For my coming-of-age birthday (which was 21 at the time) my grandparents gave me a case of 6 bottles containing 3 different major appellations from my birth year. They left the room after giving me my gift; but, as I emotionally opened each vintage (each of which was created during an important year of my life), I could imagine with what love and attention my grandparents must have given each choice of wine at the winemakers’, clearly favoring Bourgogne and the Rhone Valley.
As my family has grown over the course of these past years, I have reproduced what my grandparents have given to me. Incidentally, my latest grandchild is not even a month old (I already have seven grandchildren!), and already I know that in three years time I will find the nectar of 2012 wine vintages to set aside for him.
If, like me, you enjoy giving symbolic and original gifts, set aside some bottles of French wine for your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or friends’ children. Once the child is old enough to drink these wines (and, therefore, receive the gift) in 20 years, he or she is sure to develop a soft spot for you—just hope that no one drinks the wine in the meantime!
Here is some advice for choosing the vintages and appellations to add to your wine cave this year for a “ripe” birthday gift:
A good vintage may be defined by its complexity, grand aromatic bouquet, and, for some, by its powerful tannins and colors. However, certain subjectivity exists. The reputation and price of a wine depend a lot on what the underwriter, the merchant, and the specialized wine press say about it. In emblematic regions such as Bordelaise or Bourgogne, the big critics will come to taste the young wines (in November for Bourgogne and in March, during the first blooms of spring, in Bordelaise) and evaluate the vintage.
To set aside the bottles of your children’s birth year it is, first of all, essential to be patient and not cheat. Preserved wines are placed on sale many years after their harvesting. For example, when buying for the children of 2010, 2011, or 2012, a bit of patience is required, as their particular vintages will not be offered for many months, or even years. Discuss it with their parents.
My advice: buy the magnum-sized bottles, as the longest-aged wines are typically bottled in grand volume. Next, you must determine your ability to keep the wine, which I can also help you with. The fine print on the vintage indicates the quality of the harvest from the major winemaking regions.
Finally, to conserve the bottles for an extensive period of time, the conditions must be perfect. You need a spot where the temperature is stable, between ≈54°F (12°C) and ≈61°F (16°C) maximum, without fluctuation. This place must be dark, humid, and still (without vibrations or odors). Don’t have such a place? Ask a friend to reserve a small place in their cellar, rent a spot in a specialized cellar, or buy a wine cabinet!
Children Born in 2012
The 2012 Vintage is considered “Rare and precious” in Bourgogne! From the north to the south of Bourgogne, the quality of the wine is excellent, clearly influenced by the climate conditions. The autumn sun permits the ideal harvest in Bordelaise and also promises a quality 2012 vintage, with a decline in limited yield (in relation to other French regions). Despite a disastrous spring, 2012 will remain an atypical year, complicated for the Bordelaise area and with many disparities from one appellation to the next. The Rhone Valley did better at quitting while it was ahead in regards to its 2012 vintage; this vintage is very well balanced and is very much characterized by its fruitiness. This is particularly true for its tannin-strong reds, which are softened by the vintage’s silkiness and mellowness. A lovely vintage to keep.
Children Born in 2011
Mother Nature concocted a clean slate for us through 2011’s summer-like spring and mellow summer. Behind the silky appearance of wine, one must discern its real character. What a beautiful challenge! Samplings have proven the silkiness of these wines, as the berries they consist of were often rich in sugar, but still with fantastic taste. This discovery alone stood out to wine tasters more than the differences in origin and appellation. The unusual weather proved that the grape varieties of Pinot and Chardonnay have extraordinary flexibility and an astonishing aptitude to express the earth. But, of course, the region with the most favorable wines as far as vine-growing culture quality is Bourgogne. As for the Bordelais: although this year is not advised by certain critics, it was actually much better than I expected. This wine seems similar to the underestimated years of 2001 and 2008. In the Rhone Valley, the year 2011 is excellent with its astonishing colors this wine has a tannic taste, and a rich, dense structure which foreshadows the well-tended wines in all of the northern and southern appellations. Furthermore, the year 2011 is considered exceptional for the Languedoc and Roussillon regions. The strength of typical wines from this region is in knowing how to conserve grape uniqueness, each variety an experiment according to its alluvion levels (whether the ground consists of slate or schist), whether the grapes are beneficiaries of a good price/quality relationship, and the quality of care. 2011 was also a good year for liquoreux wines from the Loire Valley, given the grapes were well tended to.
Children Born in 2010
This here is a great year, rich and fruity. 2011 has had one of the smallest productions of the past eight years, because of which the general prices of the wine have been raised with few exceptions. Overall, this year of Bordeaux is a consistently wonderful success that offers exceptional opportunities for reds as well as dry whites and liquoreux wines. Even an amateur can find some of Bordeaux’s overpriced Grands Crus Classés, and superb wines with little knowledge. This is was very quality year, perhaps still the biggest since 2009, as it produced more traditionally balanced wines. Bourgogne, as well, has been a beautiful success. The weak harvest is credited for a beautiful end-of-season and for giving the grapes a superb balance and grand richness of taste. In the Rhones Valley, year 2010’s concentration is also promising. The quality is superb in the north and at Châteauneuf du Pape and a handful of other places. These wines are very concentrated. A beautiful success to obtain.
Children Born in 2009
The little ones born in 2009 are fortunate, as this was an exceptional year in many winemaking regions. This was the case in Bordeaux, where the experts have praised the 2009 vintages for their balanced taste and fruitiness. Many of the Bordeaux bottles are commercialized at raised prices. The issued wines made of the grape variety Syrah, originating from the Northern part of the Rhone Valley, have been stored away for an extensive amount of time. If you have a higher budget, buy and offer bottles from Côte-Rotie and Saint-Joseph. Keep in mind that the Cornas and Hermitages will be equally excellent in 20 years. The wines of Bourgogne are just as exceptional in 2009; but, like Pinot Noir grapes, they are more fragile. For this reason, not all wines from Bourgogne vineyards transverse the decades with brilliance. As always, before putting the wines in your cellar, you must inquire the producers. Although the most beautiful vintages of the best vineyards of Languedoc and Roussillon have a long road to maturity, the oldest varieties of wine, Grenache and the Carignan, were particularly well-off. 2009 was a sunny year that favored the big liquoreux in the Bordelais and center-east areas.
Children Born in 2008
In a general fashion, the quality of 2008 wines is unrivaled by the majority of vineyards. Few bottles of Bordelaise from this year will be stored for 20 years…except for the grand crus in Bourgogne and the wines of the Cote de Beaune and the Cote de Nuits, which will keep for as long as the 2009 wines. Cote de Beaune and the Cote de Nuits require over 10 years for their peak maturity, like a champagne or an exceptional harvest. Consequently, one must wait a few years to lay hands on these harvest reserves. The millennial vintages are conserved for a minimum of three years before being commercialized.
 An appellation is the title under which a particular wine is sold based on the grapes used and region of origin.
 A vintage is wine made from a specific grape harvest, regarding the type of grape, the year of harvest, and the area of harvest.
 A magnum wine bottle is a wine bottle capable of holding more volume than a standard bottle.
 Tannins, also called tannic acids, are acids found in red wines that give a strong and sometimes overpowering taste.
 Liquoreux wines are white wines that are very sweet due to residual sugar (from the grapes) that have not fermented.
 Grand Crus Classé is a label given to the higher-quality wines within the Médoc area of Bordeaux.