Birthday wine: A buying guide


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.

Image: Bordeaux, credit Decanter
Image: Bordeaux, credit Decanter

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.

Image: Vintage port, credit Decanter
Image: Vintage port, credit Decanter

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.

Translated by ICY

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