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Birth-Year and Graduation Wine Advice

Save your generosity for loved ones who've figured out what they like
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: May 19, 2014 2:40pm ET

A reader recently asked me to recommend some wines to cellar for their newborn—candidates to age 20 to 25 years or more, when junior or sissy has come into their own enophilia.

My answer to them is the same I would give to those seeking appropriate wine gifts for graduates, which is another common query at this time of year: It's best to pass along a gift of wine after you've learned what the recipient likes to drink, as in, once they themselves have become adults.

I speak from experience. I collected cases of wines for my two children a couple of decades ago, and many of the wines are either spent or on the ropes. And frankly, neither of my kids are as interested in wine as I imagined they would be at the time I bought those wines.

Buying those birth-year wines seemed like a good idea at the time, but I have a better one: Wait until they're adults to find out what they like—save that wine gift for one of life's later special occasions. A wedding gift might be the perfect solution.

There are plenty of reasons I don't recommend birth-year wines, not the least of which is the matter of taste and ideal storage conditions. Don't give your child a special-occasion wine when they're still finding their way, moving about the country and still learning to like wine.

A lot has changed, too, in the way we think about cellar-worthy wines. Old standards like Bordeaux, Vintage Port and California Cabernet are still good, popular choices. But what if your grown child likes Riesling, or Pinot Noir? Does it really matter that the date on the bottle be the same as their birth year? Me thinks not, and if junior or sis leans toward earlier-drinking wines (and ends up not liking older wines), you and they will only be disappointed if you pick wines to drink in decades without knowing that the wines will be to their liking.

Dr David Zaparinuk
Victoria, BC, Canada —  May 19, 2014 6:54pm ET
What a great and timely article James. My Grandson (first) arrived this past November and I have had a lot of thought over this. Tough 2013 vintage in Europe.....possibly excellent vintages in California and the Pacific Northwest but I question 20 yr+ plus ageing for these wines. And I suppose if I put the money for that quality case into an investment account for him he could buy several cases of what he actually likes.....or help with an education. Hmmmmmmm
George Gonzalez
San juan usa —  May 19, 2014 11:04pm ET
James even though you have a valid point, I still belief it is a good idea to have wine of their birth year. If they grow up and do not show interest in wine or what I stored for them, then I will sacrifice and drink it with family or friends and remember all the joy of that year! If they grow up to love wine as I do it would be great to share these wines with them and discuse how the world was x years ago. Either way it is the thought that counts.
Scott Mitchell
Toronton, Ontario, Canada —  May 20, 2014 7:49am ET
I bought a bunch of birth year wines for my son, but it was with the intention of drinking something from his birth year every year on his birthday and, hopefully, one day sharing some of those bottles with him assuming he decides he's into wine.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  May 20, 2014 10:20am ET
Someone is always selling old bottles on one of the auction sites. I can still get a number of different labels for my birth year and that's over 40 years ago. I know I can't possibly know the provenance or storage conditions of these wines, but they're probably as good as mine will be over time.
Carl Gorenberg
Pleasanton  —  May 20, 2014 10:26pm ET
Agree. Purchased birth year wine for my son 1995 opus one. Opened at high school graduation last year. Even with optimal storage it wasn't the highlight wine of the evening. Nice bottle though...
Kelly Carter
Colorado —  May 20, 2014 11:24pm ET

I think you are spot on about wines for your children. I do think it's advisable to get a good quality wine from somewhere on the globe in birth years.

Open those wines with your spouse years later when both of you want to celebrate something your child did. Your child may not drink it, but what better way to celebrate that birth year.
Jim Nakashima
Kirkland, WA —  May 21, 2014 1:44am ET
Agree with the folks that drink the wines and not just keep them for their kids. We bought some special cases of birth year wine for our son as a gift to ourselves - to drink on his birthday. We will hold a couple of bottles back for him to have as a keepsake, even if he doesn't open it, how cool would it be to have a bottle of wine from your birth year your parents drank every year on your birthday?
Eric Campos
Canada —  May 21, 2014 3:16pm ET
I disagree entirely. what 20 year old won't appreciate a birth-year bottle of vin jaune??
John Wilen
Texas —  May 21, 2014 7:24pm ET
Better idea for birth: grab and carefully store a copy of the newspaper (your home city's or a national one) on the precise day of their birth. That's highly personalized and unique. Will allow them to step into history, while drinking the FRESH beverage of their choice. Actually, it might turn out to also be a collector's item at the rate the print industry is contracting...
Morewine Bishar
Del Mar, California —  May 23, 2014 2:12pm ET
My birth year, 1951, was a great year for babies but a mediocre vintage at best for the classic wine regions. My parents would have laughed at the suggestion of laying down wine, but this has saved me plenty of money over the years. The person born in 1961 is going to have to lay down serious cash to drink the natal year these days!

If your child was born in one of those 'vintages of the century', why not lay a few down? I agree with those who suggest the parents drink them along the way to celebrate their love and keeping a couple for the young man or woman the kids will become.

David Clark
for The Wine Connection
Jim Gallagher
San Francisco, CA USA —  May 24, 2014 11:09am ET

I enjoyed greatly the 1951 Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon a number of times.
Canada —  May 24, 2014 2:24pm ET
Well said. Couldn't agree more, but the sentiment is what drives these purchases.
Morewine Bishar
Del Mar, California —  May 24, 2014 5:19pm ET

Jim, I wish you hadn't told me that! Now I'll have to try to buy one. Talk about rare!

David Clark
Tim Noble
LaSalle Ontario —  May 26, 2014 10:36am ET
I purchased a 1997 Dow Vintage Port with the intent of drinking it with friends at my daughters high school graduation. Did it for my oldest daughter too with a 1992 vintage port. Fun way to celebrate!
Robert Katz
Charlotte, NC —  May 28, 2014 3:39pm ET
I bought two cases of Bordeaux from each of my sons' birth years. We just celebrated by opening one bottle from the two 1996 cases to celebrate his high school graduation. The Cos D'Estournel was fantastic and the Montrose was not quite as good, but still we (my son included) got a kick out of drinking wine from his birth year. We think it's a great and fun tradition!

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