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?