How do I Know if They Made Good Wine the Year I was Born?

Marc Kauffman, CSW, Certified Sommelier

It’s really fun to find a wine made the year of your birth. Consider all the events that happened that year and do some research about harvest conditions in various parts of the world and you may be surprised to find your birth year may have been a “stellar vintage”…or not.

Some of us were fortunate enough to have parents that were wine conscious and actually purchased a bottle or two of wine made the year we were born and then held on to them until an appropriate birthday, either theirs or ours, when we got a chance to taste the stuff. Maybe it was a great year and we had a fantastic experience. But all too often the opposite is true. There are several reasons why it is difficult to have this somewhat unique experience. Let me illustrate.

If you are attempting to find a wine from your birth year for perhaps your 40th birthday you may have quite a challenge. There are only certain wines that are even capable of aging for 21 years let alone 40 or 50 years and these are without exception very expensive. The usual preference has historically been Classified Bordeaux wines. These wines such as Chateau La Tour, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut Brion, Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Mouton Rothschild are some of the most sought after and thus some of the most expensive wines in the world. While in some vintages these wines can live for 50+ years, you must know a lot about the particular vintage and just as important how the wine was stored (the provenance of the wine). It is an extreme risk to purchase and old Bordeaux wine from the local wine retailer unless you get a guarantee. Even then it is rare to find these wines in prime condition. Another wine in this category would be great Sauternes, a dessert wine from the Bordeaux region. Chateau D’Yquem is the best example of this wine. Age-worthy but very expensive.

As alternatives to red Bordeaux wines, sweet wines and vintage Port are two wines that can stand “the test of time”. Due to high sugar content and in the case of Port higher alcohol, these wines are more or less naturally preserved. They are a safer bet to purchase after the fact if you cannot have access to Bordeaux wines on first release and keep them “in your cellar” for years. I managed to find wine from my birth year at a very special wine retailer in Paris France. La Vinia. (www.lavinia.com) This shop actually obtains the wines directly from the producing winery. I obtained the bottle pictured above from this shop. The wine was in perfect condition and was an amazing experience. I even managed to find a bottle of this same producer’s wine at La Vinia on a later visit from the year 1919, the year my father was born. I purchased it for about $275.00 and brought it back to share with him on his 80th birthday. Again the wine was incredible. If you are lucky enough to experience a wine that has held up well for 50 years it is a treat!

One final suggestion for finding birth year experiences is to consider Armagnac. Armagnac is a distilled liquor similar to Cognac however unlike most Cognac, Armagnac can be labeled for the year in which the grapes were harvested. The above bottle of 1947 vintage for example would sell for about $500 today. A relative bargain if you compare to a 1947 Chateau Margaux for example that would sell for about $3,000 per bottle if you could find one! And the higher alcohol (40%abv) of Armagnac offers a much better chance of a memorable taste experience.

So maybe you will lay away a bottle for your kid to celebrate their 21st birthday. Or you may find a bottle from your own birth year for that special party. It takes some knowledge and some searching but it’s worth the effort for a unique celebration.