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07.10.2010

Buying Birth-Year Wine for Children

At two years old, my daughter is already pronouncing her judgement on wines. She does this in one of two ways. She either takes a long sniff in the glass, or she puts her finger into the neck of the bottle, twirls it around and then sticks it in her mouth while putting on a thoughtful expression. Her assessments currently consist of "dis one good" or "no like." Which means she already knows most of what she needs to be a competent wine drinker.

As you might expect, I have a fantasy of opening some great bottles to share with her when she officially turns 21. She will, of course, be drinking wine long before that in the security of our home and with our supervision. But my hope is that by the time she's 21, she will not only be interested in drinking wine, but be able to tell the really good stuff from all the rest.

Which is why I'm about to start buying some "birth year" wine for her. She was born in 2008, and some of those wines are starting to hit the market now, especially the whites and the Pinot Noirs.

The question, though, is what to buy?

While my wife and I haven't yet set a budget for this endeavor, which we will do eventually, I am formulating my strategy for what I want to buy.

The wines have to meet four primary criteria for me to consider buying them:

1. The specific wine must have a track record of improving with age for 15+ years
2. The wine must be from a well-known producer who makes wine to age
3. The 2008 vintage must not have been a disaster in the producer's region
4. The wine must be something I'd want to drink anyway

This means that I'm not going to be buying just anything expensive from the 2008 vintage.

Instead I'll be sticking to some very safe bets.

I'll be looking at potentially buying wines among the following:

1. Taittinger, Bollinger, Henriot, or similar vintage Champagne. The 2008 vintage was decent (not phenomenal) but top producers will have made good wine. The 2008 vintages, however, won't be released for several years, as most top producers are on 2004 at the latest, with many current releases being the 2002 vintage.

2. Alsatian Riesling from producers like Zind Humbrecht, Marcel Deiss, or Trimbach. The 2008 vintage in Alsace seems to have been a fantastic one, and these Rieslings age forever. As a bonus, compared to some of the other wines on my list, they will be relatively inexpensive.

3. German Riesling from producers like Donnhoff, Muller-Catoir, JJ Prüm, and Muelenhof. 2008 seems to have been a slightly better vintage in Germany than it was in Austria, and these wines are fairly ageless. A great German Riesling with 20 years of age on it is a truly gorgeous experience.

4. Barbaresco and Barolo from producers like Giacosa and Giacomo Conterno. These are producers that make great wine in just about any year, and the 2008 harvest was pretty good in Italy's Piedmont region. The Barolo's won't be available until 2012 at least, but the Giacosa's Barbarescos should be available next year.

5. A very select few (only because I can't really afford many) red Burgundies from producers that really knew what they were doing in 2008. It was a tough year in Burgundy, but top producers can make great wine in all but the most disastrous vintages, and 2008 was far from that. I'll take a look at Faiveley, Prieur, Denis Mortet, and others, while fantasizing about being able to afford to buy Armand Rousseau.

6. One or two Brunellos, because Ruth would want me to and because when aged well, they are so fantastic. However, a massive hailstorm hit Montalcino in the fall of 2008, and many producers lost 20-40% of their crops. Hopefully, skilled producers were able to recover, though prices will no doubt be up. If I'm doing particularly well when they're released in 2012 or 2013, I'd love to own a couple of bottles of Soldera Brunello, but more likely I'd be buying folks like Il Poggione, Poggio Antico, Col d'Orcia, Poggio di Sotto, etc.

7. A bottle of Chateau Climens Sauternes. It's my favorite.

8. A couple of bottles of Williams-Selyem and Rochioli single vineyard Pinot Noirs from the Sonoma Coast and the Russian River Valley.

9. A couple of bottles of Cornas or Hermitage from the Northern Rhone, and a couple bottles of great Chateauneuf-du-Pape from the Southern Rhone. While 2008 was a tricky vintage in the Rhone, I expect good things from folks like Clape, Chave, Thierry Allemand, Chateau Beaucastel, and Chateau Rayas.

10. Maybe, just maybe, one bottle of Cos D'Estournel Bordeaux, which is one of my favorites that I can somewhat afford, a bottle of Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet, which I absolutely adore with 20 years of age on it, and perhaps one or two others from Napa. The really good Bordeaux is too expensive.

So that's essentially my wish list for now. It's a hard list to make as there are so many, many great wines out there that can age well. It could have included Lopez de Heredia whites and reds from Spain, some Aglianico-based wines from Campania, some whites and reds from the Loire, a select few reds from Australia.... But my budget is not limitless, nor is the space in my cellar, so it is what it is.

What do you think? Have you bought "birth year" wines for your kids? What did you buy, and what was your strategy?

Comments (37)

Gus&Elaine's Son wrote:
07.10.10 at 10:34 PM

Buy American! Freemark Abbey Winery Cabernet Bosche`is where the cuttings for Martha's Vineyard came from when Laurie Wood planted it for Joe Heitz. I had the great joy of tasting a Freemark Abbey 1967 Cabernet Bosche`, kept at the winery in pristine conditions since bottling. The wine had a laser beam focused core of brilliant cherry pie fruit surrounded by brilliant acid and voluptuous texture that was, as the sign says, ..."bottled poetry..." 43 years old and this wine was, quite literally, A CLASSIC! Hats off to the 1967 partnership that pulled together and made this True American Classic for us to enjoy!

Alfonso wrote:
07.11.10 at 6:07 AM

Just make sure whatever you buy you will also like, in case the child surprises you and doesn't follow your interests.

Funny how a generation will follow their own calls sometimes.

Thankfully, in my experience, I have enjoyed many a 1976 that my son was not interested in.

eve wrote:
07.11.10 at 7:43 AM

thanks for doing some homework for us! our 1st is due in November and I've been thinking along the same lines, regarding which producers to put my faith in for that 15+ year aging process. Of course the 2010 vintage will most likely have some variation from the 2008 stars, but at least this gives me a starting point when the time comes. Cheers!

joshiemac wrote:
07.11.10 at 8:35 AM

I have twin daughters born in 2008 and I've been putting some thought to this as well. So thanks for suggestions.

On a related note, besides the birth wines to cellar and drink with them when they are older, I also want to stock up on 08s to drink each year on their birthday. Perhaps even a case+ of the same wine-to evaluate how the wine ages and matures from year to year much like I will as a parent and they will as people.

John wrote:
07.11.10 at 10:56 AM

I bought birth year wines for both my daughters in the 80's. We drank them immediately.

Alder Yarrow wrote:
07.11.10 at 12:00 PM

Michael,

I've tasted several early 70's vintages of the Bosche Cab from Freemark Abbey out of Magnum and agree that it is delicious stuff.

Benito wrote:
07.11.10 at 12:05 PM

I've always wondered about storage for these situations. Seems like you often hear about such a bottle getting broken, pulled out of the cellar by a distracted dinner guest, or perhaps the casualty of an unauthorized teenage party a few years shy of the uncorking date.

So maybe split the bottles in half, with the others stored with... Grandparents? Godparents? Aunts or uncles? Or perhaps a reciprocal arrangement with another wine-loving friend who has recently had kids?

Funny story: my old roommate's father made a case of homemade apple wine the month the child was born, with the goal of opening all of them at a big party on the 21st birthday. (He had no prior experience making wine.) 21 years later, a dozen bottles of horribly spoiled, fully rotten "wine" were uncorked and everyone had to go outside until the smell dissipated.

07.11.10 at 5:58 PM

Nice cross-section of ageable wines, Alder.
I wish I had such a thoughtful dad when I was born. Alas, mine only drank vodka! :)
Also, I think a 21 yr old is unlikely to appreciate wine as much as a 30- or a 40-something. So make sure you stock up on something that will last 3-4 decades - sweet wines for sure. Hopefully some top Burgs.

Mart S. wrote:
07.12.10 at 12:20 AM

Thanks for the list and the criteria. Maybe it's time for me to get mine. Cheers!

rs wrote:
07.12.10 at 1:00 AM

Just two words:

VINTAGE PORT

Steve wrote:
07.12.10 at 3:45 AM

We went with Vouvray... Huet Le Haut Lieu Moelleux. While it's not cheap, I think it might be priced a little lower than many of the other wines that are capable of lasting for decades.

Matt D wrote:
07.12.10 at 7:51 AM

I went in on a barrel at the Hospice de Beaune. Had the winemaker pick out his favorite Pommard, purchased a slice, and will have him name the cuvee after my son once it goes into bottle. Custom label and everything. I'll get some Bordeaux, some Auslese, and Huet is a fantastic idea, but this is what we're serving at his wedding (or equally grand occasion). Other thoughts: Madeira and Tokaji.

07.12.10 at 8:19 AM

'72 Chambertin Clos de Beze, Gelin, and '75 Castell 'in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva, for my two daughters. Both splendid. And the wine was pretty good, too!

Bill Cooper wrote:
07.12.10 at 1:15 PM

Whatever wines you pick: a case for the child, and a case for you to monitor from 2017 to 2029. (Full disclosure: we are a California winery, and daughters are great, we have two.)

Bill Cooper wrote:
07.12.10 at 1:16 PM

Whatever wines you pick: a case for the child, and a case for you - to monitor from 2017 to 2029. (Full disclosure: we are a California winery, and daughters are great, we have two.)

Stevieinburgland wrote:
07.12.10 at 1:35 PM

Alder, the breadth and range of your selection is admirable. Also the mentioned criteria is an excellent way to be en garde against unpalatable surprises. For our kids we opted for magnums in the hopes that the larger bottle size would help our selections to better withstand the test of time...

Kelly Studer wrote:
07.12.10 at 2:19 PM

I'm doing this for my nieces (born 2001 and 2008). I opted for the Cos d'Estournel from 2001 and the Mouton-Rothschild from 2008 (on pre-order). Sadly, it's the nicest thing in my wine fridge and has a big note taped to it that says "Property of XXX, do not open". I'm terrified that a drunken friend will accidentally open it - and praying my little note will do the trick. If only I bought this nice of wine for myself!

amy wrote:
07.12.10 at 3:40 PM

Ha! My daughter was born in '02 and I am just getting around to doing this. Must admit I asked a favor of an author. I've felt guilty each year as I've done nothing!

Dave wrote:
07.12.10 at 7:20 PM

I've bought 2005 and 2007 Table for Four from Jessup Cellars in yountville - need to pick up a bottle of 2009 when it becomes available.
Going to be hard to not drink these 2 bottles over the next 20 years though.

Lise Ciolino wrote:
07.12.10 at 10:23 PM

My father was given my birth year wine ('63 von Simmern Riesling Auslase from the Rheingau) by the winemaker and instructed that it was to be opened on my wedding day. Being married at the age of 37, it was probably later than either he or the winemaker imagined, but the wine was still sublimely balanced and nuanced. IMHO, there are too many distractions on the exact occasion of a wedding or birthday, thus a fine wine will not receive the full attention, enjoyment, or respect that it may deserve. My advice is that a special birth-year wine be the centerpiece of its own occasion, perhaps just before or after the milestone celebration.

Dave wrote:
07.12.10 at 10:51 PM

I second the notion of Port (assuming you luck into a declared year). And don't forget about magnums, which of course have the advantage of extended ageability (for my son (2000) I picked up some Lafite and Margeaux mags, which now look like they may pay for his college :)

Ken wrote:
07.12.10 at 11:16 PM

I bought two bottles of '96 Dom Perignon for my daughter's 21st and plan to let her have one to drink with her friends as long as she shares the other with us. Still haven't bought anything for our son, born in '98. Think it's going to have to be Rhones...

BaroloDude wrote:
07.13.10 at 4:13 AM

Alder
Hilarious! My daughter was born in 2008 as well and I was considering the Cos too (hoping the 09s will keep the 08 prices down). Thanks for the other ideas, especially the Barolo! Like yours, my daughter knows some wine already, "dada juice" and now "dada wine" and wants to smell/act like she is sipping grandpa's ROchiolis and dada's Barolos and Brunellos. Cheers! Aren't two year old girls great?!

Brad wrote:
07.13.10 at 2:24 PM

I would also recommend buying at least something from Napa or at least one other from Sonoma. Perhaps something that would not only age, as your requirements state, but from a vineyard or winery that has a good chance of being around in 15 years. It would be great if after she opened the bottle you could take a trip to that vineyard and see how the current release tastes. Always a fun comparison.

Joe wrote:
07.13.10 at 3:14 PM

I get to hold off until 2010 (and who knows how it will turn out in the Northern Hemisphere), but I'm leaning Barolo, Côte Rôtie, Pauillac, CDP, Amarone, and maybe some Penfold's Grange or something from down south...

Anonymous wrote:
07.14.10 at 5:37 PM

i was thinking port...

Troy McHenry wrote:
07.15.10 at 8:37 AM

I have started the same thing for my 3 yr old and soon my other son that was just born. I got a wooden case (Beaucastel) and am putting the bottles in there and plan to seal it up as a sort of time capsule for him. Since he was born in 2007, I have some vintage port, Ridge Montebello, CdP Beaucastel and Saunternes. Have fun with it and make it a good variety.

-Troy

Ruth Lieu wrote:
07.15.10 at 1:44 PM

Just think how many bottles you'd get to acquire if you had two kids!

Christopher O'Gorman wrote:
07.16.10 at 11:13 AM

I bought a magnum of 2005 Vieux Telegraphe CdP for my daughter, but she better drink it with me!

Henry wrote:
07.16.10 at 11:55 AM

My daughter was born in 2007 and so far I've bought vintage port for her: a case of both Fonseca and Dow's. Most likely I will add a bottle or two of Sauternes and possibly some Mosel Auslese rieslings.

DaveM wrote:
07.18.10 at 10:05 PM

Another way to go that I've been doing for my nephews for 8 years is to buy a bottle (or 2 or 3 or...) each year to store until the appropriate time. Their first wines were birth year cabs (96 Dunn Howell Mtn and 99 Ch Montelena Estate) then I added 2 96 vineyard designate Barolos from Rocche de Manzoni, then Rieslings, etc. The nice thing about this approach is you're not hamstrung by a potentially bad vintage in certain areas, and not every bottle needs to go 15+ years as I'll keep buying them until they turn 21 (the arbitrary stopping point for collecting, so each nephew will get nearly 2 cases). The other potential problems still exist (the teenage party gone amok being the most dangerous) but this is fun, a little easier to budget, and gives me greater flexibility to play with vintage and ageability in my selections. Either way is good fun and will be highly appreciated in the end, at least by me and the other wine lovers in the family!

Rafinspace wrote:
07.19.10 at 2:54 PM

The birth year buying has given me cause (and excuse) to buy bottles I would normally have to pass on. I hope the family will try them together over the years. My boy came in 2007, so I've jumped around the world a bit with 'great' vintages in so many places minus Bordeaux - CnDP (Vieux Telegraphe, Beaucastel), Cali Cab (Caymus SS, Dominus), Vintage Port (Taylor Fladgate, Dow's), and because his middle name is 'Corton,' plenty of red & white burgundy from different vintages - Charlemagne, Clos du Roi, Grand Corton, etc.).

Weston wrote:
07.23.10 at 10:26 AM

What about 08 Bordeaux, with the "Wine of the Eon, 09" should be able to make some deals of 's08. Heck had a 07 haut-Brion that was pretty tsaty

Walla Walla Wines!

VictorH wrote:
07.24.10 at 8:47 AM

Sorry for the late reply, but I would strongly advocate magnums and double magnums. I have three girls born 2001, 20003 and 2005, so have the advantage of buying Bordeaux, which ages very well, from some great vintages (03 & 05) but even picked up a double magnum of Latour 2001 that was mispriced on sale for $799! I have between three to six magnums and double magnums for each of them (aside from Bordeaux in all three years, CDP for 03 and 05, Phelps Insignia and a Brunello for 01, a Burgundy 05). I hope to drink it with them -- perhaps one at college graduation, one at engagement, one at the wedding, maybe even one when they have their first child! I have chosen wines my wife and I enjoy, so if need be, we can always celebrate just us with some close friends - but I have already introduced the wonders of wine to them (little tastes from dipping my pinkie into a glass) and letting them smell the bouquet of the wine in the glass and hope they grow to enjoy and appreciate wine and its variety, wonder and education as they get older. So to net it out, I'd recommend buying at least a few mangnums and double magnums that you enjoy and know will age well. Have fun buying - I know I did!

VictorH wrote:
07.24.10 at 8:50 AM

Sorry for the late reply, but I would strongly advocate magnums and double magnums. I have three girls born 2001, 20003 and 2005, so have the advantage of buying Bordeaux, which ages very well, from some great vintages (03 & 05) but even picked up a double magnum of Latour 2001 that was mispriced on sale for $799! I have between three to six magnums and double magnums for each of them (aside from Bordeaux in all three years, CDP for 03 and 05, Phelps Insignia and a Brunello for 01, a Burgundy 05). I hope to drink it with them -- perhaps one at college graduation, one at engagement, one at the wedding, maybe even one when they have their first child! I have chosen wines my wife and I enjoy, so if need be, we can always celebrate just us with some close friends - but I have already introduced the wonders of wine to them (little tastes from dipping my pinkie into a glass) and letting them smell the bouquet of the wine in the glass and hope they grow to enjoy and appreciate wine and its variety, wonder and education as they get older. So to net it out, I'd recommend buying at least a few mangnums and double magnums that you enjoy and know will age well. Have fun buying - I know I did!

12.04.13 at 7:57 AM

Funny thing, Alder, 3 years later, I am re-reading this article, facing the same quest with my son, born in 2011. I can definitely appreciate now what you went thru, and it's been quite a journey for me planning and finding (and budgeting) for the right wines. 2011 is perhaps somewhat in the same boat as 2008 - not a great vintage all-around (like say 2005 or 2010), but still there are some good options out there, if one does their research. I am looking at 20-40 year horizon, and have less of the common perspective - to drink during parties, and more of an eye toward enjoying the great bottles quietly together with my son, and savoring them in an environment where we can really appreciate them. I will probably have some additional findings and insights in a few months. But how do you feel about your decisions 3 years later? Any updates, new realizations, etc...?

Alder wrote:
12.05.13 at 8:40 PM

Gary,

Yes, fraught with peril, no?

I haven’t purchased as many of these wines as I would like. I have the 2008 Montebello, and a couple of 2008 Brunellos. I have waited a little to pull the trigger on some Piemonte wines.

In short, my dreams outstrip my pocketbook. But still feel like those are the right wines.

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