The worthy successor to his grandfather and father on an estate that produces some of the greatest Rieslings of Alsace: “Being a winemaker is not about measuring performance”.
For the second in Le Figaro Vin‘s series of the 50 best winemakers in France we head off to Alsace, where we meet Jean Boxler, #49. He embodies the latest generation of an iconic Alsace estate, whose grands crus are equally seductive for lovers of natural wines and for the most sophisticated palates.
Domaine Albert Boxler is a family property, founded in 1672, on the hillsides of the Upper Rhine commune of Niedermorschwihr. Having worked side by side with his father for 25 years, Jean Boxler pursues his craft with the artistry of a goldsmith, producing wines of exceptional finesse on terroir known, nevertheless, for being extremely harsh. With great wisdom, despite his relative youth, he reveals his vision of a vocation which is based, for him, on passion, resilience, and sensitivity.
Le Figaro: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?
Jean Boxler: There are no champions. Being a winemaker is not about measuring performance but something far deeper and far less tangible. When you choose to do this job, you should not aspire to be the best. You must simply love your vines and try to do your work with as much sensitivity as possible.
Have you been training for long?
I started in 1996, so I have 26 vintages under my belt. At the same time, each year feels like my first. I attempt to refine things year by year, to avoid acting impulsively, and to focus on quality. Just as in sport, it is practice that allows you to manage the difficult times and cope with the random contingencies, and it’s precisely the charm of the unpredictable that makes life interesting.
Who is your mentor?
My father (who passed away in November 2022, ed.) and, until I reached 17, my grandfather. They taught me my passion for the job.
What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?
You need a winemaker to make good wine. But it takes both to make a great one.
To what do you owe your success?
I am not sure whether success can be measured by any specific criterion, as I don’t like to be pigeonholed in a particular style. I think that wine involves something more conceptual. First and foremost, wine is a social bond. In current winemaking talk I notice a kind of radicalisation in the approach to production methods, sometimes to the detriment of the wine. Sadly, that creates a disconnection from the true purpose of production. There is no rule book for making good wine, rather there are different ways of getting there. The secret of success is therefore more to do with passion, conviction, and self-denial, which invariably end up paying off.
My parents and grandparents had a certain style, taste, and a concern for balance and simplicity, combined with a desire to produce grapes of exceptional quality, without ever resorting to cutting corners or to technical excess. Our success is measured by the loyalty of our customers, some of whom have enjoyed our wines for over 30 years. That has given us our greatest satisfaction; we make wines that we like to drink.
Is your family proud of you?
It’s not a subject that we ever touch on. My father and I shared our passion for wine, day by day, for 25 years. He was my best guide. We never spoke about pride but about wine and nature.
Who are your best supporters?
I would say our American importer from the 1980s, Robert Chadderdon. It was a serendipitous meeting, with an outstanding taster, and we were on the same wavelength. He had a great deal of respect for our work.
Red or white wine?
I have a soft spot for Rieslings, so it’s whites. But balance, emotion, and vibrancy are what I look for most of all.
The king of grape varieties?
Riesling. It is complex, has a lot of character, and is completely uncompromising. It perfectly reflects how you nurture it. It is incapable of hiding its feelings. This is no doubt down to our transparent terroir, with its crystalline granite soils on which Riesling is an open book. Riesling combines great purity with great candour.
Your favourite wine?
The Riesling Sommerberg Grand Cru “E” (lieu-dit Eckberg).
Your favourite vintage?
2017, which was a complete vintage across the spectrum. Otherwise, no doubt, 2023!
If your wine was a person, who would it be?
A wine is made in its maker’s image
What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?
When you are relaxed.
Have you ever thought about chemically enhancing yourself, or your wine?
No, because winemaking is not a competition. Everything depends on being able to mitigate any defects by making the right decisions, especially during the harvest. By keeping tuned into your plots, your work is already done. Doping and comparable interventions are an admission of failure. Their consequence is that your wine can never achieve greatness.
For what price would you be prepared to sell your estate?
I have three boys, two of them interested in winemaking, so the question does not arise.
Who is your strongest competition in Alsace?
Probably Gérard Schueller, even if his son Bruno has gone down a different route. The father’s wines were monumental.
Which competitions do you dread the most?
The harvest. It is, at once, the most beautiful of times and the most anxiety-inducing, because you have to manage the human, the climate, and the condition of the vines. I would say that the greatest challenge today, because of the climate, is the fear of destabilisation.
What was your greatest win?
Passing on my love of winemaking to the next generation.
What has been your most innovative strategy?
Understanding how to work with people. Wine is a team sport.
Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?
As the year draws to a close, Wine Lister has published its 2022 Wine Leagues – the third of our annual reports celebrating the top-performing wines and producers within several categories over the past year. The Leagues reveal exciting developments in the world of fine wine, shining a light on consumer trends and estates on the rise, informed by an in-depth trade survey with key industry figures.
Please see some of our key findings below, or click here to download the full study.
With a bank of knowledge on some of the world’s most delectable wines, sommeliers have the ultimate insider insight into which bottles are worth picking up. With this in mind, Wine Lister asked some of the world’s top sommeliers to share with us their favourite wines retailing for under £35 per bottle.
Clockwise from top left: Joshua Castle (Noble Rot), Lesley Liu (Odette), Marc Almert (Baur au Lac), Martin Jean (Domaine les Crayères), Sara Rossi (Trinity)
Joshua Castle (Noble Rot, London)
Joshua contends that “without a shadow of a doubt, Greece is producing some of the best value-for-money wines”, noting that “the most successful producers are tapping into the country’s long viticultural history, wealth of old vines, and indigenous varieties”. He cites white wines produced from grapes such as Robolla, Roditis, and Savatiano “have been a huge success in the UK on-trade” while his pick his for “a great-value Greek wine is the red Agiorgitiko ‘Natur’ from Tetramythos, a producer based in the Peloponnese”. “Acidity, fresh flavours, and light extraction are on the agenda”, according to Joshua, who admires winemaker Panagiotis Papagiannopoulos’ tempering of Agiorgitiko’s often tannic profile – resulting in a bright crunchy expression. “I first drank it at the fantastic central Athens wine bar ‘Heteroclito’ where its energetic fruit, moderate alcohol, and glou-glou style has me hooked.”
Agiorgitiko ‘Natur’ 2021 can be found in Noble Rot’s London wine shop, Shrine to the Vine, for £17 per bottle
Lesley Liu (Odette Restaurant, Singapore)
Lesley recommends a Torrontés, citing how well it compliments the tropical climate of Singapore with its refreshing minerality and “lingering floral and sweet notes of delicate exotic fruit, fleshy citrus, and wild honey”.
Lesley is particularly impressed by the barrel-fermented Torrontés produced by Susana Balbo – the first woman in Argentina to graduate with a degree in oenology. Lesley describes it as “a new chapter for Torrontés”, due to the complexity imparted by the French oak barrels – “an unusual choice for aromatic varieties”. She commends the versatility of the grape, which lends it to being a great match for all manner of Asian dishes as its “acidity can cut through the oil present”.
Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2019 can be found in Roberts and Speight from £18 per bottle.
Marc Almert (Baur au Lac, Zürich)
Marc points to the wines of Côtes du Rhône for “some of the true best-buys in French wine”, and advocates looking beyond the big-name appellations such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côte Rôtie, and instead towards smaller regional appellations which “often offer great ‘bang for your buck’, whilst displaying a sense of terroir”.
Marc recommends the Mistral Domaine de Ferrand. “The Bravay family named this highly-quaffable entry into their portfolio after the namesake northwesterly wind which is key to Rhône Valley viticulture.” He praises its palate, which boasts “a rich array of violet, spice, and of course dark red fruits” and says that “it possesses a great acidity back-bone, soft tannins despite its youth, and is the kind of red wine I like to enjoy after a long service.”
Mistral Domaine de Ferrand 2020 is available from Hedonism Wines for around £19 per bottle.
Martin Jean (Domaine les Crayères, Reims)
Martin shares a recent favourite from a blind tasting with friends – “a sommelier friend had brought the Jaspe 2016 cuvée from Dominique Hauvette. It was a real favourite during the tasting, and something that I would want to share around a barbecue, with some grilled spiny lobster, decorated with some Provençal tomatoes, and an eggplant pie – simple dishes to share with family and friends.”
Martin praises this biodynamic, Roussanne-dominated cuvée for “its balance, its vibrancy, and saline notes”.
Domaine Hauvette ‘Jaspe’ 2016 is currently difficult to find in the UK, but can be found in outlets abroad such as Terroirs in Dublin from around £34 per bottle (excl. shipping).
Sara Rossi (Trinity Restaurant, London)
Sara has always been “fascinated by Slovenian wines because of their unique style and personality”. She particularly recommends Cotar Terra Rossa, a blend of Teran, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, describing its “delicate aromas of violet, sour red cherries, rosemary, and sage”. Sara praises its “refreshing acidity and firm tannins”, as well as its “long and complex finish”. Her ideal pairing for Terra Rossa would be “homemade truffle linguini pasta or roast grouse”.
Though currently unavailable in the UK, Cotar Terra Rossa 2009 can be found in European retailers such as Germany’s Vinoteca Maxima from £22 per bottle (excl. shipping).
The insider’s guide to fine wine trends, and the most compelling wines to watch
Wine Lister has released its second annual Wine Leagues, celebrating some of the top-performing wines and producers in today’s new and much-diversified fine wine era. Informed by an in-depth trade survey with leading industry figures, the report provides a 360° view of those regions, producers, and wines that have seen strides in quality, popularity, economic promise, and more in 2021.
Wine Lister’s annual in-depth survey sees our expert panel of 47 CEOs, MDs, and wine department heads share their insight on some of the fine wines to have on your radar, as we ask them:
“What are the most compelling wines and producers in the market today?”
Respondents singled out 188 wines and producers collectively, that span no less than 20 major regions. Within the list, our team identifies Bibi Graetz, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Roberto Voerzio, Berthaut-Gerbet, and Fürst as wines to watch in the Old World, whilst calling out the New World wonders of Catena Zapata, Errazuriz, Pedro Parra, Rhys Vineyards, and Ridge Vineyards.
The report also includes rankings across:
- Biggest quality improvers, which show impressive movement from Italy (occupying five places in the list of the top 20 by Quality score progression), with Isole e Olena Chianti Classico leading the pack
- Best search rank movers, wherein Bordeaux represents eight of the top 20 wines whose popularity has increased most in terms of online searches (including Smith Haut Lafitte, Domaine de Chevalier, Figeac, and Léoville Poyferré)
- Burgundy superstars, focusing on popularity movements from the trade’s darling region – Arnoux-Lachaux features 10 times in the list of top 20 Burgundian wines whose online searches have increased the most over the last two years
- Wine Lister’s top-10 recommendations per Wine Lister Indicator; Hidden Gems, Value Picks, Buzz Brands, and Investment Staples in 2021
For the full analysis, download your free copy of Wine Lister’s 2021 Leagues here.
As 2020 draws to a close, Wine Lister has compiled a report celebrating the top-performing wines and producers within a series of categories over the past year. Using our axes of Quality, Brand, and Economics, and the several factors that constitute these values, we have created seven leagues that paint a panoramic view of some of the world’s best wines, ranked within their areas of excellence.
Wine Lister’s 2020 Leagues include rankings of Quality Consistency (wines that show the smallest standard deviation between Quality scores over the last 20 vintages), and Biggest Movers (wines whose popularity has increased most in terms of online searches over the past year). Our team has also put together its top-10 wines per Wine Lister Indicator, revealing our recommendations for Hidden Gems, Value Picks, Buzz Brands, and Investment Staples.
We end the Leagues with a list of 21 Ultimate MUST BUYs for 2021, compiling a selection of MUST BUY highlights hand-picked by our fine wine experts, that offer an impressive addition to any fine wine portfolio in 2021. These are some of the picks that would feature in Wine Lister’s “fantasy cellar”.
Download your free copy of Wine Lister’s 2020 Leagues here.
Top chefs are often interrogated on their favourite dishes to cook at home, actors on their favourite films, writers on their favourite books – Wine Lister has sought out the ultimate drinking inspiration for special occasions, interviewing a handful of top wine producers on their favourite wines.
From left to right: Axel Heinz, Chiara Boschis, Gaia Gaja, Jacques Devauges, and Marielle Cazaux
Axel Heinz – Ornellaia
“It’s certainly the most difficult question to answer for a winemaker”, Axel begins. Born in Germany, and spending his early career in Bordeaux before joining Ornellaia, his choice, once we twisted his arm, sits far from his professional vinous journey. “It would be a white, from my favourite Grand Cru in Burgundy: Corton Charlemagne”, he confesses, explaining that for him, these wines combine the structure and power of a red wine, with “the vibrancy, fragrance, and minerality that one can only find in great whites”. Admiring its capacity for a faithful expression of terroir, and display of true personal signature, he cites Coche-Dury as his go-to producer.
Chiara Boschis – E.Pira e Figli
With Barolo in her blood (her relatives founded the historic Giacomo Borgogno estate), it is not unusual that Chiara Boschis’ favourite wine should hail from this same noble Italian region. She tells us that she understood from a young age “the privilege to be born in such a generous land”, for which her parents, and the people around her had “great love and respect”. After years in the cellar at E.Pira, she too became “entirely captured by the magic of Barolo”. Chiara’s top choice is therefore a Barolo from the Mosconi vineyard for its “complexity and depth”, Cannubi for its “elegance”, and the vineyards of Via Nuova for their “diversity”.
Gaia Gaja – Gaja
While paying homage to her family’s past through her own wines, fifth generation winemaker, Gaia Gaja also has one eye on the future. Her favourite wine, from rising star appellation Mount Etna, Sicily, is Graci’s Etna Rosso Arcuria. The wine is made from one of the latest ripening European varieties, Nerello Mascalese, in one of the highest vineyards in Europe. She discovered it after “becoming close friends with Alberto Graci and his family”, often visiting them in Etna. Gaia explains that “the contrasts between its vibrancy, freshness, and warmth, as well as its perfume and smoky minerality”, remind her of “the snow and the fire of Etna”. Comparing it to Nebbiolo, she believes the grape has “intriguing personality, a strong identity of place, and a medium body that makes it versatile and easy to drink”.
Jacques Devauges – Clos des Lambrays
Moving from Clos de Tart to Clos des Lambrays last year, Jacques Devauges’ top wine of all-time was born close to home. He tells us that Comte Georges de Vogüé’s Musigny catalysed his passion for wine. Sampling the 1971 and 1978 as a teenager, he was “struck” by both, despite knowing very little about wine at that point. Jacques believes Vogüé’s Musigny shows “the signature of the Grand Vin”, to impress “not only the wine geek, or the collector, but everyone, even those who don’t know what makes a good wine”. Describing what “was almost a shock”, he notes that the “level of perfume on the nose was almost like a perfume you can put on your skin”, while the palate was “soft and delicate”.
Marielle Cazaux – La Conseillante
Joining La Conseillante from neighbouring Petit-Village in 2015, Marielle Cazaux tells us that if she had to pick a favourite wine, it would be Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, because she “has so many special memories with this wine”. As an intern at Ridge in 2001, she had the chance to taste several vintages with the legendary Paul Draper, whom she calls “one of the most gifted winemakers of the US”. Marielle considers Monte Bello a “wine with extraordinary finesse”, and “a total sense of harmony”. Describing its notes of “black pepper, lavender, mocha, liquorice, and dried flowers”, she observes that it is “perhaps one of the most “Bordeaux” style wines in California”.
From left, Nicolas Audebert, Nicolas Glumineau, Pierre-Olivier Clouet, Veronique Boss Drouhin, and Will Harlan
Nicolas Audebert – Rauzan-Ségla, Canon, and Berliquet
With some of the world’s most prestigious wineries under his belt (Terrazas de Los Andes, Cheval des Andes, Moët & Chandon, Krug, Veuve Clicquot), Nicolas echoes Axel Heinz in attempting to pick his favourite wine: “it’s impossible to answer. It’s like music – endless, initiatory, and progressive”. He instead recommends a wine from his friend, winemaker Andrea Felluga, with whom he “shares wine at simple, festive tables with lots of laughter”. He tells Wine Lister that Felluga’s wine, Livio Felluga Terre Alte “is a great white from Friuli” – a “land of contrast between the sunny and singing soul of Italy and the Alpine foothills, austere and cool”. Made from a blend of Friulano, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Blanc, the Terre Alte is, according to Nicolas, like Felluga – “happy and lively”.
Nicolas Glumineau – Pichon Comtesse
On the subject of his favourite wine, Nicolas Glumineau (previously of Haut-Brion, Margaux, and Montrose), tells us that there are so many wines he could note – “Rayas 1990, E. Guigal La Mouline 1976, Cristal 1996, Trotanoy 2009, Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace 2015”. White Burgundy legend, Coche-Dury, nonetheless gets another vote from Nicolas (on top of praise from Axel Heinz) as he reminisces trying the Meursault Caillerets 2006 for the first time in London, and being “choked, speechless, and moved by such perfection”. He describes the “delicacy of its white flower aromas and the elegance of its mineral and endless finish”, and recalls the feeling “that the world has stopped turning and that time has been suspended”.
Pierre-Olivier Clouet – Cheval Blanc
Echoing the sentiment of several of his peers, Pierre-Olivier Clouet (who has been at Cheval Blanc for 16 years), tells us that “it is impossible to choose just one wine”, because “like wine, the palate of the taster is constantly evolving”. Pierre-Olivier nonetheless notes his current favourite is “Mas Jullien – a wine that fully expresses the identity of the place where it is made, and injects the touch of balance and freshness that characterises all the great wines of the world”. He recalls that the last time he tasted the Languedoc red – a blend of Syrah, Carignan, and Mourvèdre – was with his team, on the last day of Cheval Blanc’s 2020 harvest.
Veronique Boss Drouhin – Joseph Drouhin
Fourth-generation winemaker, Veronique Boss Drouhin tells us that a wine she particularly enjoys was introduced to her by her close friend, Christine Vernay, daughter of the late Georges Vernay (praised for his key role in the survival of the Condrieu appellation). Veronique recalls Vernay opening a bottle of Georges Vernay Condrieu Coteau de Vernon, and being enchanted by its “aromatics, jumping out of the glass – unique, fragrant, and complex”, and a palate that was “powerful, voluptuous, and round, but with acidity to balance it” – a rarity for Viognier. She also cites Georges & Christophe Roumier’s Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses as one of her favourites, adding, “Christophe’s [wine] is one of the nicest, purest, more elegant expressions of Pinot”.
Will Harlan – Promontory
Leading Harlan Estates‘ second-generation venture, Will Harlan explains to us that while he cannot choose a favourite, Jacques-Frederic Mugnier’s Musigny 2001 is a wine that he believes to “belong among the finest”. Will recalls coming across the bottle while “travelling with colleagues through Copenhagen a few years ago”, and as there hadn’t been a correct time to open it, the bottle joined them “on a course through Germany to Switzerland”. Having finally found an appropriate evening in Zurich to open it, “by the lake — the first bit of rest since the trip began”, he was “drawn in, as each feature of the wine, with a humble nobility, felt very naturally and confidently in its place”. Will notes it was a “wine that was singular and true”, that “would mark a memorable evening of our travels and in our friendships”.
Like a virtual treasure map, Wine Lister’s Hidden gem indicator helps you discover fine wines that are under the radar, yet worth uncovering. These wines are seldom found in the top restaurants, infrequently searched for online, but have high ratings from wine critics, or are assigned “Hidden gem” status by the global fine wine trade.
Of the 1,639 wines that are currently recognised as MUST BUYs by Wine Lister’s proprietary recommendation algorithm, 87 are Hidden gems. To help you uncover these underrated wines, this week we examine the Hidden gem MUST BUYs with WL scores above 95.
A preliminary look at the elected wines reveals a common trend of lower-than-average prices. While achieving WL scores of 95 and over, the 15 red Hidden gems illustrated above have an average price of £67 (per bottle in-bond) – perhaps a consequence of their slight obscurity. By virtue of being “Hidden gems”, these wines are also harder to source, however, it is worth informing your merchant of your interest in purchasing them, in the event of their availability.
Burgundy achieves five entries in this week’s subgroup, with two from a small-production négociant house, Lucien Le Moine. Well-deserving of their Hidden gem status, both wines achieve a WL score of 96. The 2012 Lucien Le Moine Charmes-Chambertin is available from Lay & Wheeler at £173 (per bottle in-bond), and the 2012 Lucien Le Moine Gevrey Chambertin Les Cazetiers can be purchased from BI Fine Wine & Spirits for £83 (per bottle in-bond).
California is represented by two wines of the same vintage and grape. The Ojai Vineyard Bien Nacido Pinot Noir 2014 hails from vines in Santa Barbara’s Santa Maria Valley, whose east-to-west face encourages the flow of cooling Pacific Ocean breezes, apt for the Burgundian variety. The Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 from cult California producer, Calera, is produced from vines in several sites across the Central Coast.
Two entries from Rhône’s Tardieu-Laurent show notably good quality-to-price ratios, achieving “Value pick” status. With a WL Score of 96, the 2005 Cornas Vieilles Vignes is priced at £43 (per bottle in-bond), while the 2006 Gigondas Vieilles Vignes has a WL Score of 95 at £24.
A joint venture between two négociants, Dominique Laurent (of Burgundy fame), and Michel Tardieu (Rhône), Tardieu-Laurent is a boutique négociant operation. Buying young wines from growers across the Rhône, the domain completes maturation and blending, before bottling with no fining nor filtration. The 2005 Tardieu-Laurent Cornas Vieilles Vignes is available to purchase from Fine + Rare (in magnum form), and the 2006 Tardieu-Laurent Gigondas Vieilles Vignes can be bought from Wine Bourse (by the case of 12).
Tardieu-Laurent also features twice on the list of white Hidden gem MUST BUYs, with both its 2008 and 2016 Hermitages Blancs achieving WL Scores of 95.
Like their red counterparts, Tardieu-Laurent’s white Hidden gems are Value picks. Jancis Robinson pays compliment to both vintages, describing the 2008 as “Clean, intense, multilayered”, and the 2016 as “Very serious stuff”. Both wines can be purchased from Corney & Barrow (by the case of 12 in-bond).
Five out of the 10 white Hidden gems shown above are Riesling-based. There is no doubt that the noble grape can produce impressive quality wines at reasonable prices, though this remains somewhat of a fine wine trade secret (when compared with the consumer popularity of other white grape varieties and styles).
The two whites from Alsace cover icon Riesling producers Hugel and Albert Mann. Germany’s entries comprise of the 2006 and 2007 vintages of Dr. Loosen Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel, which achieve WL Scores of 96 and 95 respectively.
Loosen’s four-acre Erdener Prälat vineyard has south-facing red slate soils, and a notably warm microclimate, which, combined with the warming effect of the river and the heat-retaining cliffs that surround it, ensures ripeness in every vintage. The 2006 Dr. Loosen Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel can be purchased from Lay & Wheeler for £47 (per bottle in-bond).
To discover more of Wine Lister’s Hidden gem MUST BUYs, click here.