Few, if any, moments in wine are more dramatic than when a producer decides it is time to pick fruit. Whether they rely upon a Brix reading, a visual cue from the grape seeds, or the finely tuned instrument of their own palate, making the call to harvest a plot of grapes is a decision fraught with consequence. Get it exactly right and you can have a legendary vintage. Get it wrong, and nothing that follows from the vine to the winery to the bottle can make up for an ill-timed harvest.
“Ripeness is balance at its apogee,” notes Julia Harding, a Master of Wine, wine critic, contributor to JancisRobinson.com, and the co-author of the often-referenced book Wine Grapes. Yet given the frequency with which “ripeness” and “balance” are used as terms in wine discussion, it is worth our time to take a step back and try to find a consensus on what they actually are (or even, if they are the same thing), and the ramifications this may hold for our sensory perception.
As we discovered, defining where that apogee of balance lies can be exceedingly difficult. Balance “resists codification,” says wine writer and Wine Scholar Guild Academic Advisor Andrew Jefford. “It varies culturally; it varies by individual; it varies by region and by variety.”
For our latest Great Debate, Andrew Jefford and Julia Harding tackle the finer points of ripeness and balance in wine. Their back-and-forth covers a lot of ground: how to decipher balance on the palate, the differences between tasting wine and drinking a wine, putting the value of alcohol levels into context, the role climate change is playing in defining our sense of taste, and even the dangers of allowing one’s intellect to override the sensual response. All of it, Jefford suggests, is in a quest for, what he calls, “resonance.”
While we may not have arrived at any convenient new truisms, in the end, wine’s remarkable ability to reveal the harmony of nature is — at least for now — something we can all agree on.
As Hugh Johnson first grasped in the late 1960s, there is no greater tool to wine understanding than fine cartography: the chance to read a landscape from a single sheet of paper. More and more wine regions around the world, moreover, are now refining the manner in which both growers and producers are able to express terroir via geological and topographical surveys, and high-quality mapping is an essential adjunct to this. No contemporary cartographer has had more impact on today's wine world than Alessandro Masnaghetti: the guest on our third edition of WSG Live.
Alessandro began his career in wine as a taster -- for the influential Luigi Veronelli, and then later for Vinum and l'Espresso, as well as for La Revue des Vins de France. He is the only Italian founder member of the Grand Jury Européen. Since 2007, though, he has gone back to a former passion of his, cartography, on the basis that "the true essence of journalism lies not in purveying opinions but in carrying out research and in-depth analysis". His magnificent maps of the Langhe and of Chianti Classico have led to new ways of thinking about these classic regions, and he has also mapped both Valpolicella and Bordeaux. He is currently engaged on a major, long-term project to map California's wine regions for Antonio Galloni's Vinous.
Join Andrew Jefford on February 24th at 12:00 noon ET as he talks to Alessandro about his career, about taste and terroir, about our understanding of viticultural landscapes and about Italy's unique contribution to the wine world -- and about much else.
Andrew Jefford, award-winning author and columnist in every issue of Decanter and World of Fine Wine, Co-Chair Decanter World Wine Awards; Vice-Chair Decanter Asia Wine Awards as well as Wine Scholar Guild Academic Advisor, gives us his insight about the 2019 vintage in France.
The beat goes on. The 2019 vintage in France marked five continuous years (since 2015) of warmer-than-average weather. Global warming is with us and accelerating – but so far, for the wine growers of France, it has been merciful.
Few consumer products in the world are more steadfastly focused on origin than wine. Think of the last great bottle of wine you enjoyed and, odds are, its place of origin featured prominently on the label.
Known as appellations, these defined areas of wine production have fostered a fanatical faithfulness to origin across the industry. Whether it is a Chianti Classico or a Chambolle-Musigny, a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon or a Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch, how we interpret wine often comes down to how we interpret the place of origin.
While the general concept around the world is the same, the approach certainly is not. In the European sense, appellations define not only the boundaries of a region but the permissible production of wine (including grape varieties, yields, winemaking techniques and more).
“It is better to call non-European systems of this sort ‘Geographical Indications,’ since outside Europe it is generally only a producing zone which is defined,” says wine writer and Wine Scholar Guild Academic Advisor, Andrew Jefford. “Grape varieties and production methods are left up to the producer, and are a matter of free choice.”
Studying the differences and similarities among appellations, as well as their traditions and modifications, can lead to a lifetime of enjoyment — or frustration.
“The tail is vigorously wagging the dog,” says wine writer Robert Joseph, who is also a producer and wine analyst. He notes that too many places lack the distinction required to make appellations practical, useful and relevant to today’s consumer. Add in the not-so-little wrinkle of climate change, and the very purpose of appellations going forward becomes a rousing debate.
So: are appellations too “rooted to the spot” to be useful in a changing world? Or do they still offer producers the best chance to market their wines on a crowded global marketplace? We sat down with Andrew Jefford and Robert Joseph and hashed it out.
Can you taste ‘minerality’? What do we mean by ‘terroir’? Where do aroma and flavour come from? Is too much attention paid to the role of the soil in discussions of the aromas and flavours of great wines? How rare are truly great winegrowing sites? These are some of the questions we aim to discuss in the upcoming Meeting of the Minds on November 25th.
Wine Scholar Guild Academic Advisor Andrew Jefford, speaking from France, will be bringing together a panel of key thinkers, educators, writers and experts in four countries to talk through these and other issues. Wales-based Professor Alex Maltman has had a forty-year teaching career, and now divides his time between writing about the relationship between geology and wine production as well as the influence of geology on other beverages and tending his own vineyard. California-based Professor Hildegarde Heymann teaches sensory science within the viticulture and oenology department of UC Davis, one of the world’s leading wine-educational institutions. Former plant scientist and science editor Dr Jamie Goode, speaking from the UK, writes, blogs and tweets about wine and wine science via his own Wine Anorak website as well as for The World of Fine Wine and other publications. Finally, speaking from Turckhiem in Alsace, comes Olivier Humbrecht MW, one of the world’s leading exponents and practitioners of site-sensitive winemaking and a widely acclaimed viticulturalist and winemaker.
This Meeting of the Minds aims to explore one of the most misunderstood yet also the most important topics in today’s wine world.
Andrew, Academic Advisor to the Wine Scholar Guild, has been writing about wine since 1988, notably for The Evening Standard and The Financial Times among other UK newspapers. He has columns in every edition of Decanter magazine and World of Fine Wine magazine, and is co-chair of Decanter World Wine Awards and vice-chair of Decanter Asia Wine Awards. His books include The New France, Whisky Island and Andrew Jefford’s Wine Course.
Emeritus Professor Alex Maltman, Aberystwyth University, geologist, teacher, writer
Professor Hildegarde Heymann, UC Davis, sensory scientist, teacher
Dr Jamie Goode, wine writer, wine judge
Olivier Humbrecht MW, wine grower, winemaker
Where are we headed? This is a question which all of us have probably asked ourselves at some point during 2020, as a global pandemic unfolds chaotically across a planet experiencing runaway climate change. Both challenges have directly affected French wine growers, with trade tariffs imposed by the USA on European winegrowers forming a third stress-inducing headwind.
Author of Inside Bordeaux, a book that has been described as the 'bible' by Le Figaro newspaper and a 'category buster' by Jamie Goode, Jane Anson has lived in Bordeaux since 2003. Here she takes a look at the wine trends that are shaping the region, its economy, its climate, the industry and its winemakers.
Wine is full of spirited debates, but few can argue that any subject matter generates more intensity these days than natural wine. Should sulphur be allowed or not? Do natural wines reveal terroir better than conventional wines? Has natural wine changed our notion of flaws?
Perhaps most controversial of all is the definition of natural wine in the first place.
These questions are constantly challenging everyone from wine critics and sommeliers to casual students of wine. We decided to bridge the topic with Wine Scholar Guild’s Academic Advisor and long-time columnist for Decanter and World of Fine Wine, Andrew Jefford, as well as Simon J Woolf, the noted natural-wine writer and author of Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine.