From publisher Peter Burford
Posted on

Here are some interesting thoughts on new trends in the wine world from
Linda Johnson-Bell, whose book PAIRING WINE AND FOOD has just been re-issued in
a new edition.  I think Linda is among the most informed and thoughtful critics in the wine scene today. 

Here’s what she says in the introduction to the new edition:


Welcome to the 2012 edition of Pairing Wine and Food. Since I first
wrote this book in 1999, the international wine scene has known some real
changes. There are two that I wish to briefly touch upon here, as they will
influence the way in which food and wine is matched.


First is that the war waging between “Old World” and “New World” has shifted. Where
there was once a clear demarcation between, say, a Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux and one from New
Zealand, the Old World classic model was considered the more subtle, complex, and traditional. But
what I am seeing, hearing, and tasting now is that the distinction is not so
clear-cut anymore. There are New World winemakers striving and succeeding in
making wines that closely resemble their classic models and there are even more
Old World winemakers who are making international, homogeneous, non-terroir-driven wines. While the
Californians were trying to copy the Bordelais, the Bordelais were trying to
copy the Californians. It has become quite a confusing mess.


So now we speak of “traditional” versus “non-traditional” in the trade. Within every region I visit, whether I am in
Pessac-Léognan, Chianti Classico, or Rioja, I am hearing the same debate: Are these wines being made in an international style (overly extracted fruit,
dominant oak, high alcohol, and so forth)? Or are they traditional: Do they taste as though they come from Pessac-Léognan, Chianti Classico and Rioja? If Iclosed my eyes, could this be Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Sangiovese, andTempranillo from anywhere? I am loath to admit that when I close my eyes in Bordeaux lately, sipping a wine of 15.5 percent alcohol, I wonder if I am in the BarossaValley.


The second change worth mentioning is partly responsible for the first one: climate change. Perversely, as European
producers aimed to up the sugar/alcohol content in their wines, so to create the heavy, bold, alcoholic wines the New World consumers prefer (due to their
hot climates), Mother Nature started doing it for them.  So now the effect is two-fold.  According to a study conducted by researchers
at Stanford University in California, there could be “50% less land suitable for cultivating premium wine grapes in high-value areas of Northern California
even as some cooler parts of Oregon and Washington state would becomecorrespondingly better for growing grapes” (the study’s author is Subhash
Arora: visit   for more information). High alcoholic levels in a wine, whether a deliberate
style-choice made by a winemaker or an unavoidable result of the changing climatic conditions, erase a grape’s varietal character, its distinctive
characteristics. Combined with high yields or other less than meticulous winemaking techniques and we are soon unable to distinguish a Primitivo from a
Pinot Noir. Some varieties only do well in cooler climates. There are a few things a winemaker can do to mitigate the damage, but ultimately, we will be
seeing more and more replanting around the world: A very expensive and time-consuming process. This is far too broad and controversial a topic to
tackle here, but the relevance to food and wine pairing is that it has become increasingly difficult to consistently describe regional styles when attempting
to explain a wine’s taste.