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Choosing a birth-year wine

Publish Date: 05 May 2016

Authored by: Tyson Stelzer

Looking to invest in that special bottle to cellar? Here’s Tyson Stelzer’s take on how to go about it.

I’m often asked for advice on buying birth-year wines, either for a newborn to crack on a milestone birthday in the distant future or, more importantly, for you to drink to celebrate their coming of age. Either way, it’s a great gesture when you get it right, but could prove a costly error if you get it wrong. Here are 10 tips to improve your chances.

  • Choose a wine for the long-haul. Just because they can drink it on their 18th doesn’t mean they’ll have developed a taste for old wine yet. They’ll more likely be up for it on their 25th or 30th, so be sure to select a wine that will go the distance.
  • Stick with the classic varieties and the most celebrated producers. There’s a time for experimenting with new producers and obscure varieties, but this is not it. For whites, riesling, semillon and Champagne are your most reliable options. For reds, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and vintage port are the most enduring.
  • Go for a region with a track record for long ageing. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Sauternes, Barolo and Mosel are the classic European choices, but Margaret River, Coonawarra, Clare, Barossa and the Hunter offer reliable and more affordable options.
  • Go for the top vintages. You don’t get to choose the year when you’re buying a birth vintage, but you can choose the region, and there will always be some of the top regions that had a good vintage in any given year.
  • Set yourself a calendar reminder for the right time to buy a birth-vintage wine. This may sound like an odd tip, but many people get excited about buying birth-vintage wines at the time of the birth, but the wines aren’t available yet. Set yourself a reminder for four or five years’ time for Australian wines or 10 years’ time for prestige Champagne.
  • Buy a bottle on its release. It’s usually cheaper than buying at auction later on and the provenance is guaranteed.
  • Buy a magnum or a larger bottle. They age more reliably and heighten the sense of celebration.
  • Buy a wine sealed with a screwcap if possible, as they age more consistently.
  • Push the boat out. This is the time to buy the top wines of an estate, the First Growths, Grand Crus or prestige cuvées.
  • Store it carefully. Proper cellar conditions are crucial for long ageing.

Stars from the past decade

2005 Bordeaux, Sauternes, Burgundy
2006 Margaret River cabernet, Barolo
2007 Margaret River cabernet, Barolo
2008 Coonawarra cabernet, Champagne
2009 Coonawarra cabernet, Hunter semillon, Mosel, Sauternes, Bordeaux
2010 Barossa shiraz, Coonawarra cabernet, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo
2011 Margaret River cabernet, Mosel, vintage port
2012 Barossa shiraz, Clare riesling, Coonawarra cabernet, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne
2013 Margaret River cabernet, Burgundy
2014 Hunter Valley shiraz, Bordeaux
2015 Barossa Valley shiraz, Champagne

Next article: learn the best ways to store, open and pour Champagne with Tyson's handy guide.

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