France’s 50 best winemakers: Domaine Valentin Zusslin’s Jean-Paul Zusslin

Owner and winemaker, in tandem with his sister Marie, of their family estate in Alsace: “We run on adrenaline”.












For the tenth interview in Le Figaro Vin’s series we pay our third visit to Alsace to meet Jean-Paul Zusslin, #41. He and his sister Marie work hand-in-hand with nature to create their great Alsace wines at Domaine Valentin Zusslin, founded in the late seventeenth century, at Orschwir, between Colmar and Mulhouse. The two siblings, 13th generation of a family of winemakers, work 13.5 hectares of vines, made up of nine grape varieties (Auxerrois, Chardonnay, Chasselas, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinots Noir and Gris, Riesling, and Sylvaner). The estate’s three select terroirs, on the slopes of Bollenberg, Clos Liebenberg, and Grand Cru Pfingstberg, have been cultivated biodynamically since 1997, and produce exquisite, exciting, and elegant Alsace wines.

Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Jean-Paul Zusslin: I am very happy with what we have been able to achieve since my sister and I joined forces on the family estate in 2000. The estate’s reputation has grown, and we make wholesome wines which are true to us and our environment.

Have you been training for long?

Since forever, I think. Vines, wines, wine-lovers, and restaurants have all been part of my daily life from a very young age, and I never tire of them!

Who is your mentor?

My partner, my children, my sister, my mother, all my kindred winemakers. Nature, too, is a good guide when you pay it proper attention.

Is wine a team sport?

You need plenty of team-mates and have to be in good shape to make a good wine. It is important to me that everyone should work well together, start the day with a smile, be generous-spirited, and want to work hard and conscientiously. That said, I am not hugely competitive! I am a big fan of live shows and I see us more as a theatre company with me as the director. The spectators are the tasters, the actors are the vines and our team, while the playwright who guides us is nature. We try to interpret nature as faithfully as possible.

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?

To make a good wine you have to be a good winemaker, but to make a great one you have to understand its terroir, its environment. That comes from experience, accumulated through successive vintages, from observation, from challenging yourself, and from humility.

To what do you owe your success?

To my family, to my partnership with my sister, to doing what I love, and to my perseverance. When I joined the family estate in 2000 my parents and grandparents gave me the freedom to experiment and do what I wanted, especially in the cellar. They gave me the same freedom in the vineyard, where I have experimented with herbal treatments, biodynamic sprays, the introduction of nesting-boxes…

Is your family proud of you?

Yes, I think they are, I certainly hope so! I am equally appreciative of everyone’s contribution.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My mother, but without a trace of objectivity!

Your favourite colour? 

White in the morning, bubbles at midday, deep yellow for afternoon tea, and red in the evening.

The king of grape varieties?

It’s hard to say, to choose is to go without! I love all the wines that I make. It’s like asking me which is my favourite child. I love both of them unconditionally. That said, I am very partial to Riesling, for its multiple dimensions, its freshness, and its versatility in matching with food.

Your favourite wine?

I am very fond of Clos Liebenberg, it’s a unique spot, a haven of biodiversity where I love to spend time, and it produces magnificent still and sparkling wines.

Your favourite vintage?

I would go for 2015, the last vintage with my father. Each year brings a new experience, a new encounter. For every vintage we spring into action, give it everything we’ve got, and the fruits of our labour are there in the bottle. Every wine has a story to tell and reminds us of some climatic or some personal event.

If your wine was a person, who would it be?

I hope it is like me, on a good day! But it is also like our landscape through the passing seasons.

What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?

Wine is a social bond, a product that we share, therefore it has to be in good company, over a meal or in the living room.

Have you ever thought about chemically enhancing yourself, or your wine? 

Yes, all the time. I try to stimulate both vine and wine with willpower and with attentive, loving care. I think it is important that both vine and wine know what we expect from them, what our intentions are. We have to give heart and soul for them, always be there for them, and stay tuned in. My vinifications are very minimalist and natural but require careful attention. As for my personal stimulants of choice, they are wine, in moderation I like to think, positive energy, and strong coffee…

For what price would you be prepared to sell your estate?

I have never considered that question. For 13 generations now my family has been making wine and looking after a bit of land. I would be very happy if I could pass that on to my children or to my sister’s children. It will be their choice, with no pressure from me. In any case, that’s for the future. I am not about to go anywhere.

Who is your strongest competition in Alsace?

No one. Instead, I see my winemaking colleagues as a source of inspiration. Everyone has their own style. When I’m at home I almost exclusively taste wines that are not my own. I try to understand what the winemaker sought to express and to discover what makes them tick. Faced with climate change we are going to have to form a collective front against numerous challenges, hence all the more reason to get on well.

Which competitions do you dread the most?

The harvest. We run on adrenaline. There are lots of team-mates to manage, you have to bring home the wines, and the days are long. By comparison the Mont Blanc ultra marathon is a walk in the park!

What is your greatest trophy?

When you start the day among the vines and you see a hare, a pheasant, a tit has come to say hello. Or perhaps when my children tell me “That’s really good!”. And when our customers tell me that my wine does them good.

What has been your most innovative strategy in the vineyard and in the cellar?

From the moment I came to the estate in 2000 I have been passionate about the natural cultivation of vines, observing and classifying the plants and small animals and insects that live in the vineyard. The estate had already been converted to biodynamic viticulture in 1997, on the initiative of my father, Jean-Marie Zusslin. I found that fascinating and delved deeply into alternative methods, especially the use of herbs. I acquired a lot of knowledge in this field about plants that produce essential oils. I have tried out different methods of extraction (infusion, decoction, and maceration) and potentisation. Currently I macerate the plants in alcohol to extract more of their essential elements. It’s an ongoing experiment, but the results so far are encouraging. The idea is also to become self-sufficient in caring for our vines, to strengthen them without stressing them.

In the cellar, for a number of years now, I have passed some fermenting wines over marcs from our great reds. That produces greater flavour, fewer tannins, and an unbelievable drinkability. We have called this wine Ophrys, after the orchids which grow on the sheltered part of Bollenberg hill.

Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?

I hope it will be my children, or my sister’s children. But only if they choose this freely and because they are passionate about it. I think that they respect what we are doing. We try pass on to them what excites us. But it’s not an issue for the time being. I very much want to try and make another 40 vintages!

France’s 50 best winemakers: Bollinger’s cellar master, Denis Bunner

Chef de caves of one of Champagne’s most distinguished independent houses: “The best things in life stay the same”.













For the ninth in Le Figaro Vin’s series we take our second trip to Champagne to meet Denis Bunner, #42. His interview reveals a distinctive perspective on Champagne, one which combines respect for traditional values with his vision for the future.

A son of Alsace, oenologist Denis Bunner joined the Champagne house of Bollinger as deputy chef de caves in 2013. Ten years later he has replaced Gilles Descôtes as head winemaker, taking over the reins in a seamless transition. With a remarkable collection of over 700,000 reserve magnums, Bollinger enjoys its status as one of Champagne’s most iconic houses. It remains one of the pioneers of Coteaux Champenois with its renowned La Côte aux Enfants, while with every passing vintage it maintains the purity of an utterly inimitable style.

Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Denis Bunner: It is a little disconcerting to be given that title because, as far as I am concerned, what matters most is team spirit. Although people tend to give all the credit to the chef de cave, the reality is that many separate elements combine to make a great champagne. My job is to bring out the power of the collective, to bring everyone together. I am also a musician and I love being the conductor. One should never forget that making champagne requires a great deal of time. Once you have finished with the composition there is a period when you have to let it rest, and then comes the disgorgement, another critical stage. It is important to recognise that we rely on expertise at every stage of vinification. Given that we carry out so much of the process by hand, the human contribution is crucial.

Have you been training for long?

From the cradle! My parents are winemakers in Alsace, and I have always been close to nature with an affinity for all living beings. I have been in Champagne for 20 years now, and I have been tasting two or three times a day since I was 20. I was fortunate to be a member of the Laboratory of Tasting and Sensory Analysis, and it is tasting that has mapped out my journey.

Who is your mentor?

It’s more a case of people who have inspired me. I have met a whole host of leading figures in Champagne who have enabled me to get where I am today. Among them was Gilles Descôtes, who has now left us (he died in January 2023, ed.). He is the person who really shaped me and showed me the way.

Is wine a team sport?

Yes, absolutely. With 4,000 barrels in our cellar we stick to very traditional working methods, which are highly dependent on human resources, and that’s what makes Bollinger a unique champagne.

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?

Both of them. To begin with we devote an enormous amount of care and attention to every stage, from the vineyard right through to the phases of fermentation. After the fermentations we are engaged in an exhaustive quest for perfection, with our decision to vinify in small containers. It has to be a co-operative effort between man and nature, and close observation is the key to everything.

To what do you owe your success?

My parents, who have passed on their predilection for a job well done. They are rigorous in their attention to detail, aesthetics, and craftsmanship. That’s the commitment you have to make, without knowing if and when you will reap the rewards. The best feeling is when a wine reaches the market, and you realise that all your hard work has paid off. Over and above the desire to achieve success, there is the prize for perseverance. All the more so in Champagne, which takes a long view of time in a world that moves much too fast.

Is your family proud of you?

My parents are too modest to say so. They are very pleased that I have chosen to stay in the sector, but they are souls of discretion and I think they prefer not to mention it.

Your favourite colour? 

Blue in everyday life, the colour of the ocean and serenity. It’s a colour which grounds us and is important to me. As far as wine is concerned then it has to be white, because of my roots and my culture.

The king of grape varieties?

My favourite is Pinot Noir because it’s the predominant grape variety at Bollinger. I love its style and its personality. It is temperamental, and it’s a characteristic of ours to vinify it for whites in the same way as for reds. We still have a Côte aux Enfants 1934 in the cellar, a wine that has never been marketed, but which remains delicious. We are proud to have played an integral part in the culture of still wines in Champagne, and to have been followed by many other houses. Nowadays these wines have become more full-bodied, mature further, and make very fine reds. Which is paradoxical, since while we try to slow down climate change, we also get to benefit from some of its effects. Since 1999 we have also profited greatly from our technical collaboration with Domaine Chanson, and we maintain some very strong relationships with Burgundy.

Your favourite wine?

It’s a Pinot Noir, on a foundation of 2015, which is in our house’s DNA. It’s a wine from the heart which I made with Gilles before he left us: the PNVZ 2016.

Your favourite vintage?

1928, which is freighted with emotion, the greatest wine in our Wine Libraries, and, to my mind, the greatest Champagne vintage of all. It is packed with freshness and complexity. In 1938 Madame Bollinger wrote: “The 1928 is great and I predict a great future for it”. We found these words in the archives after tasting it, and we can say that history has proved her right. We have always used cork for this tirage. The easiest approach would have been to use a metal stopper, but sticking to the concept of using cork is a stamp of the house style.

If your wine was a person, who would it be?

Not necessarily a person. While I find it quite hard to pin down, I would compare it to the painting of a great master, to a landscape viewed from a passing train on which shifting planes are superimposed. Our champagne has a highly evolving style, you pass through successive stages of fresh, ripe, stewed, and dried fruits, before you enter the creamy dimension, followed by the salinity, the complexity…

What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?

My first answer is with friends. We remember some champagnes because we have shared them. In the first place, I love sharing. I was married last year and had a get-together with some childhood friends that I have known since I was four, where I was struck by something fundamental: the best things in life stay the same. My second answer, in my capacity as an oenologist, is in a blind tasting, for the fun of discovery and the experience of surprise.

Have you ever thought about chemically enhancing yourself, or your wine? 

Not really, what would be the point? There is no call for it, it’s the direct opposite of what Bollinger is about. As Madame Bollinger already used to say, back in her day: “Less is more”.

Who is your strongest competition in Champagne?

As someone who cultivates a collaborative professional culture, I see the others as colleagues, not competitors, and there is strength in unity. If, on the other hand, I had to pick a role-model, I would choose winemakers who have been able to put love for the terroir back at the heart of things, the ones who have nurtured and reinvigorated the terroirs of Champagne. From our perspective, we are fully aligned with this approach to the terroir, and we are taking it forward, with the village-based expressions of PN, with the creation of La Côte aux Enfants in a champagne version, and with the whole range of our parcel-focused wines.

Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?

I think more in terms of taking a step forward than of taking one up or down. So I do not see myself as on a podium. And for the time being the question does not arise.

France’s 50 best winemakers: Domaine Zind-Humbrecht’s Olivier Humbrecht

Head of the estate and descendant of a family whose winemaking roots go back 500 years: “You can enjoy a rewarding conversation with a great wine all on your own”.

The eighth in Le Figaro Vin’s series finds us heading back to Alsace, to Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Turckheim. Here we meet winemaker Olivier Humbrecht, #43, who has been responsible for the cultivation of over 40 hectares of biodynamic vines since the early 2000s. Picking up the baton from his father, Leonard, and assisted by his son, Pierre-Émile, Olivier Humbrecht creates sublime wines which fully express their extraordinary terroirs. He nurtures those terroirs with passion, commitment, and a profound respect for their natural balance.

Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?

Olivier Humbrecht: I am not sure what a winemaking champion is. Is it someone who wins a race or who tops the rankings? Everything is so subjective in the field of wine, depending on individual taste and the circumstances of tasting. If you really want to make a great wine you go through moments of dread, you are tested, you must challenge yourself repeatedly and be ready for the worst that the climate, technical issues, society, or anything else might throw at you. It can be a very stressful experience but, when you know you have given it your all, you have nothing to regret.

Have you been training for long?

Our family has been making wine in Alsace since the early seventeenth century. My first officialvintage is 1989. I am the 12th generation, my son the 13th. He joined the estate three years ago. It is important to acknowledge how far you have come and what you have achieved, as it is for any athlete. Training is partly to do with seeing how far you can push things without running into trouble. You have to take risks to win a race, otherwise you will never attain excellence, but you must be prepared for those risks. Training, for us, might better be called an apprenticeship in viticulture. There is a different level of risk management in the vineyard to that in the cellar. In the cellar the winemaker is exposed to fewer external hazards than in the vineyard. Just like in chess, you have to anticipate all the potential moves in order to react to each of the tricks that nature plays on you.

Who is your mentor?

My father. Your mentor is the person who can keep you motivated, especially in complex, adverse, or unforeseen circumstances. Others can provide technical support, but not necessarily moral support, and that is important too.

Is wine a team sport?

Yes, absolutely. It’s extremely difficult to make a wine on your own. A winemaker depends on the contribution of others.

What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?

You need both. The best racing driver will never win if he has a poor car, and he needs a support team too. You do need skill, but to make the most of it you need a terroir with a big personality. I always say that the quality of a wine is down to the winemaker, who has to make technical decisions, while a great wine is down to the terroir. The personality of a great wine is innate in a great terroir. And more than the terroir, our land, it’s down to the actual soil. The difference between a good wine and a great one is that the latter goes beyond the basic question of technical quality. It’s not just a case of being well made, a great wine has the capacity to transport the taster, to take him on a journey through time and culture, and to inspire him. And it must have a marked originality, transmitted through the terroir.

To what do you owe your success?

That rather begs the question of whether I have succeeded…I think that you really have to walk your talk. We can say all sorts of things that appeal to our customers, that the wine is unfiltered, that the vineyard is worked by horses. And while it is true that these things help to make great wines it’s not enough to say it, you have to actually do it. You have to be honest and humble. From my perspective honesty is an essential quality for making a great wine, you cannot afford to cut corners. It is possible to make a great wine by luck, and occasionally that may happen. But a great winemaker should be able to make a great wine, whether in a favourable vintage or a more testing one.

Is your father proud of you?

Yes, I think he is.

And your son?

You would have to ask him, but the fact that he has decided to work on the estate tells me that he sees something in it. One of the proudest feelings a father can have for his son is to have been able to pass on his love for the land. That love is visceral, a bit like one’s love for their child. That may be harder to understand if you don’t have a viticultural or agricultural background from birth.

Your favourite colour? 

Grey or black, it changes with the seasons, white in spring, perhaps more yellow in summer and orange in autumn. Possibly green as the colour of nature. As far as wine is concerned, I absolutely refuse to answer the question, it is far too limiting. There are very good wines in every colour, not just red or white, although I have never seen blue wine or green wine! I don’t have a favourite between dry wines and sweet wines. What I don’t have time for are wines that bore me, which don’t have a story to tell. It has nothing to do with price, I want to feel the stamp of the winemaker’s labour, his dedication and his work ethic. And my mind is open to wines from across the world.

The king of grape varieties?

Jacques Puiset, former President of the Union of Oenologists, used to say that we should never blame the grape variety or the vine if the wine is no good. I wholeheartedly agree, there is no such thing as a lesser grape variety. Nor do I think that any grape variety is king, merely that some varieties are more tractable than others. When a grape variety is on the more testing side – such as Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, or Auxerrois – so that you have to put more into your viticulture and into selecting the right location, your sense of achievement can be all the greater if you produce a great wine. You win more races with Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, or even Pinot Gris. Muscat is rarely planted in Alsace, around one percent overall, but that would be a king for me, because if you come in first with a grape variety like that, it’s amazing!

Your favourite wine?

The Rangen de Thann Grand Cru. This is the most demanding of our vineyards, being very steep and evocative of extreme effort, but the hard work filters through to the wine, which is not always the case. It’s my favourite wine, not only for its quality but also for the energy you experience in the terroir. There is something about it which I find invigorating. For me a wine is a bit like a person. When you taste it there is a dialogue between you and the wine, and one wine can be tedious while another is animating.

If your wine was a person, who would it be?

My wine is like a painting, like Picasso’s Guernica! One time in New York I spotted that it was on exhibition at MoMA. I felt the full power of the painting, the full import of the painter’s expression, experienced all the pain and sorrow. I don’t mean that Rangen de Thann is a source of pain and sorrow, but it transmits a powerful emotion. If I had to compare it to a person it would be Jacques Brel, who had the capacity to thrill his audience through the power of his words.

What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?

You need to get into shape to taste a great wine. You have to prepare mentally and be open to pleasure. Then there are the technical requirements, such as the glass and the temperature. Many people say that a great wine is for sharing, but sometimes you are entitled to be selfish. Just as you have the right to watch a good film all on your own, you can enjoy a rewarding conversation with a great wine all on your own. There is one condition: don’t make others envious by telling them they have missed out, whereas you had it all to yourself! I frequently open a great bottle without regretting it later.

Have you ever thought about chemically enhancing yourself, or your wine? 

Me, never, unless you count a glass of wine or an espresso…As far as I’m concerned adulterating wine is dishonest. A winemaker who does everything right can sometimes mitigate the effect of excessively hot summers and excessively cold or wet winters. If you genuinely give it everything the wine will always have something worth saying. Adulterating wine is just like Photoshop, you can never enhance the real thing. Or it may turn out that the wine is drunk by people who haven’t grasped the true value of the original, in which case it’s to do with customer education. Chemical intervention distorts the wine’s meaning. If you finally hit a brick wall, and the wine is really no good, your only options are to distil it or to make vinegar.

For what price would you be prepared to sell your estate?

That’s simply out of the question. People often say that everything has its price, but your love for your child is priceless. Would a mother sell her child? It’s almost an ethical and philosophical question. There are some plots that I might eventually sell some day, because of their limited agronomic potential, but without the good plots, the heart of the estate, there would be nothing left to live for.

What has been your most innovative strategy in the vineyard and in the cellar?

There is not much in the way of innovation. I am a fan of Einstein, who said that the most beautiful mathematical solution is always the simplest one. Innovation consists in seeking out the simplest and most beautiful pattern of work, to achieve beauty in the action of working. That involves giving up certain ways of doing things, even if you take advantage of other technical advances to relieve the more gruelling aspects of manual labour.

Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?

My son! Or my daughter, should she ever decide to work on the estate.

France’s 50 best winemakers: Domaine Albert Boxler’s Jean Boxler

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?

My sons.







Riesling MUST BUYs that are worth the rave

Throughout the late 20th century, Riesling gained a somewhat tarnished reputation, particularly within the UK, as a consequence of the abundance of overly sweet, low-quality Rieslings being released onto the market. Over the past two decades, however, it has made a comeback – especially the dry styles of top-quality wines with ageing potential and great value. The high acidity and complexity of tertiary flavours in Riesling have led to it being a favourite among wine industry professionals, including Jancis Robinson, who hails it “the greatest white wine grape”.

To help you uncover Germany’s noble grape, this week we examine some iconic dry and off-dry Riesling MUST BUYs with WL scores above 95.


Top quality Riesling is now produced around the world, from the traditional regions of the Mosel and Alsace, through to Australia and South America. 70% of dry Riesling MUST BUYs scoring above WL 95 hail from Germany (25 wines), of which just over half (19 wines) are produced in the Mosel. The other German regions in the list comprise two entries from the Rheinhessen, and one each from the Rheingau, Nahe, and Pfalz respectively.

Austria achieves six entries on the list of Riesling MUST BUYs scoring WL 95 and over (18%), which all hail from Niederösterreich, while the Alsace and Australia’s Clare Valley both earn two entries respectively.

 A Mosel Must – 2010 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel

With a WL Score of 97 at just £59 (per bottle in-bond), the 2010 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkapsel exemplifies the excellent quality-to-price ratio of JJ Prüm’s wines. Long considered one of the Mosel’s, if not the whole of Germany’s most revered estates, its Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard is situated on steep south-facing, blue slate slopes, resulting in its complex minerality. Scoring it 19/20 points, Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson recounts that the 2010 vintage of this off-dry Riesling “Dances out of the glass on the nose. Such delicacy and life! Racy”. This vintage is available to purchase from Lay & Wheeler, where a case of six starts at £330 (in bond).

An essential Alsace – 2008 Trimbach Riesling Frédéric Emile

Dating back to 1626, 13 generations of the Trimbach family have contributed to the estate’s winemaking, now considered one of Alsace’s top properties. Cuvée Frédéric Emile is a blend of two Grand Cru vineyards, Geisberg and Osterberg, that share complex soils of alkaline clay and limestone, producing a wine of intense minerality. Both sites benefit from evening winds (the Tahlwendala), which allow extended ripening periods. The 2008 Trimbach Riesling Frédéric Emile achieves a WL Score of 95, and is available to purchase by the case from Cru World Wines for £390 (in bond).

 A need for Niederösterreich – 2013 F.X. Pichler Riesling Kellerberg Smaragd

Described by Jancis Robinson as “Big and opulent with some lychee flavours”, the 2013 was a notably good vintage for F.X. Pichler’s Kellerberg Smaragd. Achieving the best WL Score since 1995 (96), it showcases Pichler’s attempt to refine his style and prioritise purity of fruit and balance over power. Although the narrow stone terraces of the Kellerberg vineyard necessitate farming and harvesting by hand, this wine has an impressive quality-to-price ratio. At £34 (per bottle in bond), the 2013 vintage is also a Wine Lister Value pick, and is available to purchase from BI Wines & Spirits (by the case of 12).

 A New World necessity – 2013 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling

Often coined one of Australia’s most renowned Riesling winemakers, Jeffrey Grosset’s Polish Hill plot was planted in 1996, following years of research into the effect of soil, rock, and altitude on Riesling. This eight-hectare plot is thus at 460 metres altitude, ensuring cool nights and longer ripening of its Riesling grapes. Planted in an area termed “hard rock”, the Polish Hill vineyard is situated on a crust of clay over slate, which, alongside the cool growing season, causes stress on the vines, resulting in smaller but more complex-flavoured grapes. The 2013 vintage achieves a WL score of 95, and is available to purchase from Lay & Wheeler for £50 (per bottle in bond).

See the full list of Riesling MUST BUYs here.

Treasures hidden on our MUST BUY list

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.

Listed: top 5 Rieslings under £100 by Quality score

To many a wine expert, Riesling is amongst the world’s finest white wine grape varieties, perhaps thanks to its versatile nature. The aromatic grape does well as both a sweet and dry wine, to drink straight away or suitable for long-term ageing. This week Wine Lister looks at the top five Rieslings under £100 by Quality score, which all hail from Alsace or the Mosel.

Hugel et Fils’ Riesling SGN takes the top spot this week with a Quality score of 981. This phenomenal Quality score is in part the result of an average wine life of 24 years (compared to 13 years for the rest of this week’s top five). The Riesling SGN from Hugel is therefore perhaps justifiably this week’s most expensive choice, at an average price of £98 per bottle in-bond. Sadly, it might take a Christmas miracle to source this in time for next week’s festivities. An average of just 600 bottles are produced of this Wine Lister Hidden Gem each year.

Next is Domaine Zind-Humbrecht’s Riesling Brand VT with a Quality score of 970. Though in second place for Quality, it achieves this week’s best Economics score of 633 (and also this week’s best overall Wine Lister score) – despite only 18 bottles of it having been traded at auction in the last year. It is the short-term price performance that really boosts the Economics score – the price having increased by 17% in the last six months.

In third place is this week’s first German wine – Heymann-Löwenstein’s Winninger Röttgen Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel. It achieves a Quality score of 960, and at only £52 per bottle in-bond it is this week’s most affordable option.

The two remaining spots of this week’s top five share the same Quality score (949). Domaine Albert Mann Schlossberg l’Epicentre Grand Cru is this week’s second Hidden Gem. Its Hidden Gem status is confirmed by a modest Brand score of 255 – the lowest of the group, due to presence in just 1% of the world’s top restaurants, and being only the 3,797 most-searched-for of Wine Lister’s wines on Wine-Searcher.

Rounding off the group is the second Riesling from Germany, Dr. Loosen Erdener Prälat Auslese Goldkapsel. If you are looking for Quality look no further than its 2006 vintage, which achieves a Quality score of 975 at an average price of £44 per bottle in-bond (compared to the wine’s overall average price of £54 in-bond). Its excellent quality-to-price ratio earns it a spot as one of Wine Lister’s Value Picks – indeed, it is given high praise from Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni, claiming it to be a “…massive and yet somehow delicate auslese of stunning quality”.

Listed: top 5 dry white Alsace wines by Wine Lister score

Having dipped its toe in New World waters last week to look at Argentina’s best wines, the Listed blog now shifts its attention considerably further North, heading to the Alsace to consider its top five dry whites by Wine Lister score.

Whilst there was not much between Argentina’s top two wines, in the Alsace it is very much a case of the best and the rest, Trimbach’s flagship Clos Sainte Hune leading by 90 points with a score of 916. Its dominance is thanks to comfortable leads across each of Wine Lister’s rating categories. However, it is in terms of Economics that no other Alsatian wine can get close to it, its score of 804 nearly 120 points ahead of Zind-Humbrecht’s Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Riesling, whose score of 688 makes it the region’s number two wine in the commercial category. The Clos Sainte Hune’s economic clout is thanks to its higher price (over three times the average of the four other contenders to the Alsatian crown), and trading 2.6 times as many bottles at auction as the others over the past four quarters. As an aside, it is also by far the region’s most searched-for wine online, although its ranking as the 216th most popular wine on Wine Lister perhaps betrays a lack of public interest in Riesling and Alsatian wines in general. Sommeliers are more convinced however, with it featuring in 37% of the world’s top restaurants – which, interestingly, is not the best performance of any Alsatian wine. That accolade goes to its sibling Cuvée Frédéric Emile which manages to pip it to the post in this particular criterion (38%).

Trimbach isn’t the only producer to feature twice in this week’s top five, Zind-Humbrecht’s Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Riesling (826) and Windsbuhl Gewürztraminer (729) both making the cut. Despite being separated by nearly 100 points overall, they achieve similarly excellent Quality scores, the Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Riesling leading by just six points (916 vs 910). There isn’t that much between the two in terms of economic performance either, with the Windsbuhl Gewürztraminer sitting 47 points below its stablemate (641 vs 688). Thus the real difference occurs in the Brand category, with the Windsbuhl Gewürztraminer unable to keep pace either in terms of the number of restaurants in which it features (5% vs 16%) or search rank (2,070 vs 928), resulting in a considerably weaker score (546 vs 791). This perhaps confirms that Gewürztraminer, regardless of the quality in the bottle, is a grape that is currently unable to excite either sommeliers or consumers – Zind-Humbrechts’s Windsbuhl languishing in fifth place across both Brand criteria.

The final wine this week is Weinbach’s Riesling Schlossberg Cuvée Sainte Catherine (675). Confirming the outstanding Quality of the Alsace’s top wines, across all vintages it achieves a Quality score of 900. Its overall Wine Lister score is dragged down partly by a lower Brand score (661), but for the most part by a weak Economics score (191). However, if you’re looking for top Quality at a reasonable price, then look no further than its 2014, which qualifies as a Wine Lister Value Pick. Available for as little as £30 per bottle, yet with a Quality score of 944 and predicted to be drinking well for another 15 years, it would definitely be worth seeking out a few bottles of it.

Listed: Top five still dry whites under £200 by Wine Lister score

Having recently confirmed Chablis as the place to look for Burgundian Value Picks, this week’s Listed blog brings the price scale up a notch to look at the top five still dry white wines under £200 per bottle by Wine Lister score. Alongside one further appearance from Chablis, the selection is pleasantly diverse.

Domaine Bonneau du Martray’s Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru takes the number one spot. With a market price of £116 per bottle, it is in fact the least expensive of the five. Brand is its strongest category with a score of 950, generated by 4,150 monthly online searches on Wine-Searcher and presence in 36 of the world’s best restaurants. Figures from Wine Market Journal also place it first for trading volumes, with 440 bottles of its top five vintages traded at auction during the last 12 months.

The second-highest scoring still dry white under £200 is Vincent Dauvissat’s Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos. It has both the highest Quality score and market price of the group (952 and £151 per bottle respectively). However, Chablis once again shows a positive price to quality ratio when compared to other white Burgundian offerings with the same Quality score. In this context, Maison Louis Jadot’s Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles and Maison Joseph Drouhin’s Montrachet Grand Cru Marquis de Laguiche are 42% and 173% more expensive (at £214 and £412 per bottle respectively).

Next on the list is Riesling Clos Sainte-Hune, Trimbach’s most iconic dry white. Its Quality and Brand scores (943 and 947 respectively) outperform its Economics score (870) resulting in an overall score of 930. Clos Sainte-Hune’s tiny production level of an average 9,600 bottles per annum (five times fewer than the 48,000 bottles of Corton-Charlemagne produced by Bonneau du Martray, for example) makes it a true rarity.

Travelling further south for the still dry white in fourth place, we find Domaine Jean-Louis Chave’s Hermitage Blanc with an overall Wine Lister score of 922. Curiously, vintage Quality score variation is more at play here than any other wine of this week’s top five. The 2016 vintage of Chave’s Hermitage Blanc earns the highest vintage Quality score of the lot (993), however 307 points separate its best from its worst vintage (2002) which is also the lowest vintage Quality score of the five.

Last but not least, the fifth highest-scoring still dry white under £200 is Domaine Didier Dageneau’s Silex, with an overall score of 914 and a market price of £124 per bottle. In a regional context, Silex takes the number one spot on all fronts with the highest Quality, Brand, and Economics scores of all Loire dry whites. As the fifth and final wine of this week’s top five, it has the highest restaurant presence with a listing in 39 of the world’s best restaurants.

Old World vs New World

Yes, that question: “which are better, Old World or New World wines?” Traditionalists may argue that the latter lack the prestige and quality of their Old World counterparts. Those with a preference for the New World might see these wines as better value for money, free of the price tag accompanying wines from famously exclusive Old World vineyards.

Wine Lister has compared the top 50 wines by Quality score from Old World and New. The average Quality score of the top 50 wines is 983 in the Old World and 948 in the New. Though both Worlds sit comfortably in the “strongest” section of the Wine Lister 1000-point scale for Quality, the price gap tells a different story. The average price for a top 50 ranking Old World wine is £2,114 per bottle – seven times higher than the average New World equivalent (£297).

The wine with the highest Quality score on Wine Lister is Egon Müller’s Scharzhofberger Riesling TBA, which achieves a wine level Quality score of 995, having fallen just one point shy of the perfect 1,000 point score for the 2010 vintage. Riesling’s quality proliferates in the top 50, with 16 entries across Germany and Alsace. The high critics’ scores are balanced by exceptionally high prices, with an average price of £2,509 per bottle.

Though the Old World Quality top 50 is in fact white wine dominant, red Burgundy is well represented, with 13 entries and an average Quality score of 983 at £3,164 per bottle. Even excluding DRC La Romanée-Conti’s remarkable price (£11,722 per bottle), Burgundy’s remaining 12 finest reds command an average price of £2,450 per bottle.

Champagne wins the price vs quality race for the whites, with an average Quality score across its four entries of 981 at £348 per bottle. Even more impressive are the five Port entries, with an average Quality score of 982 at £244 per bottle.

In contrast to the diverse set of regions represented in the Old World top 50, the New World list is dominated by California (with 40 out of 50 wines hailing from the region). These wines achieve an average Quality score of 948 at £315 per bottle – not quite as good value as the Champagnes and Ports, but seemingly better value than their red Burgundian counterparts.

Though there are fewer entries from Australia (seven in total), the New World’s number one wine for quality comes from the Barossa Valley. Torbreck The Laird has a Quality score of 984 points and a price of £427 per bottle. When comparing this to an Old World wine of the same score, the price difference is evident. Domaine Leroy’s Romanée Saint Vivant benefits from the same Quality score, but is nearly five times more expensive, at £1,975 per bottle.