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Buying Birth-Year Wines Is Just One Option

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Mar 14, 2008 3:48pm ET

Buying birth-year wines for your children is not something I recommend. Sure, it’s a thoughtful, loving gesture that your son or daughter may well appreciate when that special occasion comes along years from now, when he or she graduates from college or marries.

But there are many other wine-related gift options I think readers should consider, some of which I’ve outlined previously. One recent reader asked my thoughts on storing a case of 2005 Lewis Reserve and 2005 Far Niente for a wedding rehearsal dinner in 20 to 30 years.

There are plenty of wines that are built to age 20 to 30 years, chief among them Vintage Port, or dessert wines, such as Sauternes or German Rieslings of the Beerenauslese or Trockenbeereneauslese style. I’d also consider great vintages of Bordeaux and, to be fair, many wines can make the long haul provided they’re impeccably stored. I wouldn’t bet on the Lewis, but Far Niente might make it. From California, I’d look to wines with track records for aging, such as Beringer Private Reserve, Phelps Insignia or Araujo Eisele.

I bought and cellared wines for my children and so did many of my friends. These now young adults have been treated to some nice, mature wines, but also some marginal offerings. But the key, it seems to me, is what do you want to accomplish, aside from having a wine with a birth-year vintage date on it? Do you want to teach your children the right way to appreciate wine? When do you expect they might actually begin to enjoy wine? And how do you guess which kind of wine they’ll like, if they even like it at all?

I think you’re better off cellaring a few wines once your child reaches a wine-drinking age. That way he or she might remember the day you took them to the wine store and bought it with him. Another good idea: Set aside a case from a high school or college graduation date, which commemorates one of their accomplishments, not yours. You could even splurge and offer to send Junior on a wine trip as a way of showing them the good life—once the diploma is in hand …

Cellaring birth-year wines for Junior is fine. But consider other options as well.

Sandy Fitzgerald
Centennial, CO —  March 14, 2008 4:22pm ET
I lucked out. Birth year 1982. Bought my daughter two bottles of 82 Chateau Margaux. Had them with a fabulous dinner at the old Boar's Head Resturant(WS Award Winner for years) in Nashville at her graduation from Vanderbilt. We allowed her to have small portions of wine with dinners starting when she was about six. She developed a love and appreciation for wine she still has. She still talks about the meal and the wine. But I got lucky.
Bill Robinson
Calgary —  March 14, 2008 4:36pm ET
My father has spoken about how he should have bought me a Hogshead of Port from my birth year, and just lately I was in my local wine store and found some 1980 Smith and Woodhouse Port. I excitedly bought a bottle and am now anxiously awaiting a proper time to open it with my Dad. I am not sure I am going to love it,and for the same price they had 1983(J.S. gave it a higher rating), but I know both my Dad and I will love the "specialness" of the bottle. I have found sometimes the wine I have loved the most is less about the juice than about the company, the event, or the place that accompanied it.
Lisa Dornbach
Walnut Creek, CA —  March 14, 2008 5:13pm ET
James, I agree that people need to think more about which wines they cellar for their child's birth year. Only a select few will make it 21 years or more. I think one thing that is important to remember is that impeccably stored wine is difficult to find and very expensive. What do you think the percent increase in price will be for a 2005 LLC with perfect fills in 2026? I've only recently begun to seriously get into wine in my late 20s. Having four or five mixed cases of mature wines from Bordeaux, the Rhone, Germany, or Porto given to me by my parents would have gone a long way towards saving me the worries of buying older bottles, as well as the money, and it would have greatly aided my wine education. So what if I might not have liked any of them? Could have given them to friends or sold them. I'm going to take my children to the wine store when they turn 21 anyway, but they ought to know whether or not they will like that expensive bottle of 2026 Bordeaux they purchase after they cellar it for 30 years.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  March 14, 2008 7:17pm ET
Based on the time value of money and the capricious nature of many so-called "long-lived" wines, I'd recommend buying birth-year vintage wines less than a year before you plan on consuming them. I don't celebrate my birthday, but I did buy a bottle of 1968 Ch. Souverain Cab that had a crumbly cork, threw a lot of sediment, but ultimately provided a great deal of pleasure to me and my wife when we moved in to our new custom home in 2004. Cellaring a wine for 21 years plus is something I just can't pencil out from a probability standpoint.
Brian Peters
Broomfield, CO —  March 14, 2008 8:27pm ET
I've been looking for the right 1961 Bordeaux for my 50th in a few years...for the kids (3 girls) they all have a 2000 Leoville Barton for their 21st birthday - 2014, 2025 and 2026!
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  March 14, 2008 10:07pm ET
Well...I have 2001 and 2004 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr wines for my sons born in those years. The oldest was born in Germany, then we moved back to Germany in 2005. Both have met the Prums (while my wife and I enjoyed drinking wine with them). I also have some limited Bordeaux from both years, although I'm not sure that I won't drink that wine before they turn 21 (or all of it for that matter). They both know Daddy likes wine, and they occasionally ask for a glass (which I heavily dilute with water). It's funny, but they take great pride in showing off ''their wine'' to guests. If I didn't have a proper cellar, I wouldn't even think about it. - Jim
Juan Vazquez-abarca
Tijuana, Mexico —  March 14, 2008 11:34pm ET
Hmm, i bought a case of 2001 Montelena Estate, my first daughter was born that year and her name is Elena.I was thinking of opening a bottle in special moments.I have opened 2 already... ...she is about to turn 7 and she just confesed that when she has kids (!!!) she'll buy wines for them...I decided to open the third tonight!
Scott Cheney
March 15, 2008 12:18am ET
I have bought wines from the birth-year vintages of my children. Originally I planned to do just as has been discussed--save them to drink with, or give to my kids when they "come of age". But in my estimation, it is likely they really wouldn't fully appreciate such wines until they are in their 30's, or older. Some wines will last to a 21st birthday, but precious few will go 30+. So instead of holding them that long, I will drink many of them in honor of my kids, before they are 21. Maybe I'll open one with my wife to celebrate the day they start college, or perhaps share a bottle with the parents of one of my children's friends after a dance recital or hockey game. Don't worry, I will probably squirrel away plenty of good wine that will get passed down to those of my kids who are interested (no guarantee they will even be interested in wine), but like Mr. Laube suggested, the bottles may be from more recent vintages, that will be in their prime when the child celebrates the birth of their own children, or a milestone birthday, promotion, etc. I don't fault my father for NOT keeping a case of 1967 Mouton for me!
Pat Heffernan
Fort Lauderdale, FL —  March 15, 2008 12:13pm ET
James, thanks for the thoughtful topic. It is certainly one that I have been deliberating over, as I fathered a pair of boys in 2003 and 2007. Considering the strength of the vintages and the ability to age, as well as QPR and availability, I have been leaning toward Sauternes. I figure that the boys might actually enjoy the stickies more than dry wines in their youth, and I could conceivably lay down a couple of bottles or several half bottles (to protect against calamity) without breaking my budget. Is there any track record on aging half bottles (due to cork size or whatever) or anything else that I should be thinking that I currently am not?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  March 15, 2008 1:35pm ET
Pat, as a rule of thumb, the bigger the bottle, the slower a wine ages. As for dessert wines, or Port, I'm less sure how bottle size would effect quality. I'll ask Suckling...he might know.
Trey Rolofson
Overland Park, KS —  March 15, 2008 2:08pm ET
My three kids were born in 2000, 2003 and 2005. Bought Bordeaux, a case of 100 pointers for the first two, now I can't afford it for the third....(insert 2005 Bordeaux price joke here)....having my entire family involved in wine appreciation, I've felt kinda at a loss trying to find something unique for my daughter, thanks for a couple of nice ideas. We'll make it about her accomplishments.
Mr Tom A Hughes
Keller, Tx —  March 15, 2008 5:35pm ET
I wouldn't mind having a bottle of 1951 BV Georges de Latour for my birthday!
Steve Lenzo
PHX, AZ —  March 15, 2008 6:17pm ET

My children were born in 2000, 2002 & 2005.To your point I've only purchased 3L or 6L bottles for them. So far I have a 2002 Shafer HSS 6L that John, Doug & Elias wrote a note on & signed for my son, Now 5. I also have a 2005 Pavie 6L and a 3L Las Cases for the youngest.

Unfortunately, I got into wines a little later in life. So I'm still trying to find the right 2000 big bottle. Obviously a nice Bordeaux would work but boy I cold buy a new car for the price of a 6L bottle now. I guss he'll get my last 2 bottles of Lafite 750 size.

Any reccomendations on a good 2000 large format still at reasonale price? Bordeaux or other regions?
Robert Johnston
Washington DC —  March 16, 2008 8:04am ET
I bought sauternes for my son's birth year, and my wife purchased a vintage port for me to open on our 25th anniversary. I like the idea of buying wines to commemorate big events like highschool or college graduation and since my son's were recent enough, I might have to go put away somethings from those years for him.
William Ramirez
Texas, USA —  March 16, 2008 2:05pm ET
Having a wine to celebrate big events with your children is priceless, but we must not forget that the achievements reached are the most important feat regardless of the wine opened or cellared. When those moments arrive, I am sure our kids will enjoy our company with either a White Zinfandel or a Phelps Insignia.
Jeff Yates
Napa, CA —  March 16, 2008 2:36pm ET
I went with the bigger bottle is better idea. I have been to several tastings where the winery has opened different size bottles of the same vintage and bigger bottles age slower. I went with three liter bottles, 85 Opus, 85 Inglenook Reunion, 87 Spottswoode, 91 Spottswoode, and a 95 Caymus Special Selection.
Steven Aaron
New Jersey —  March 16, 2008 10:10pm ET
James, I could not help but go for the 2002 LaTour and Lafitte...one of which I plan to open and celebrate with her on her 21st bday. The other to give to her to hold on to. The ports came in 03, a year late!
Guus Hateboer
March 17, 2008 5:34am ET
I would go for vintage port or sauternes. Recently opened a 1966 and a 1970 Taylor's vintage port for birthday celebrations, and both were...amazing. Best ports I ever had, especially the 1970. They seem to be made for this.
Neil Koffler
New York, NY —  March 17, 2008 12:23pm ET
James-You correctly point out many of the reason why this is folly. I've bought birth year Bordeaux ('93 and '96) at auction for our daughters. It's just for fun and likely not to work out but I've kept the cost to a reasonable level for me.Neil
Hoyt Hill Jr
Nashville, TN —  March 17, 2008 4:47pm ET
SandyAs a partner in and the wine director of The Wild Boar in Nashville, I want to thank you for celebrating with us!My son worked at Pierre Gaillard in Cote Rotie for the summer of 2005, so I bought him a case of each of the wines he helped make for college graduation (hopefully next year!).
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  March 17, 2008 7:56pm ET
Until the large format discussion, I totally forgot about the several magnums of 2001 Brunello I have. I also bought a magnum of 2004 Dom. Matrot Volnay Santenots after the cellar man there told me he had put one away for his daughter (and recommended it). I do realize all this is a bit of a crap shoot, but I figure if I test the smaller bottles several years in I'll have an idea of whether or not they are holding up well -- or if I should start consuming them along the way.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  March 17, 2008 8:01pm ET
James, glad you didn't forget...as way too many people do. My colleague James Suckling says that with regards to Vintage Port in half bottles (as opposed to 750 mls. or larger), you shouldn't notice much difference for the first five years or so, but after that the smaller bottles will age faster than the larger ones, which is the typical understanding of smalll versus larger bottles.
Michael Nunley
Phillips Ranch, CA —  April 22, 2008 1:31am ET
I bought a 750ml 1990 Duckhorn Cab for my daughter's 21st Birthday (Jan-2011). Do you think it will hold up? I also bought a 1992 Fonseca Port for my son who will be 21 in Jan-2013. Would it be better to hold until he turns 30?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  April 22, 2008 6:41pm ET
Michael, at this point you're probably in good shape with the Duckhorn for your daughter. But I wouldn't wait too long...The Fonseca will be around forever...

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