There’s something particularly satisfying about cracking open a bottle of wine that was ‘born’ in the same year as you, says Anthony Rose. He recommends the birthday wine to go for in 2016, be it an 18th, 21st or 30th or a bottle for someone much more senior - and with greater wisdom, naturally.
Being able to choose the vintage you were born in would be a significant benefit for
wine lovers – imagine the birthday wine presents.
In the real world we must make do with our lot, eyeing in 50 shades of green envy the 55-, 34- and 26-year-old claret lovers born in the great Bordeaux vintages of 1961, 1982 and 1990 respectively, the 52-year-old Rioja devotees whose stars aligned with the wonderful 1964 vintage, or 53- and 39-year-old Port lovers lucky enough to have been born in the anni mirabili of 1963 and 1977.
For the teetotaller in your life, chocolates or a gym membership, both perhaps, will suffice, but for the majority of Decanter’s readership, wine presents an unmissable opportunity to spoil loved ones reaching a significant milestone in 2016, most notably 18, 21 and 25, not to mention the big 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.
As horses are for courses, the question is: which is the wine that will fit the bill?
‘The finer the wine, the greater its track record’
In considering a gift for a 2016 birthday or anniversary, bear in mind that the finer the wine, the greater its track record of longevity is likely to be. Top reds such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône and Barolo stored in good conditions should be robust enough to improve with time.
As time goes by, the condition and provenance of a wine become increasingly important.
Vintage assessment is an imprecise science because of the many permutations of quality and character from one producer to the next but, as a general rule, the greater the vintage and the better the producer, the longer the wine’s likely staying power.
And large format bottles, beginning with magnums, are not just impressive tokens of generosity but they tend to age better too.
The fine wine with the broadest secondary market is Bordeaux, by some distance, making
it the easiest choice to seek out and buy.
Vintage Champagnes also provide excellent options, marrying ageability with the notion
Age-dated Sherries, vintage Ports and Madeiras make excellent presents thanks to their longevity, while Port offers both vintage and 20-, 30- and 40-yearold tawnies.
Age-worthy Burgundy, Rhône, Barolo, Brunello, Supertuscans, Sauternes, sweet German Rieslings and New World stars such as Penfolds Grange or Opus One are not as easy to find, but you can find fine wine reviews on Decanter.com and a good search engine such as Wine-searcher.com and auction catalogues can help to unearth suitable vintages.
Let’s take a closer look at the runners and riders in 2016…
Anniversary wines: 18th birthday
1998 was a good year for Left Bank Bordeaux, very good in St Emilion and Pomerol, excellent
in the Rhône, especially southern Rhône, but less so in Burgundy and Champagne, although there are some notable exceptions.
It was also good in Barolo and Barbaresco, but more mixed in Tuscany. From Pomerol, the 1998 L’Eglise Clinet was one of the standouts of the vintage: a voluptuously textured, powerfully rich red Bordeaux with considerable staying power.
On the Left Bank, 1998 Château Palmer was superconcentrated and remains youthful today. In the Rhône, Jamet’s 1998 Côte Rôtie is one of the most elegant wines of the vintage, while in the southern Rhône, Château Rayas’ 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape is layered with immense richness and complexity, and still going strong.
A more affordable alternative, the spicy, opulent 1998 Château de Beaucastel is coming nicely into its own.
In Burgundy, Mommessin’s dense and sensual 1998 Clos de Tart has the structure to hold up well.
From Champagne, Taittinger’s 1998 Comtes de Champagne is an outstandingly rich yet subtle blanc de blancs with a superb mineral spine, and Piper Heidsieck’s 1998 Cuvée Rare is another perfect option.
From the New World, Penfolds’ superb 1998 Grange is only just starting to drink now but has a good decade left in it, probably longer.
Anniversary wines: 20th birthday (1996)
1996 was a great year in Bordeaux, especially on the Left Bank, with many of its Cabernet dominant wines having considerable staying power. A keeper in Burgundy, average in the Rhône, and a classic, longlived vintage in Champagne and in Piedmont, with life-enhancing acidities all round.
There is an embarrassment of riches in the Médoc, but I would plump for a case of the wonderfully textured, rich St-Estèphe, Château Montrose 1996; an affordable alternative, the excellent Château d’Angludet from Margaux has a good 20-year life in it in a good vintage.
In Champagne, I would stay with Taittinger’s superelegant 1996 Comtes de Champagne – a cushioned mousse of earthy delights.
And for Barolo, Aldo Conterno’s wonderfully fullfruited and hauntingly fragrant 1996 Vigna Cicala.
For some sweetness with a difference, the 1996 Mézes Mály 6 Puttonyos from Hungary’s Royal Tokaji Co is reaching its perfect peak after two decades.
Anniversary wines: 21st birthday (1995)
We’ve hit the jackpot here. 1995 leaves any anniversary gift giver spoilt for choice and any 21-year-old recipient simply spoilt, because it was such a fine year in so many regions.
This was a consistently high quality vintage in Bordeaux, both on Left and Right Banks.
1995 was very good in Burgundy, especially Chambolle-Musigny. It was successful in the Rhône too, for Côte Rôtie and Châteauneuf-du-Pape in particular, and it was also good in Piedmont and much better than anticipated in Champagne.
If you’re wanting to buy Bordeaux, my choice would be to plump for the magnificent
1995 Château Léoville-Las-Cases, comparable to any first growth in the vintage, and the richly concentrated, long-lived Château Cos d’Estournel.
The ‘poor man’s Mouton’, Château Lynch-Bages, and Château La Lagune, often excellent value, were also on fine form this year, as, on the Right Bank, were the powerfully concentrated Château Angélus and the genuinely great Pétrus.
From Burgundy in 1995, Michel Lafarge’s Clos du Château des Ducs Volnay would be a wonderfully generous gift, and Armand Rousseau’s Clos de Bèze Chambertin even more so, with a 1995 Clos de la Roche Grand Cru Collection from Nicolas Potel certain to be barely less well received.
From the Rhône, I would plump for Chapoutier’s magisterial 1995 Le Pavillon Ermitage while from Rioja, La Rioja Alta’s Gran Reserva is one of the most accomplished and ageworthy Spanish reds.
In Champagne, it’s an unenviably tough choice between the stupendously rich, toasty and mineral 1995 Blanc des Millénaires from Charles Heidsieck, Krug’s inaugural, hedonistic Clos d’Ambonnay, Pol Roger’s refined Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, the super-elegant Deutz Blanc de Blancs and the distinguished Louis Roederer Cristal.
Anniversary wines: 25th birthday (1991)
Oh dear, did you say 1991? This was one of those vintages that got away – 1991 simply didn’t linger long in the memory because it was tricky for Bordeaux. Surprisingly, there were some good northern Rhône reds, and a handful of fine Ports too, plus it was an excellent year for top red Burgundy, not forgetting parts of the New World, notably Australia and California’s Central Coast.
This is a year to forget about Bordeaux for once and to focus on Chave’s wonderfully scented 1991 Hermitage, as well as the Côte-Rôtie from René Rostaing, and Ridge’s Montebello from the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s also a year to head to Australia and pick up a bottle or two of the exceptional 1991 Grange from Penfolds and Wynns’ rich 1991 John Riddoch, both wines that need more than two decades to make that special concentration of fruit work for them.
Anniversary wines: 30th birthday (1986)
Breathe a sigh of relief – 1986 was a great vintage for Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux, which means northern Médoc reds of great staying power. It was inconsistent in the Rhône and variable in Burgundy too, and not as good in Champagne as the fine 1985.
So my advice is to go for a first growth claret if money is no object; otherwise, Château Lynch-Bages, which is still maturing nicely today. Good Barolo and Barbaresco are drinking well, in particular the wonderful 1986 Falletto Riserva from Bruno Giacosa.
A great vintage for botrytis in Sauternes will provide some sweet memories for 30th anniversaries. The best of the bunch, Château d’Yquem perhaps apart, were the gloriously unctuous De Fargues and Climens. I bought a case of the latter and it’s still going strong.
The best 30-year-old tawny Ports are imbued with magnificent rancio and nutty characters, and there isn’t a better fortified wine to enjoy for a pearl anniversary than a bottle of Quinta da Noval 30 Year Old or Graham’s 30 Year Old Tawny.
Good for any year: Graham’s Vintage Port Bond
One of the reasons why Port, Sherry and Madeira have for so long been part of the tradition of laying down is because age shall barely wither them.
There is one unusual gift that fits nicely with the tradition of laying down a case of vintage Port for a child or godchild or to commemorate an anniversary or birthday.
Last year, Graham’s came up with the idea of a Vintage Port Bond for a case of vintage Port in the year of the harvest, to be redeemed when the wine is bottled and shipped.
Ah yes, I hear you say, but what if 2016 is not declared as a vintage? The ingenious solution offered by Graham’s is to provide two cases of Quinta dos Malvedos, worth slightly more, instead.
Wine Gift packages from merchants
While vintage and age-designated wines are a useful hook on which to hang a birthday or
anniversary, it’s also worth considering the many gift packages that wine merchants put
Merchants such as Berry Bros & Rudd have a dedicated gifting page with packages
including Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Port as well as a budget gifts under £50 category.
Laithwaites, Majestic, Marks & Spencer, The Wine Society, Virgin Wines and Waitrose, among others, also offer wine gift services.
High on my list of welcome gifts? Life membership of The Wine Society for a one-off payment of £40, the remarkable Coravin wine preservation device, Zalto stemware and the Le Nez du Vin tasting kits for the budding Master of Wine in your life.
Editing by Chris Mercer