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Milestone Gifts: Beware the Birth-Year Wine

Few gifts pose as many risks as birth-year wines purchased for infants and toddlers
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jun 22, 2011 3:00pm ET

Graduation time means babies have grown up and are entering adulthood, whether it's from high school or college or some other endeavor. And for young couples with spring or summer weddings this year, babies may not be far down the road.

Choosing to mark those different occasions with wine gifts offers a perfect opportunity to do it right. That is, if your college grad likes wine, here's a chance to reward them with a few wines suited to their tastes, or a wine experience, such as a trip to wine country, that they will appreciate. 

Buying birth-year wines for your offspring is tempting for young parents, but it isn't such a great idea.

Let's start with the newborns. Many people cellar birth-year wines for their kids forgetting to realize how most wines will taste in 21 years. I'm not saying don't do it, just think about it. The wines you set aside for a child born in 2011 are likely the wines you like or are the kinds of sure bets that will last two decades. Think Vintage Port or dessert wines, or other wines with a track record for aging well. 

The trouble, as I see it (and I speak from experience), is that it's hard to know if and when your children will take an interest wine. And while they may appreciate the gesture of your setting aside a few special bottles to mark a milestone, whatever that is, the odds that they'll like the aged wine are against you. Imagine a father setting aside a favorite sports coat for junior when he reaches adulthood.

It's a better strategy to celebrate an adult event, like college graduation or a new job, with a special case of wine for the simple reason that by then you'll have a better idea of what kind of wine your child likes, or whether they're interested in wine at all. 

I bought cases of wines for my two children and neither has shown much interest at all in what I assembled. My son's wines are now getting close to 26 years of age and I shudder to think what they might taste like now. But I know he likes younger wines, so it's easier to shop for him now than it was years ago, when it was a matter of speculation.

Another approach is to buy a birth-year wine at auction when your son or daughter is ready to celebrate. Sure, you'll pay a lot more for a great vintage, but if you choose carefully, and buy a wine that has proven it is aging well, then it's a better bet than laying down cases of wines that may be long gone and not worth drinking, much less enjoying. 

My advice. Think about what age you became truly interested in the nuances of wine and apply it to your children. Wait until they're ready. It might be longer than you realize.

Ryan Mathison
Vancouver - BC —  June 22, 2011 4:30pm ET
I recently bought two bottles of Dow port (2007/WS 100pts) to mark the birth of my daughter. I actually bought them the day we found out we were pregnant. Now not knowing if I was going to have a boy or a girl at the time, or whether they liked wine or not. It was something I figured, twenty years from now I'd enjoy! I'm sure it will bring back the memories of that day and how excited my wife and I were and will make a great story. If my daughter ends up liking wine or port, it's an extra bonus. If not, oh well more for me.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  June 22, 2011 4:36pm ET
Ryan, that's the perfect, sure thing bottle...Can't celebrate too many events! Ports are a good example too of wines you can buy down the road, since wines of this caliber are rarely drunk young and often traded.
Scott Bruin
Houston, Texas —  June 22, 2011 4:43pm ET
Great points. I would just add that if you experience the corporate "Mr. Toad's Wild Relocation Ride" that we have and live in 5 cities in 24 years the challenge is further complicated by making sure transportation and storage are done well. I have 84's, 85's and our surprise 95 vintage stored hoping for a lively time when the kids are game. We have a few years to wait on the circa 1995. I would be disingenuous if I didn't say that I had "tested" a bottle or two in each vintage along the way to make sure the aging was progressing in a suitable fashion. Next question---will there be any left when the kids are ready?!!!
Keir Mccartney
League City,TX —  June 22, 2011 6:08pm ET
Human nature, being as perverse as it is , generally means that children ( and adults) want the things they dont have and not the things their parents buy for them. I recall that, as a kid, when my father came in late from work,his dinner always tasted much better from his plate than it ever did from my own! ( and, God bless him, he never failed to share a fork full, even though he must have been hungry.) I suggest buying wine for your own enjoyment thereby giving it a more "exclusive" aura. One is more likely to garner the kids interest in wine that way! If they don't take the bait no harm no foul! A total win win.
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  June 22, 2011 7:43pm ET
Last night we celebrated our older son's 10th birthday, and I opened a 2001 Fuligni Riserva Brunello. I have some birth year wine, but I generally plan on drinking it along the way on special occasions. I do have some wine that will last for 20 years, but I have an inkling most will be gone by then. I even get requests from my boys to open their wines. It's all in good fun...and good wine.
John Jorgenson
Seattle, —  June 22, 2011 9:06pm ET
Imagine purchasing that special bottle, laying it down for two decades and then opening it to smell a whiff of nasty, old, wet and mildewed newspaper! That’s happened to me, but that’s another subject.
I purchased a magnum of my favorite wine for my first grandson, (a ’96 Insignia) and backed it up with a magnum of ’97 and an ice wine and Port (97), but decided to take a different approach for the rest of my grandkids. I’ve been fortunate to have grandkids born in years that saw great vintages in great wine areas, (2000, ’03, ’05), so finding a great bottle down the road ought to be a piece of cake.
I’ll try to encourage appreciation for good wine in all I have any influence with, but if I don’t have it in the cellar there’s no temptation to dip into the stash.
Joseph Balesteri
RIver Forest, Illinois —  June 22, 2011 9:31pm ET
Agree with Mr Laube and Mr Peterson. Set aside a variety of great birth wines and let your child mark the case as theirs. I bought separate cases for storage in the cellar and let my first son mark his at age 4 with his name. On their sixth or seventh birthday let them pick a bottle for mom and dad to celebrate them. You will be done before they are 21!
David Bland
Mineapolis —  June 22, 2011 9:46pm ET
We bought 6 Heitz Martha's Vineyard '86 for my daughter's birth year, and 6 La Conseillante '89 for my son's birth year. We opened each wine on their 21st birthday. Kept the remaining bottles in my cellar. Had the Heitz 6 months ago - still wonderful. Had the Conseillante a couple weeks ago and it is still very good. If you pick wines that will age well, the kids will be happy as mine were. They enjoyed something grown in the year the were born.
John Gilmore
Kansas City  —  June 22, 2011 10:58pm ET
James, great advice, I just didn't take it. My Daughter was born in 2005 and there are just too many great wines that I hope are going to make it.
I hope we are as fortunate as Mr. Bland. Cheers
Greg Forshay
Ft. Worth, TX —  June 23, 2011 10:57am ET
I feel I hedged my bets when I bought a case of 2010 Leoville Barton on futures for my son, born last year. I figure if he doesn't like it when he turns 21, more for me!
Chris A Elerick
Orlando, FL —  June 23, 2011 11:51am ET
who cares whether the wines are good? it's all about the experience and commemorating a wonderful moment in your family's history.
Merlin Guggenheim
Zurich, Switzerland —  June 23, 2011 4:36pm ET
bought a bottle of 1937 Lafaurie Peyraguey for my father when he turned 70 in 2007 and drank it with him. Magical, both the wine and the moment. So I bought agers for my girls, Port, Sauternes, German rieslings and select Bordeaux. It may not work out just as well, but nothing compares to when it does! My girls marked their cases and are excited already!
Frank Colonna
Nanaimo British Columia —  June 23, 2011 5:46pm ET
On the birth of my daughter, family friends gifted us a bottle of port. That gave me the idea to do the same when my son was born. Twelve years later there still tucked away in the cellar waiting for the day.
FONSECA Vintage Port 2003 & QUINTA DA ROSA Vintage Port 1997.
Michael Yan
Edmonton, Alberta —  June 23, 2011 8:11pm ET
Sauternes! Who doesn't like Sauternes???
Michael Holzer
Miami Fl —  June 23, 2011 9:06pm ET
My daughter was born in Italy while I was in the military in 2005 and we left 4 months later. My daughter and I just went back over her Spring Break and I stopped by and picked up a bunch (31 bottles including 11 magnums and 1 3Liter) of my favorite barolos(Rinaldi, Mascarello, Manzone, Elio Grasso) and amarones (Speri, Viviani, Begali, Castellani) from 2005. They signed the bottles to Sofia, my daughter, saying various things in Itlian. To me this will be absolutely priceless whether I drink with her (hopefully will) or in her presence on the various bdays/events. I do agree with James above.

You can see our trip/wineries at "her blog" at mytb.org/throughmyeyes

David R Du Bois
Marshfield MA —  June 24, 2011 7:38am ET
I purchased a case of Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve 1987 for my son's birth year. I make him come over and visit us to drink it. It is still wonderful (2 bottles left).
Ivan Campos
Ottawa, Canada —  June 24, 2011 8:58am ET
We are setting aside some 2009 and 2010 bordeaux (each corresponding to one daughter), though had to re-jig my orders so that I won't have to explain to my younger girl why I didn't go for the 2010 pontet-canet or pavie-macquin: I will set aside the $400 difference from their 2010 mark-ups ($65 per bottle, 3-bottle lots), and invested wisely, this will pay for a year's university costs AND for a bottle of Romanee-Conti when they're old enough to appreciate it :D

from these birth-year wines, the bulk are for my wife and I to enjoy during milestones ;)
Mr John Gonzalez
Juno Beach, FL —  June 26, 2011 6:07am ET
My son Jeff was lucky enough to be born in 1982....I recently auctioned most of the first growth bordeaux cases I bought to celebrate his birth. Needless to say, he was extremely happy when I shared the proceeds.
Rich Riehl
Charlotte, NC —  June 27, 2011 12:46pm ET
I have taken a slightly different approach. We have two son's Ryan and Shane (12 and 9). I have started collecting Shane from Morgan T-P and the Ryan designate Pinot from DuMol. We open one on their birthdays or other days that are special for them. It has been quite fun and much more rewarding than having to wait the 18 or so years to enjoy.
Jamie Sherman
Sacramento —  June 27, 2011 5:39pm ET
I initially bought birth wines for both my children and then came to the realization that they might be great or might taste like sherry. With this in mind, I bought one bottle of Chateau d'Yquem for each (can't go wrong there). Previous birth reds are now again open for my consumption or maybe an earlier celebration that won't test their ageability.

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