Birthday wine: A buying guide

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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.

Image: Birthday wine
Image: Birthday wine

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
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-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, long-lived 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.

Click on 'Next Page' to view Anthony's advise on choosing a birthday wine for your special someone's 21st, 25th, 30th and other birthdays.

Translated by ICY

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