Birth Year Wines

I was asked the other day to recommend a wine for someone's 40th birthday and this got me thinking about birth year wines. If you are as unfortunate as I am (1972 since you ask), then the choices are limited, although DRC made passable burgundies and Tokaji was superb. For my father's 70th and 80th, I was fortunate to be able to raid 1929, arguably the finest Bordeaux vintage of the 20th century and still drinking well, as I can testify!

2011 is quite a good year to have a notable birthday, as long as you are not over 50. For those who are 21, 1990 was one of the planet's best vintages and is superb almost everywhere. If you are 30, the options are less good, but 1981 made for good Bordeaux (especially Pomerol), splendid Alsace wines, a good Rioja vintage and fine Tokaji. 40 years old and in 1971 you have one of Germany's greatest ever vintages, with fantastic late harvest rieslings, or for those who prefer muscle, Piedmont produced legendary Barolos and Barbarescos, whilst Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie are superb. 1961 offers a truly masterful Bordeaux vintage and a great one in the Northern Rhône and Barolo, though little elsewhere.

Sadly, if you are looking for a 60th or 70th present, I would suggest a single vintage whisky, as 1951 produced appalling wines everywhere (with the exception of very rarely seen California Cabernet) - possibly the 20th century's worst vintage, whilst the wartime vintage of 1941 was not much better. 1931 was mostly rubbish also, with one exception, Noval port (the only shipper who declared 1931), which Michael Broadbent describes as the Everest of Ports!

Always remember though, there are no old great wines, just great bottles of old wine. How well it has been stored and the health of the cork are paramount.

Also, a salient lesson in vintage generalisations. One of the finest burgundies I have ever drunk was 1946 Bonnes Mares from Roumier, drunk at 50 years old. This is not a vintage of great repute, but it was a truly great wine!

For those of you interested in what to buy for someone special, or what to squirrel away from your birth year, see below for some suggestions!

The 1940's

1941 - Nothing worth bothering with now...Red Bordeaux is your best bet.
1942 - Not much better than '41. Cote de Nuits can still be good, as is Vega Sicilia.
1943 - Good for red Bordeaux, but very tired now.
1944 - Sauternes is your only hope.
1945 - Magnificent for all Bordeaux - even the dry whites can still be excellent. Superb in Burgundy and the Rhône. Sweet Loire and Alsace still great, as are the (very rare) Germans. Barolo is great, as is Port.
1946 - If you must, red Bordeaux is your only hope.
1947 - Legendary Bordeaux vintage, very fine in Burgundy and the Rhone. The greatest in living memory for sweet Loire. Sweet Alsace and Germany still fine, Tokaji legendary. Outstanding Chianti.
1948 - Top Bordeaux can still be good, but your best bet is Rioja Gran Reserva or Port.
1949 - Marvellous for all Bordeaux, Sauternes still at their peak. Very fine in Burgundy. Outstanding in the Rhône and Germany. Sweet Alsace and Loire still fine.

The 1950's

1950 - Sauternes is the only hope, but these are very tired now.
1951 - Terrible across all of Europe (except, by repute, La Tache). California Cabernet was very fine and the best might still be drinking.
1952 - Probably best to steer clear of Bordeaux (although some are still going). Red Burgundy can be ok. Hermitage and Châteauneuf are great, as are Tokaji, Barolo and Rioja.
1953 - Bordeaux was great and they still are (especially Sauternes). Burgundy great, but mostly past it now. Cote Rotie, Richer German styles and Vega Sicilia all superb.
1954 - The only hope is Port, of which only 3 shippers declared.
1955 - Charming Bordeaux, but only the best survive. Sauternes are magical. Great Rioja vintage. Burgundy and the Rhône were good, a bit risky now. Port was superb, though now quite spirity.
1956 - Like '51, California Cabernet is your only hope.
1957 - Tokaji and Vega Sicilia magnificent. Sauternes and red Burgundy, whilst never great, can offer surprises.
1958 - Barolo, California Cabernet.
1959 - As good in Bordeaux as the '61s and often cheaper. Still magnificent. Sauternes are great, as are Burgundies. Top class Rhône, Loire and Alsace and one of Germany's finest ever vintages. Perfection in Tokaji and in Rioja.

The 1960's

1960 - Dismal everywhere, with the exception of Port and Vega Sicilia, which are still drinking well.
1961 - Rightly famous for Bordeaux. Along with '29 and '45 the best of the century. Not great for Sauternes or Burgundy. One of the top 2 or 3 vintages for the Northern Rhone and still magnificent. Fine in Alsace and Barolo.
1962 - Very good for Bordeaux red and white and overshadowed by '61. Burgundy still fine as can be Rioja.
1963 - A really splendid vintage for Port and for Tokaji. Utterly forgettable elsewhere.
1964 - Red Bordeaux and red Burgundy still very good. Rhône superb still. Sweet Loire and Alsace fine. Barolo, Brunello and Chianti all great, as was Rioja.
1965 - Dreadful throughout Europe. A top class vintage for California Cabernet.
1966 - Fine red Bordeaux. Excellent Burgundy. Top class Rhône and Vega Sicilia. A great Port vintage, delicious now. Top Australian Shiraz still fine.
1967 - Legendary Sauternes, especially Suduiraut and Yquem. Fine Châteauneuf and sweet Alsace. Also Brunello and Chianti.
1968 - Tokaji, Chianti, Rioja, California Cabernet.
1969 - Red Burgundy are some of the best. Côte Rôtie also majestic.

The 1970's

1970 - Fine but massively constituted red Bordeaux. Excellent in the Rhône (especially Châteauneuf). Barolo. Torres Gran Coronas. Port
1971 - Germany. Otherwise, Barolo, Hermitage or Côte Rôtie. Pomerol and St. Emilion can still be good.
1972 - Tokaji. Red Burgundy from DRC.
1973 - A dismal year. Best bet is California Cabernet or the best German Eiswein.
1974 - Nearly as bad as '73. Saved by California's (arguably) greatest ever vintage. Barolo still good.
1975 - Once believed to be great for Bordeaux, the best are excellent, but most are tannic shells. A brilliant Sauternes vintage. Excellent Rioja, still going strong. Great in Australia. Good Ports.
1976 - Red and sweet Loire. Splendid in Alsace and Germany.
1977 - A legend in Port. Utterly forgettable everywhere else.
1978 - One of THE great vintages for Burgundy (red & white and the best still superb) and for the Rhône. Chave Hermitage is barely ready yet and will last another 20 years or more. Barolo and Brunello both at their peak.
1979 - Not a great vintage anywhere. Northern Rhône can still be good. Top Chiantis.

The 1980's (& 1990/1)

1980 - Disastrous in Europe. California and S. Australia Cabernet were fine. Good Port.
1981 - Sauternes and Pomerols good and holding on. Alsace sweet wines. Great vintage in Navarra.
1982 - Legendary Red Bordeaux. Very fine Rhône. Barolo and Barbaresco still developing. Brilliant across Spain (top Riojas are still developing). A legend in all of Australia. Top Cabernets barely at their peak. The best Champagnes are perfect now.
1983 - Good Bordeaux now fading (with the exception of the best of Margaux). Great Sauternes with life ahead. Great Rhône, especially Châteauneuf. Alsace and Germany both very fine, Tokaji brilliant. Chianti and S. African Cabernet both still drinking well. Some excellent Port.
1984 - Poor the world over. The only hope are the better Australian reds.
1985 - What choice! Beautiful Bordeaux vintage that will keep. Great Red Rhône, also for long life. Some fine Burgundies. Sweet Loire and Alsace still improving. Fabulous throughout Italy. One of California's greatest years. Top class Champagne. Really fine Port.
1986 - Very long lived Bordeaux, but only go for top growths. Very good red and excellent white Burgundy. One of the great Australian vintages.
1987 - Rioja. Reds from Penedes. Australian Cabernet and Shiraz.
1988 - Good Bordeaux vintage that is mostly still not ready. Fine Sauternes. Excellent red Burgundy. Rhône and Loire reds fine and perfect now. Alsace and Germany both made fine sweeter styles. Champagne was superb.
1989 - Take your pick in France. Everywhere excellent. Great German wines. Barolo and Barbaresco fine.
1990 - Universally the best vintage on record. Take your pick, every wine region enjoyed this year.
1991 - Rioja good. Western Australia and Victoria are superb. A legendary Port Vintage.

Peter Mitchell MW


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