway.

I think that the producers should take back their brand and do with it what they like. They all seem to be so protective and over-worried about production levels, but in the grand scheme of things, Sancerre is miniscule and its sheer physical restrictions should serve as sufficient protection. Leaving the INAO is technically possible and if done properly, would not endanger the cachet of its AOC value. It does not need to be called “AOC”, it needs to be called “Sancerre” and it needs to be good. Whether that mean it is “Sauvignon blanc” from Sancerre or one day, perhaps a warmer-climate varietal such as “Viognier” from Sancerre. The market forces that created Sancerre, will sustain Sancerre. Further, there is so much diluted, flabby and overly-worked Sancerres being produced anyway. The use of heavily-flavored selected yeasts is so marked: Sancerre à la fraiseà l’ananas or à la banane, anyone?  So while they are all frightened of leaving the false safely umbrella of the INAO, and of loosening their grip on their monopoly of mediocrity, they are risking giving up a chance at future freedom.

Another point: the planting restrictions only apply to those who wish to comply to the system of controlled designation of origin (AOC). So, in theory, you could boycott the planting rules but lose your appellation and become a vin de table. But then you risk not selling your wines at the same price anymore. Unless, everyone followed suite and looked to Italy’s Super Tuscans for inspiration. They broke away from the sloppy and illogical varietal Chianti laws and created their own version, treated it like a brand, and were able to charge three times more than the regulated appellation wines.


Wine Myths: Wine and Cheese

Conventional thinking says white wine goes with fish and red wine with meat.

Not true. The beauty of wine and food pairing is not knowing the rules, but knowing how to break them. And if you know the true secret to matching, then creating magic is easy.

Here it is: what matters most is not whether the dish is meat or fish, but the dominant flavour of the dish. For example, a firm tuna steak with a Provençal sauce of olives, garlic, capers, tomatoes, etc, can easily take a lightly tannic red, such as a Pinot Noir, young Chianti (Sangiovese) or Merlot.

Conversely, a rib-eye steak smothered in a blue cheese, mushroom and cream sauce would go a treat with an oaked, mature white Burgundy or New World Chardonnay. But if ever in doubt, Champagne goes with everything!

Linda Johnson-Bell is the author of Pairing Wine and Food: A Handbook for All Cuisines. For more information, visit her website:

Originally published in the October-November 2013 issue of France Today



The 2013 Bordeaux EN PRIMEUR Campaign: A Diminishing Commodity


CANCEL THE 2013 BORDEAUX EN PRIMEUR CAMPAIGN? recently asked the wine trade if we thought there should  be an en primeur campaign for 2013 Bordeaux? 

Yes and no, depending on why they are considering not having it. If the reason is because they are hesitant to proceed without Robert Parker's scores, then that is not a sufficient reason. Proceed without him. He should not be allowed to hold the market to ransom. Further, nor should his penchant for re-scoring vintages ten years later be encouraged or supported. This gives him, and his interested parties, another bite at the apple. Quite dodgy. He is not only moving the goal posts, he is ADDING new ones. 

Should the system continue, in general? No. The en primeur system has seen its day. Climate will destroy the market it created. Since harvest reports are the key instruments upon which all projections concerning a particular wine's longevity are based, they are also then, the key instrument used to guide any investment in that projected longevity: the backbone of  fine wine investment; that ironic game that has warped the industry, and the wines, so unrecognisably. The traditional investment model is inane. Even Thomas Jefferson thought as much, for his own reasons, when he wrote that buying wine directly from the château was the only way to buy it, stating that “it is from them alone that genuine wine is to be got and not from any wine merchant whatever.” And climate change will be the final nail in its coffin. Future investment has to be focused on the future of the new energy technologies that will fuel our future wine regions, not on buying wine futures via the en primeur system. 

The en primeur system was meant to give the wine trade, or chateau, a two-year period during which the wines await retail release at higher prices (hopefully – this is what did not happened in 1970/71).  A sort of game of Cabernet-curtain twitching between neighbouring chateaux, and "keeping up with the Latourses". If one feels inclined to don some rose-coloured glasses, then yes, the en primeur system could be looked upon as originally having been for the good of the wine and of the producer – a benevolent sort of investment. It is not at all certain that two years after harvest the wine will sell rapidly at the best price. The system counteracts this risk and provides a bit of insurance. But if the original intent was altruistic, it was quickly replaced by opportunism.

The system is a dinosaur and seems to be unwilling to acknowledge the changes unfolding before it. In the real world, the world in the vineyards, everyone talks about climate change. They have to - we are standing there looking at the shriveled rows of vines. But in the virtual world, the world of London investment firms and in most wine industry trade journals, there is never a whisper. They are desperate to keep a lid on what may explode their game. Since 1988, when reliable data first became available, the fine wine investment market has generated an annualised return of 12.1%. Why mess with that? Fine wine consistently out-performs shares, bonds and other asset classes, delivering annual double-digit growth. Fine wine investment is less volatile than other assets such as equities, gold and oil whilst the correlation between financial and fine wine markets is relatively low, providing greater resilience to recessionary conditions. Fine wine investment is a tangible asset (if the buyer ever bothers to visit it in its storage facility); it is a finite and reducing supply as vintages are consumed versus increasing demand; it provides the ability to off-set currency influences; and is tax efficient with its potential exemption from Capital Gains Tax. And, you can brag about it over dinner!

A recent wine reporter I read, wrote, in his analysis of the poor 2013 Bordeaux “investment environment”: “As it struggles to find direction, reports of the Bordeaux 2013 harvest do not provide much cheer. But does it spell further trouble for Bordeaux? Maybe not. (Yes, of course it does, I say.) The market lives and dies on both demand and supply. Traditional collectors have not bought en primeur since 2009 (And, have you asked yourself why that is?). If they are still drinking, then their stocks are down. The small and mediocre 2013 vintage will be of little help. This might just be the bad news event that piques the market’s interest – and subsequently leads to restocking.” This analysis is so far off the mark, and irrelevant, that it beggars belief.

So what has climate change got to do with this? The system got further mired in the ambiguous “point” systems of American wine critics. Suddenly, their opinions were having a greater influence on the prices than the guidance of the négotiants. All fingers pointed at Robert Parker, whose American palate had been trained with warm-climate wines and who prefers the big, oaky, ultra-ripe wines. If he liked a wine, and gave it prizes and high scores, it sold. If he did not, it didn’t. The Bordelaise started emulating this New World wine-style, adopting the methods to achieve ultra-ripe grapes with the high extraction, high alcoholic, sweet style that got the attention of the New World critics. What they did not realise is that Mother Nature was creeping behind them and planning to do this for them anyway. Higher temperatures cause more sugar, more sugar means higher alcohol, and more alcohol, more imbalance, and imbalance means a compromised longevity. And longevity is what all the en primeur bets are based upon.

These Bordeaux that are now unbalanced by alcohol; first by man’s desire to please the critics, and now by climate change, have had their aging potential compromised and thus, their value as a commodity lessened.Jean Claude Berrouet, formerly at Petrus and now winemaking director for various estates in Pomerol, said that in his 40-year career he has seen alcohol rise between 2 and 2.5 degrees in Bordeaux. 

This commodity is losing its uniqueness and its reliability: the two basic tenants of investment. If these wines do not cellar as long as they used to, will this mean that investors will get a smaller return, but a faster one? Should the system remain in place but merely in abbreviated form? And will the investor/consumer accept the new Bordeaux profile? How sweet does it have to get before people say “no more”?  If Médoc grows Carignan or Carmenere (again), how will that change the Bordeaux brand, and how will that go down? The classic Bordeaux model is already non-existent, in what is there to invest? Adaptation and Mitigation, I say. Invest in the future of WINE - in the land, the people and the improvement of the technologies that we have today to make them more affordable, and, to invest in the technologies that are going to be needed in the future. And, face the fact that adaptation techniques and mitigation techniques are hurtling towards each other- and will eventually eradicate each other: irrigation is the number one Adaptation technique, but it lessens wine quality and salinates the soils. More importantly, there won' t be enough water to irrigate. And conversly, irrigation is the Mitigation campaign’s number one enemy. It's Margarita time. 





Chablis as it ought to be, and Rivetti's La Spinetta

The DOMAINE OUDIN’S 2010 Chablis Les Serres is a joy. It is Chablis as it ought to be: crisp, mineral, subtly perfumed and refreshingly personable. It is NOT, a blousy, insipid, over-oaked New World wanna-be.

Domaine Oudin, Chablis

Nathalie Oudin is a master of elegance and balance. It helps that, thanks to her parents, she possesses first-class raw materials. Their 8 hectares of vines are in clay and limestone soils and situated on the south and south-west facing hilltops surrounding the village of Chichée. Les Serres is issued from vines between 30-70 years of age from 1ier cru parcels (with a bit from the Grand Cru parcels of Vaucousins and Vaugiraut). They do everything right here: from hand-harvesting, gentle pressing, the use of only natural/indigenous yeasts (as opposed to selected yeasts), and temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks with a minimal addition of sulphites.

The pedigree is evident right from the start, with a stony, mineral nose followed by a crisp, lively and decidedly feminine palate with restrained citrus notes. It is tightly structured without being austere. It is elegant and focused.

This wine was perfection when paired with a divine truffle risotto at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.


Do you love Barolo and cannot afford its price tag? Then try Nebbiolo from its satellite appellations such as Langhe. The talented Rivetti family has a range of Nebbiolos from their vast vineyards and the other night we enjoyed Giorgio’s 2007 La Spinette from Langhe DOC. It is issued from much younger vines (5-7 years), but it is treated to the same care and attention as its older brothers and allows you to enjoy its evident potential. The elegance and race was there, as were the dried roses, the minerality and the intoxicatingly dark, sulky red fruit. This one already knows how to flirt!


Le Manoir keeps its cellars at 14-15˚ C, and as I like my Nebbiolo, especially a young one like this, at no more than 16-17˚ C, it was served perfectly, as it gains a degree or two when poured. It was perfect with our Aberdeen Angus and Grouse …


LJ Johnson-Bell


Ban Perfume from Restaurants 

We used to have non-smoking sections  - so why not "no-perfume" sections? You laugh. I jest not. This is a serious rant for me. The other night we went to Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons for dinner ... that's a big deal for us. We were sitting in the intimate, original dining room. I was in a state of rapture, eating my risotto with truffles, sipping a stunning Chablis from the Domaine Oudin, when in walks a couple who then sits at the table next to us


the perfect truffle risotto

As she wafted past me, it was an assault on my senses. I literally felt a wave of nausea that hit my knees and my head started to pound. I waited until she sat down and settled herself, hoping that when she stopped moving, she’d stop wafting. But no… the odour remained. Even husband noticed. My tongue was covered in her perfume and I could no longer taste the truffles, my nose was blocked and the steely Chardonnay lost in a cloud of sickly sweet roses. I had to ask the waiter if we could move into the conservatory – very embarrassing. The sommelier came over to see if I was alright and I explained, in French, so as to not offend my offensive neighbour (who clearly had not yet mastered her mother tongue of English). He said that the entire room smelled of it. And he reminded me that his wine training forbade any scent of even after-shave at a tasting. 


Aberdeen Angus - cut with a fork

We were installed in the large, airy conservatory and continued with our meal… stunning grouse and Angus beef with a sultry Nebbiolo from Langhe (La Spinetta). All was going well, we were about to place our pudding orders, when a young couple was brought in and placed next to us. Again, same song and dance, but not as bad. We nursed the last of our wine and decided to have pudding at home (and at £24 per pudding, this was a good decision).

Why do women think that it is appropriate to force their scent upon us, unsolicited? Don’t they know what a PERSONAL HYGEINE PRODUCT is? That is the origin of perfume …it was PERSONAL … intimate… to cover a lack of bathing… but it was only meant to be smelled by someone standing very close to you – not by everyone within 20 feet or more.

And what happened to clean, soap-smelling skin? I love skin. I prefer to smell a slightly feral body odour than a concoction of chemicals. We rely on our sense of smell more than we know – at least I do. And we can tell so much about a person by their smell – all subliminally. When I am confronted by a person covered in scent, it is as though they are wearing a mask – concealing themselves from me.

Women today use perfume as a fashion accessory. They want everyone to know how much they spent on scent. When I tell a woman that she has too much scent and that it is making me ill (yes, I tend to do this in cinemas, on planes …in any confined public space, in fact), usually, her immediate response is “but it is so-and-so, it cost a fortune – it is really good”. They are missing the point. I don’t care how expensive it is, too much of even “good” perfume is too much. Period. Further, even the most expensive scents are full of chemical and synthetic irritants. When I was living in Paris, one of my jobs found me in the Chanel labs, where I quickly learned that they were making make-up and scent for dozens of other clients – that it is all the same stuff. There are NOT 50 different ways to make a lipstick.

Anyway. Ladies, please, stop harassing me with your obnoxious, ignorant over-use of perfume and ruining my meals, my films, my travel …and the older you get, and the weaker your sense of smell, the more you seem to put on. Restrain yourselves.


LJ JOhnson-Bell


TOP FIVE Sicilian Nero d’Avola


With the winter weather upon us the natural acidity, clean minerality and earthy fruit of this native grape makes it a perfectly robust partner for all of our festive feasts ...


Mille e Una Notte Contessa Entellina Doc 2006, Donnafugata

Stunning. Balsamic notes: woody, dried herbs with a dash of spice. Elegant and complex. Refined without being uptight. The finish is complete, fresh and clean.


Alire Igt 2009, Fatascia

(50% Syrah). Modern in its use of new oak, its use of Syrah and its forward, fruity approach. But it works. The nose is fresh with a clean acidity and very focused. Gorgeous palate of chocolate and a nice finish.


Aynat Sicilia Igt 2008, Viticultori Associati Soc. Coop

A lot of oak - very much in the modern style. But it has good acidity and superb extracts which can take it.


Lu Patri Nero d’Avola Sicilia Igt 2008, Baglio del Cristo di Campobello

Another of the international style… oak is very evident but well-done. The wine is round, fresh and appealing.


Alhambra Rosso Sicilia Igp 2009, Spadafora dei Principi di Spadafora

Unoaked. Nose is fruity and fresh, the acidity is crisp and perfect. A clean, edgy wine.