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 2017, be it an 18th, 21st or 30th or a bottle for someone much more senior - and with greater wisdom, naturally.
On the seventh day he rested? In the case of wine, the good Lord must have needed the seventh year off, because rarely has he so significantly failed to deliver as in so many of the post-war vintages ending in seven. Yes, of course 1947 was the exception that proves the rule, but good luck to you if you can make a 70-year-old’s day by finding a bottle from this great vintage.
In the world’s biggest secondary market of Bordeaux in particular, lucky seven has proved the unluckiest of numbers for wine. Don’t despair though if you or a loved one has an anniversary in 2017. There is much, much more life beyond Bordeaux, and we have cast the net as wide as possible to unearth some ‘magnificent sevens’ for you.
‘The finer the wine, the greater its track record’
In considering a gift for a 2017 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 of celebration.
Age-dated Sherries, vintage Ports and Madeiras make excellent presents thanks to their longevity, while Port offers both vintage and 20-, 30- and 40-year old 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 (1999)
With a dearth of great ’7s, we can at least resort to good suggestions for 18th birthdays this year. Though 1999 wasn’t much to write home about in Bordeaux, it was great in Tuscany.
So in the absence of a ready-made case of Port or claret, here are my picks: Isole e Olena’s Cepparello 1999 is ageing beautifully; the Flaccianello 1999 from Fontodi is perfectly balanced and one of the best ever made; and Il Greppo, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1999 from Biondi Santi is living up to its billing as one of the longest-lived Brunellos.
Anniversary wines: 20th birthday (1997)
The 1997 vintage was not great in Bordeaux or Burgundy, but not at all bad in the Rhône, from where Robert Jasmin’s Côte-Rôtie 1997 and Chave’s Hermitage 1997 are still drinking well. It was a terrific vintage in the Loire, and the best Quarts de Chaume sweet Chenin Blanc wines are holding up well. A top Beaujolais cru is capable of being transformed, with age, into a red Burgundy lookalike, and so it is with Louis Jadot’s Château des Jacques, Clos des Thorins, Moulin-à-Vent 1997 – a rich, wonderfully mature sweet and savoury dark cherry red whose coming-of-age concentration and complexity of aroma and flavour show the Gamay grape at its most intense.
From a great year in Tuscany, Decanter’s Steven Spurrier still has two bottles of Castello di Fonterutoli’s Chianti Classico Riserva 1997, a more durable red than the producer’s 1995. In Bolgheri, both Frescobaldi’s Ornellaia and Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia, with respective recent auction estimates of £1,000-£1,250 and £1,200-£1,500, come into frame in 1997.
The vintage was super-ripe in California, lauded to the skies by US critic Robert Parker, thereby setting the tone for the opulent style that prevails today. Harlan Estate is one such Napa Cabernet, while Ridge Monte Bello, at only 12.9% alcohol from cooler Santa Cruz, is altogether more elegant with years still ahead of it. From Australia, Jasper Hill’s Emily’s Paddock was an excellent red for its time, and Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling 1997 is still drinking well if kept in good condition.
Similar considerations apply to Austria’s Dürnsteiner Kellerberg Riesling Smaragd 1997 from Weingut FX Pichler. Over in Germany, low yields in the Mosel and Nahe created excellent wines at Riesling spätlese and auslese level, and drinking well now – among others, – are the Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Spätlese 1997 from Von Schubert and the Rausch Auslese 1997 from Forstmeister Zilliken. Let’s not forget Tokaji Aszú: the recent release of Disznóko’s tangy, dried apricot-rich 6 Puttonyos 1997 and stellar Aszú Escencia, respectively £50 and £76.95 a bottle at The Vintage House are an obvious answer to sweet-toothed prayers.
Anniversary wines: 21st birthday (1996)
1996 was a very good vintage in so many wine regions of the world. The ultimate cheat would be to refer back to Decanter’s January 2016 issue article on 1996 for 10-year-olds and indeed that still holds good, but, one year on, there’s so much more for 21st birthday presents.
In Bordeaux, Simon Staples of merchant Berry Bros & Rudd calls 1996 a ‘bobby dazzler’ for Left Bank superstars such as Châteaux Latour, Lafite and Margaux; while his ‘dreamboats’ include Pichon Lalande, Léoville-Las Cases, Lynch-Bages, Palmer, Calon-Ségur and Pontet-Canet. If these are a bit of a stretch for your budget, the lower ranks of Châteaux du Tertre, Poujeaux and d’Angludet (now spelled Angludet) are all at their peak now.
Where yields were low, good red Burgundies are holding their own, as are dry whites such as the exceptional Meursault-Charmes 1er Cru 1996 from Domaine des Comtes Lafon. And it was a great vintage in Barolo for wines such as Paolo Scavino’s Bric del Fiasc and Aldo Conterno’s fine Gran Bussia 1996. It was excellent in Tuscany too, with Le Pergole Torte from Montevertine, as well as Flacianello and Solaia among the best today.
The 1996 vintage was hailed as a great one in Champagne, but its exceptionally high malic acidity wasn’t always kind. One of the greatest wines is the exceptionally pure and balanced 1996 Clos du Mesnil from Krug (though hardly a snip at £1,350 a bottle), while the usual suspects of Dom Pérignon and Cristal are in the top bracket along with the Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs and, more affordably, vintage wines from Louis Roederer, Henriot and Pommery.
To end on a sweet note, the vintage tawny Port specialist Kopke released a caramel-rich and nutty Colheita 1996 at high-street retailer Marks & Spencer for £29.99.
Anniversary wines: 25th birthday (1992)
Sorry, 25-year-olds, but weep, because the slimmest of pickings in this vintage require us to draw a polite veil over most 1992s, which in Bordeaux was awful but actually not that bad in Burgundy, where whites in particular were good. It’s likely, if you can find them and if they’ve been stored in tip-top condition, that the 1992 Montrachet grand cru bottlings from Domaine Ramonet and Domaines des Comtes Lafon have become ever more complex and deliciously drinkable.
Meanwhile, in the extravagantly lavish new book The Impossible Collection of Wine, The 100 Most Exceptional Vintages of the Twentieth Century (Assouline, £550), the 2004 World’s Best Sommelier Enrico Bernardo recommends Maya 1992 from Dalla Valle Vineyards in California, and Klein Constantia’s Vin de Constance 1992 from South Africa.
Anniversary wines: 30th birthday (1987)
There is so little to write home about in this apology of a vintage that you may be better off spending your money on non-wine gifts for those with 30th birthdays or anniversaries.
It was mediocre in Bordeaux and only slightly better in Burgundy, though Jasper Morris MW recently found Domaine Roumier’s 1er Cru Les Amoureuses, Chambolle-Musigny 1987 to be ‘very fine’. Otherwise, if you can get your hands on a Diamond Creek or Dunn from California, you may just have struck gold.
From Slovenia, Puklavec & Friends is a winery that has, unusually, archived a number of vintages and is now selling 1987 bottlings of Welschriesling, Pinot Grigio Spätlese, Riesling Spätlese, Welschrieling Spätlese, Muscat Ottonel and a Sauvignon Blanc, all for between €41.95 and €54.95 (visit www.archivewines.com). In Australia, it was the Art Series Chardonnay 1987 that put Leeuwin Estate on the map and became the first Australian white wine to achieve more than A$100 at auction during its career.
You’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned 30 Year Old tawny Port – it’s only because I’ve been leading up to what’s one of the most obvious of choices for 30th birthdays and pearl wedding anniversaries. The number of wonderful 30-year-old Ports now on the market are many but, to single out just two, I suggest Quinta do Noval and Taylor’s as among the greatest older tawnies, with all that seriousness of rancio nuttiness that makes them so complex and alluring.
It would be remiss of me, too, not to mention the two anniversary vintages of Hine’s Grande Champagne Cognac: the spicy Jarnac Matured 1987 and the floral, citrussy Early Landed 1987, which was shipped in French oak casks to Wickwar, near Bristol, at the end of 1989 to mature in dark, damp cellars (Berry Bros & Rudd, from £245 a bottle).
Anniversary wines: 40th birthday (1977)
Time to polish up your Silver Jubilee crowns, because if you remember 1977, you may also recall that it was largely forgettable in most of the classic regions of Europe. In Italy, it was the year of the release of Le Pergole Torte, the first 100% Sangiovese from Tuscany. As a table wine it kickstarted the SuperTuscan ‘revolution’. If there’s a wine that’s still likely to be drinking well from that era today, it could be the Biondi-Santi 1977, always a long-lived Brunello di Montalcino, but I wouldn’t place huge odds on it.
The 1970s represented the flowering of the modern Californian wine industry and 1977 was a small, cool year on the US West Coast, with the best wines still hanging on in there. If you can find bottles, you may be pleasantly surprised by Robert Mondavi’s Reserve Cabernet, Heitz’ Bella Oaks, Mayacamas, Montelena, Chalone, Ridge and Hanzell.
It sometimes happens that a mediocre year for Bordeaux turns out to be a cracker for vintage Port, and so it was in 1977 – one of the best vintages since 1927 (coincidentally the birth year of eminent auctioneer and longtime Decanter columnist Michael Broadbent). You’re spoilt for choice here, but among top 1977 vintage Ports still doing the wine merchant rounds are the fragrantly spicy, rich fruitcake-like Graham’s 1977, going for about £1,000 a case; the plump and pruney Warre’s 1977, selling at £200 per magnum; and the Dow’s 1977 Silver Jubilee, presented by Amazon at £129.97 a bottle, in a silk-lined wooden box with four wine accessories.
Anniversary wines: 50th birthday (1967)
This is the birth year of UK Rhône wine merchant Jason Yapp and Simon Staples of Berry Bros & Rudd. And while it ‘wasn’t a bad Rhône vintage’ according to Yapp, 1967 was a cracking year for Sauternes, most notably Château d’Yquem. Staples says he’s kissed a lot of frogs from his birth year, but the one wine that’s head and shoulders above the rest is Petrus: ‘a great Petrus’, according to Corney & Barrow’s Adam Brett-Smith, a ‘magnificent’ magnum of which will set you back £3,700.
Otherwise it was a variable vintage for red Bordeaux. The Avery family cellar auctioned by Christie’s at its October 2016 London sale contained the odd bottle of Les Forts de Latour, La Fleur-Pétrus and Rauzan-Ségla from 1967, the latter at £350-£450 a case.
In Australia, d’Arenberg’s vibrantly modern Red Burgundy 1967 (75% Grenache, 25% Shiraz pressings) won seven trophies and 29 gold medals at various Australian capital wine city wine shows, but I doubt there’s much of the country’s first cult wine still around. But Penfolds’ Bin 7 Coonawarra Cabernet-Kalimna Shiraz 1967, a famous show wine of its day, still commands interest in the secondary market, north of £800 a bottle.
Anniversary wines: 60th birthday (1957)
Perhaps it’s no bad thing that once we go back as far as 1957, Europe has little of interest to offer. Bottles of this age have to be carefully scrutinised not just for their condition but, thanks to the spectre of infamous fraudster Rudy Kurniawan, for their provenance.
So let’s turn to Australia for a few tips from Andrew Caillard MW, one of the nation’s most knowledgeable sources of mature vintage information. According to Caillard, Penfolds’ Bin 14 Minchinbury Dry Red 1957 – a special bin to commemorate the last red wine vintage at Sydney’s historic Minchinbury Estate – was still very much alive as recently as 2007.
Among other 1957 relics still seen occasionally on the secondary market are Hardy’s Reserve Bin C24 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lindemans’ Bin 1111 Hunter River Burgundy and, likeliest candidate for living greatness today, Penfolds’ remarkable St Henri Claret 1957 – its first commercial release – a bottle of which fetched A$8,110 (about £4,500 at the time) in a Langton’s online auction in 2009.
Anniversary wines: 70th birthday (1947) – and beyond
You would be very fortunate indeed if you still had a bottle of red Bordeaux from the monumental 1947 vintage in your cellar, – it was also a superb year in Burgundy and presumably good in the Rhône.
The most famous Bordeaux of the vintage was Cheval Blanc. At the Christie’s Avery family cellar sale in October 2016, a single bottle was on offer at an estimated £2,000-£2,400, but sold for £7,050, reflecting the greatness and rarity of this incredible wine. In 2010, Christie’s in Geneva sold a six-litre bottle for $304,375 – the highest price ever paid for an individual bottle.
Petrus from the same vintage was offered at £2,000-£3,000 a bottle. Maintained in good condition in Avery’s cellars, the 1947 Petrus was described by Michael Broadbent in 2004 as ‘unsurprisingly magnificent’. Other than the fact that you’re drinking liquid history, it’s harder to know about other 1947s in the Avery’s catalogue, such as Calon-Ségur, Léoville-Barton, Lynch-Bages and Vieux Château Certan. According to Staples of Berry Bros & Rudd: ‘Rudy Kurniawan might have been able to whip you up a cocktail.’
There were countless great Champagnes from 1947, but the greatest that Champagne specialist Tom Stevenson ever tasted was the 1947 Salon, even if the only reliable source now is from the cellar itself. In Sauternes, Château Gilette is unique among the region’s producers in that the owner, Julie Gonet- Médeville, continues a tradition begun by her grandfather, René Médeville, more than 70 years ago, of ageing its wines for many years – sometimes decades – in concrete vats before they are bottled. It’s still possible today to get your hands on the Château Gilette Doux 1947 at £180 a bottle (MWH Wine Merchants).
For 80-year-olds, the Château Gilette, Crème de Tête 1937 at £550-£786 a bottle (Seckford Wines, The Sampler) is one of the few viable options still available from this excellent pre-war vintage.
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 2017 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 Ellie Douglas.
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