How to Pick the Perfect Anniversary Wine | Wine Enthusiast
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How to Pick the Perfect Anniversary Wine

Whether you’re celebrating your first year or your 30th, anniversaries deserve an acknowledgment. And for each milestone, we recommend you pick a bottle that represents both the time and the delicious complexity you’ve achieved.

Wines that evolve in the bottle feature a good balance between fruit concentration and acidity, plus tannin for reds, or sugar for off-dry and dessert wines. While 95% of bottles are intended for early consumption, the remaining 5% benefit from aging, and represent thousands of wines from different regions, grapes and styles. There’s something for everyone.

Tip: When you buy older wines, deal with a reputable retailer or purchase them directly from the cellar. This ensures authenticity, as well as careful storage and handling over the life of the bottle. A trusted retailer can also help select the right producer for the occasion.

First Anniversary

Traditional bottle: Grower Champagne. These wines mimic human relationships. Each producer bottles a singular reflection of their land and the variables that influenced the harvest that season, all with a twist of personality. This is unlike the big Champagne houses that seek a consistent style year over year.

Off-beat bottle: Muscadet. This dry, mineral-driven Loire Valley white is thought of as an inexpensive apéritif wine to enjoy with oysters. But a number of younger producers strive for wines with greater character through texture, either through use of concrete eggs or clay amphorae, along with a stronger focus on terroir. The result allows for the possibility for nuance and complexity to develop over time in the bottle. And, frankly, one year is just the start.

Third Anniversary

Traditional bottle: Viognier from Condrieu. Despite Viognier’s popularity around the world, the tiny Northern Rhône appellation of Condrieu remains a benchmark for the grape. Made in somewhat smaller quantities, this full-bodied wine brims with white flower and almond notes, moderate acidity and a viscous texture.

Off-beat bottle: Rosé from Bandol. Most rosé should be enjoyed soon after bottling. But within Provence lies Bandol, the benchmark for ageable rosé. Typically made from a blend of red grapes that include Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah, the inclusion of regional specialty Mourvèdre adds concentration and structure that allows the wine to develop in bottle.

Fifth Anniversary

Traditional bottle: White Burgundy. For the anniversary of wood (and bills), toast with a wine aged in French barrels. This classic choice for celebrations is made from Chardonnay and loved for its elegance, complexity, nuance and occasional heartbreak. While the best wines, premier cru and grand cru, from Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault can age for many years, an important Burgundy producer said recently that due to premature oxidation, he wouldn’t age these wines longer than five years until they resolve the issue.

Off-beat bottle: Nerello Mascalese. In the last two decades, the wine world has rediscovered this indigenous red variety that grows on the side of Mount Etna in Sicily. Often described as a cross between Burgundy (for elegance, freshness and red fruits) and Barolo (for tannins and structure), a cadre of top producers now make wines that will improve with age. With their tannic grip, find wines with at least five years of maturity.

Wedding anniversary wines

10th Anniversary

Traditional bottle: Riesling (Germany, Austria, Alsace). Skip the tin for a bottle of aged Riesling. The aromatic white grape is considered noble for its ability to age, and developing complex, earthy flavors while retaining its hallmark perfume. The variety’s piercing acidity is the secret to its long life. The best versions take as long as 10 years to hit their stride, and many can improve far longer. Look to the classic regions of Germany, notably the Mosel and Rheingau, as well as Austria’s Wachau or Alsace’s grand cru vineyards in France.

Off-beat bottle: Soave. From a region in Italy’s Veneto, this dry white is made from the Garganega grape. It can age beautifully when producers achieve a balance between freshness and concentration. Citrus rind, white flowers and almond give way to dried nuts and fruit leather as it ages, without losing its volcanic-soil salinity. Not only is it a delicious alternative, it’s an affordable one.

15th Anniversary

Traditional bottle: Red Burgundy. Ditch the crystal (unless it’s a decanter) for a bottle of Burgundy. As prices soar, a bottle of grand cru from a top producer has become the ultimate symbol of a special occasion. There’s a reason that these wines are vaunted. They haunt with their perfume, elegance and expression of time and place. But if this category at its apex is out of financial reach, as it is for many wine drinkers, try premier cru wines from Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée and Chambolle-Musigny, which just cost a small fortune.

Off-beat bottle: Pinot Blanc from Austria. Unlike white Burgundy, you can still enjoy an experience akin to aged French Chardonnay with mature Pinot Blanc. There’s a reason why it’s called “Weissburgunder,” or literally “white Burgundy” in Austria. When fermented and/or aged in oak and allowed to evolve for a decade, the wine becomes creamy, nutty and takes on savory mushroom notes. The best examples come from eastern part of the country around Burgenland and Niederösterreich.

20th Anniversary

Traditional bottle: Barolo or Barbaresco. From northwestern Italy’s region of Piedmont, the indigenous grape of Nebbiolo produces the inimitable wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Both are Denominazioni di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) regions, but each have slightly different takes on the grape. Barolo often manifests more powerfully than its elegant sibling Barbaresco. In both, high acidity and a firm tannic structure help Nebbiolo age for decades. Look for excellent vintages like 2010 or 2016, and you can expect these wines to start to hit their peak in 20 years. If you celebrate this year, track down a ’98, a vintage that drinks beautifully now.

Off-beat bottle: Sagrantino di Montefalco. Tuscany’s less famous neighbor, Umbria, produces wine from local grape Sagrantino. Most wine drinkers haven’t experienced the robust, tannic reds of Montefalco, as they’re not as well known and are quite burly in youth. A few decades in bottle, however, and the tight grip of adolescence softens into a dried cherry, tobacco and leather-scented wine that’s perfect alongside that celebratory Kobe steak.

25th Anniversary

Traditional bottle: Grand cru classé red Bordeaux. Without question, the finest reds of the Médoc should be served on a silver anniversary. Depending on budget, look to the grand cru classé wines, or classified growths. It helps to celebrate 25 years from a lauded vintage, too, like 2000, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2016… Or you can pick one now and cellar it. What a sweet reward after 25 years of commitment.

Off-beat bottle: Coteaux du Layon. This sweet white wine appellation in the Loire Valley requires 100% Chenin Blanc. It brings that great marker for ageworthy whites: riveting acidity. Look for the sweetest, botrytis-infected Sélection de Grains Nobles, similar to but far cheaper than Sauternes. With a wallop of sugar, the flavors that start in adolescence as apricot, citrus, flowers and quince will turn creamy, tropical, honeyed and nutty with age. Two smaller appellations that stand out are Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux. Recent standout vintages include 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2010.

30th Anniversary

Traditional bottle: Vintage Port. Douro Valley Port houses declare a vintage only in the best years, although occasionally, not every house agrees. The wines are made from a producer’s best grapes, typically from the Cima Corgo. Port ages in barrel a few years before being bottled unfiltered and unfined to retain tannin and unadulterated flavor. This is the primary factor in why these wines take decades to evolve and harmonize. The ritual of decanting only adds to the symbolism of the occasion.

Off-beat bottle: Hungarian Tokaji Aszu. The noble sweet wines of Hungary from the region of Tokaji have been served to royalty across Europe for hundreds of years. While wine aficionados adore them, the average consumer rarely encounters a bottle. A concentrated, honeyed, botrytized Tokaji, made from white grapes Furmint, Hárslevelü and Sárgamuskotály (Yellow Muscat), is one of the world’s most delicious wines. It’s a perfect gift to you and your partner to mark three decades together.