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A Guide to Finding Age-Worthy Birth Year Wines

Everything parents should know when buying vintage bottles for their kids

Janice Williams By August 1, 2022
Bottle of wine wrapped in birthday gift wrap, on blue background
Photo illustration by Pix

Stuart Cordell always knew he would give wine to each of his three daughters on their wedding day. But not just any bottles. Cordell, a lawyer in Ohio, safely stowed away several red wines from the year of each child’s birth: 1985, 1987, and 1989. For more than 20 years, he anticipated the day when he was finally able to hand them over.

“Just before my oldest daughter Elise got married, we had a rehearsal lunch where the two families got together, and I had to do the father of the bride speech. That’s when I told her about the wine I had saved. I hoped they would open them on special occasions as their marriage grew,” Cordell says of the four bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon he had saved for his daughter, including wines by Georges de Latour and Chateau Montelena.

Cordell may have been unique in his approach of gifting specific vintages to his daughters upon their wedding day, but the idea of parents collecting birth year wines for their children is nothing new. 

However, there are a few things people should keep in mind when buying and aging birth year bottles. 

Tips for finding birth year wines

For starters, parents should know that bottles from their child’s birth year might not be available immediately. The wines with the most long-range aging potential typically aren’t released for two or more years after the grapes of that vintage are harvested.

Also, wines that are capable of long-term aging are often more expensive than the everyday wines found on store shelves, says Charles Antin, head of auction sales and an auctioneer at fine and rare wine auction house, Zachys. Expect to spend some money for bottles that can age for 20 years or more ― a minimum of $50 to $75 a bottle, notes Antin.

“If the bottles need to be in it for the long haul, that limits the types of wines you can buy. And then there’s the question of how you will store it. If you have a wine cellar, great. If you’re going off-site wine storage, expect to pay about $2 per case per month potentially for 21 years,” says Antin. 

Wines should be stored in a safe, dark, cool place at temperatures of about 55 degrees.

Styles and regions to look for

“Generally speaking, red wine is usually the best for long-term aging, especially red wines with good tannin, acidity, and structure,” says Amayès Aouli, a director and head of continental Europe sales for fine and rare wine auction house Sotheby’s Wine.

Wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy are among the most sought-after wines in the world, known for their long aging ability. However, they can be pricey. For other high-quality reds, Aouli says to look out for top vintages from the Rhône Valley and Châteauneuf-du-Pape or to the classic wines of Rioja, Spain. Some of Italy’s famous Super Tuscans, Barolo, and Brunello di Montalcino wines can also be stored away until a child’s 21st birthday.

There are whites that age well, too.

“German Riesling is one of the wines that can really go the distance. Many white wines surprise me. If stored very cold, they can often last longer than their reputation might indicate. I recently drank a 15-year-old Muscadet, and it was excellent,” says Antin. 

Aouli also suggests dessert wines like Sauternes. “For white wine, the sweet wines are really the gatekeepers. Many of them can age and improve in the 21 years it will take before your child can actually drink,” Aouli says.

How long can wines be kept?

“The best bottle of wine can age for 90 years, maybe even 100,” says Aouli. “But not all wine is meant for aging — only about the best 10%.” 

And not every vintage can be aged, because the weather can have a big impact on the vintage. 

“The real shortcut to knowing if a bottle will go the distance — if you’re not already knowledgeable on the subject — is to read reviews, and let the critics tell you if it’s a 20-year-wine,” says Antin. 

If this sounds complicated, there’s an easy fix: buy from retailers who specialize in fine and rare wines, as they know which wines are built to age, and which aren’t.

For Cordell, reading multiple vintage reports, and review after review was imperative when choosing the bottles to put away for his daughters. The research more than paid off.

“To see their eyes light up when they received the wine was extraordinarily rewarding,” Cordell says. “They knew how much thought went into each bottle, how long I’d been planning to gift them the wine, and how much it meant to me to be able to select, save, and eventually gift these wines to them. It meant a tremendous amount to them and me.”

Bottles worth saving:
This is just a small sample of vintage wines available. For even more choice, simply enter the relevant year into Pix.

bottle of La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva

La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva (~$52)

From the Rioja region of Spain comes this garnet-red wine. Don’t let its medium-body fool you. This is a Tempranillo with depth. Aromas of fresh-picked cherries, plum, and ripe strawberries mingle with enticing fragrances of spicy black pepper, nutmeg, and sweet red licorice. Those notes appear on the palate but are heightened with layers of fresh acidity and silky tannins that lead to a smooth finish that lingers with nuances of sweet red fruit and balsamic vinaigrette.

bottle of Bodegas López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva

Bodegas López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva (~$55)

This vibrant red wine produced by legendary winery R. Lopez de Heredia is made with a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacho, Graciano, and Mazuelo, or Carignan, grapes grown in Rioja. Aromas of dried fruit, red plum, raisin, and vanilla are intense while the palate displays a melody of sweet maple, savory balsamic, and earthy nuances. The finish is peppered with round tannins and clean acidity.

bottle of Chateau Montelena Calistoga The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Chateau Montelena Calistoga The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (~$66)

This deep, dark ruby Cabernet Sauvignon is made by celebrated U.S. winery Chateau Montelena in the Calistoga winemaking region in California. The wine displays complex aromas of concentrated red berries, licorice, and cedar wood, which also show up on the palate. Supple tannins and clean acidity provide the wine with a stealthy backbone that leads into a long and memorable finish.

bottle of Penfolds Grange Barossa Valley Bin 95 Shiraz

Penfolds Grange Barossa Valley Bin 95 Shiraz (~$790)

From Australia’s Adelaide wine region comes this big, bold, and powerful Shiraz produced by Penfolds. Rich and ripe red fruit aromas are complimented with flavors of mocha and spice on the palate framed by firm tannins and acidity. The finish is long and lingering.

bottle of Château Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan

Château Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan (~$849) (Pre-Arrival)

Château Haut-Brion produces this Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon in the village of Pessac-Léognan village, within the French region of Graves. A powerful yet elegant wine, aromas of black currants, forest floor, tobacco, and dried herbs are as deep as its purple hue. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied with plush black and blue fruit nuances intertwined with intense spice and tobacco leaf character. The finish features fresh acidity and a hint of earthiness complimented with dots of minerality.

bottle of Château Pétrus Gran Vin Merlot Pomerol

Château Pétrus Gran Vin Merlot Pomerol (~$5,600)

This dark ruby wine produced by the famous Château Petrus in Pomerol, within France’s Bordeaux region, is expressive with dark fruit and olive character. Intense fragrances of blackberry, tapenade and a twinge of stony minerality lead the aroma. Meanwhile, the full-bodied palate is doused in purple plum, ground coffee, and dark chocolate notes. Chewy tannins appear mid-palate and are balanced with fresh acidity. The finish is incredibly long and coats the mouth with dark fruit and spicy flavors.

bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche Grand Cru

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche Grand Cru (~$8,300)

Produced by one of the world’s most renowned wineries, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, this ruby red Pinot Noir is intensely aromatic with raspberry, strawberry, spice and coffee nuances. The palate is equally complex with red fruit and spice flavors, and yet it remains elegant and refined with smooth tannins and clean acidity that’s felt through the lengthy finish.