A question frequently asked in wine shops goes something like this: “My son/ daughter was born in 1995. Do you have any wines from that year for his/her 21st birthday?”
Unfortunately, that customer usually leaves without that coveted bottle, because few wine shops carry any inventory of old product. Much was sold off during the post-2008 economic recession, and the stocks haven’t really been replenished.
So if you’re a new parent — like yours truly, as of 12 weeks ago — and think you’ll be asking a similar question about wines from birth years, now is the time to be proactive.
One caveat: It’s difficult to know which wines can make it 21 years and still taste structurally intact. The level of tannins, acid, sugar, sulfur and alcohol all play important parts in the longevity of a wine.
Lucky for parents of children born in 2015, there are going to be a wide variety of options out there that also shouldn’t cost too much, comparatively speaking. It was a great year for much of Europe, with a warm summer and no big weather issues in the fall. Look for vintage Italian releases down the road from Champagne, as well as Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino.
It’s way too early to say just what pricing will be for great wines that will age well, but look to producers in Champagne like Dom Ruinart, Pol Roger, and Krug for releases down the road that, while somewhat expensive now, will likely stay the course for a few decades hiding in your basement.
2014 was extremely wet and unimpressive for anyone set on aging their wines, unfortunately. But there is one no-brainer place to go for picking up wines to hold on to for a generation: Sauternes.
Sauternes, in the Bordeaux region of southwest France, sits near the confluence of two rivers. In benefits from a neat combination, a fog that often rolls over the vineyards in the morning and consistent sunlight that burns off that fog later in the day. Too little fog means that the grapes won’t experience a process that concentrates the sugars. Too much fog generally means too much “noble rot,” a fungus that greatly alters the taste of grapes. The main grape of Sauternes is sémillon.
The wetness that permeated Europe in 2014, throwing a wrench into the fruit of usually full-bodied red wines, was manageable precisely because of the type of wine being made in Sauternes.
There are many potential wines out there, and one shouldn’t have to drop $100 to make it happen. Château d'Yquem is the big name here, but expect that to be north of $300 per bottle. Instead, check out lower-tier names like Doisy-Védrines, Sigalas Rabaud, or Clos Haut-Peyraguey. This is a great opportunity to try decadent, floral, honey-scented dessert wines at somewhere around $30 to $40, a nearimpossible feat when talking about wines built for aging.
For those looking to save something special for their 2013 kid, California’s Howell Mountain region might be the place to look. Located northeast of Napa Valley, Howell Mountain is known for producing long-aging cabernet sauvignon. The weather was really on side of the growers this year, producing a wine with decent overall balance and affordability. Look for wines from makers like O’Shaughnessy, Dunn, and CADE for wines that can last until the 2030s.
Domaine Huet Vouvray’s “Clos du Bourg” sec is a total slam dunk for parents in search of a 2012 vintage. It’s only $35 retail and should have no issues lasting until 2033. Made from chenin blanc, this is a wine meant for a dinner table full of fish and pork. Its style is refreshing; white peach and lemon/lime flavors aren’t exactly dominant, but nothing really is in this wine. That’s the beauty of it. It’s got more going on than most white wines at this price — dried flowers, crisp red apples, smells like water running over river rocks — and will age longer than most as well. Snag this bottles when you can find it.
Lastly, some bad news for parents of 2016 babies: Harvest hasn’t happened yet for the Northern Hemisphere, so quality is yet to be determined. France’s Burgundy and Beaujolais regions have already been decimated by hail, so odds are pretty low of finding high-quality wines under $200 that will age for that long. But stay patient, and check in with your trusted wine shops. They should be able to point you toward wines that will last the next two decades.
Justin King is a certified sommelier and co-owner of Bridge Street Social, a wine and cocktail-focused restaurant in DeWitt.