A Guide to Finding Ageworthy Birth Year Wines | Wine Enthusiast
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A Guide to Finding Ageworthy Birth Year Wines

Forget about the astrological sign of the newest person in your life. Also forget whether they were born in the Year of the Rooster (2017), Monkey (2016) or Goat (2015). All interesting information, no doubt, but what really counts is what your child’s birth-year vintage is like, and which wines to squirrel away so everyone can properly celebrate when your little one turns of age.

For new parents, choosing birth year wines now, rather than years later when they’re harder to find and much more expensive, is a time-honored duty. To speed along the process, these experts offer help on how they evaluate the last three vintages of ageworthy wines, and which ones have the most long-range potential to gift to your child decades into the future.

2017 Vintage

The year 2017 was challenging in most of Europe and California, so choose carefully. Erik Segelbaum, wine director for Starr restaurants, points out that it’s often more about who makes the wine than just the vintage.

“A great winemaker is great because they know how to handle challenging vintage and harvest conditions,” he says. Fortunately, you have time to find the best wines. Most of the 2017s won’t be bottled for another year or two.

Kimberly Milburn, sommelier at New York City’s Bowery Meat Company, is excited about news from Burgundy. “I’m hearing from most of my contacts there that 2017 was excellent, and they are thrilled and excited about seeing the wines develop [in the barrels],” says Milburn.

For Bordeaux, Segelbaum suggests “tried and true labels,” especially from Pessac-Léognan and Graves.

Napa sommelier Kelli White warns to stick with more disciplined Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, as the “rich, [chocolaty] Cabernets,” though lovely to drink now, may fade in two decades. Winn Roberton, head sommelier for Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., suggests Cabernet from Napa’s mountain vineyards. “The higher the better,” she says.

Although 2017 is too early to judge, Joe Campanale, owner/beverage director at Fausto in New York City, says that most vintages of Port and Madeira have some excellent wines, and both of these fortified wines will age for decades. Even when a blended vintage isn’t declared, Ports made from a single quinta or vineyard for that year can be intriguing.

2016 Vintage

Lucky is the child born in 2016, as reports out of most great regions are enthusiastic. Hopes swell for Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône Valley, Napa Valley, German sweet Riesling, some Champagne, the Barolos of Piedmont and Garnachas from Spain’s Priorat.

Champagne expert Christie Dufault, professor of wine and beverage studies at the Culinary Institute of America, says that most vintage bubbly is aged for up to a dozen years before it’s released for sale. That’s a boon for parents who procrastinate.

For 2016, Dufault says, “I will most likely look to more growers [small, single-vineyard producers], as they had the farming and harvesting advantage in that challenging year.”

Campanale says, “I like Napa 2016 because it wasn’t as warm as some recent vintages and made wines with lower alcohol that are more classically structured.” He’s also bullish on Burgundy. “[The] 2016 [bottlings are] going to be a great vintage, because the wines are balanced and really delicious and flavorful,” he says.

The 2016 Rhônes are lovely, says Milburn, “especially great in the Southern Rhône.” As for Bordeaux, Segelbaum says that 2016 is not getting quite the attention of 2015. “So here’s a good opportunity to splurge on some of the bigger houses, the ‘Grands Vins’ and more coveted regions such as Margaux and Pauillac,” he says.

2015 Vintage

Segelbaum is enthusiastic about the structure of the Bordeaux wines. “The acid, tannin and fruit character are all exactly where you would want them,” he says. Segelbaum believes it a good year for bargains on second labels from great châteaux and less-regarded regions.

“A high-quality Fronsac, Côtes de Blaye or Côtes de Bourg might set you back only $20 a bottle and return massive dividends 20 years down the road,” he says.

For Champagne, “the 2015s will overall demonstrate the most consistency and ageworthiness of the three vintages,” says Dufault.

Roberton calls the year’s Barolo, “a spectacular vintage. I’ve seen more inexperienced wine drinkers smell a nice Barolo and say, ‘Wow,’ than with a glass of Bordeaux,” because of the aromas of road tar, roses and anise.

Campanale says that the Burgundy vintage is great for those who prefer a “riper” style. Milburn likes the great northern Rhône Syrah from Hermitage and Côtes-Roties.

Over-the-top Napa Cabs concern White. Those wines that are extremely rich and concentrated may not make it to 2035, she says. Instead, look for more structured wines.

Now, for you good parents who have done the right thing for their children, put away another case for yourself to celebrate after having survived the teenage years.

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