Thinking of buying a special bottle of wine as a christening present? The logical choice is champagne, or the local equivalent, but even with temperature-controlled storage conditions the 21st birthday celebrations are likely to fall flat when the treasured bottle of fizz is found to be oxidised. 

Robust reds are a safer choice. Te Mata Coleraine, Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah or Trinity Hill Homage Syrah from a good vintage such as 2018, 2019 or 2020 are a better bet, especially if they are stored in a cool, well-insulated and dark spot. Big bottles such as magnums or double-magnums will increase your chance of enjoying a fully mature wine after a couple of decades. Vintage port is the gold standard for long-lived wines. Most need at least 15 years before they should be opened, and many are capable of delivering pleasure after 50 years or more.

Birth-year wines are fun, particularly if you are born in a favourable vintage. Wine writer Walter James famously wrote, “If anyone would like to give me a bottle of wine from my birth year, I was born in 1945 or 1947.” 

It’s great to celebrate a birthday, wedding anniversary, christening or any other special event with a bottle of wine bearing the equivalent vintage. It is a lot easier and probably cheaper than you might think. Simply go to the world’s largest wine website, (founded, owned and run by Kiwis), set the search engine to “all countries” (you could try “New Zealand” if the vintage is likely to be available locally), and type the special year into the vintage space, followed by the wine type you are after, for example “1947 Bordeaux”. Ask for the answer in NZ$ (if that’s your favoured currency). You’ll be surprised at how much choice you have if you shop worldwide.

My search for “1947 Bordeaux” resulted in a choice of 583 wines ranging in price from NZ$35.55 to $13,224. The cheapest wine was Château Brane-Cantenac available at auction in Holland. The photo looked a bit dodgy, so I raised my sights slightly and found a bottle of 1947 Château Renouil-Franquet with a good fill-level, which increases the chance of it being drinkable. It had a price tag of NZ$203.67.

Next, I clicked on the website menu, then “vintages”, then “1940-1949”, then “1947”, then “cheapest”. I discovered Seppeltsfield “Para Liqueur” Vintage Tawny available at Cellarit Wine & Storage in Sydney for a modest NZ$70.53. I have tasted this wine; it’s terrific, and a bargain at this price. It has leaked slightly and the fill-level is mid-shoulder, but the wine is fortified and likely to be pretty good. 

Shopping for old bottles can be risky. If you are hunting for trophy wines such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Château Lafite, where forgeries abound, I recommend dealing only with the most reputable retailers – Wine-Searcher gives retailers a star rating. 

It is exciting when an old bottle over-delivers, but be prepared to be philosophical when the reverse happens. You still have the empty bottle. 

Bob’s Top Picks

Investment Wine of the Week

Taylor’s 2016 Vintage Port, $149.99

Taylor’s is my favourite Portuguese port house. Vintage port is typically ‘declared’ only three times in a decade but a string of good vintages has encouraged Taylor’s to release three vintages in a row for the first time ever. The 2018 vintage won’t be released until February next year. It is a sin to open a vintage port of this stature before it is at least 15 years old, and with careful storage, most will continue to develop for 50 years or more. This is a speculative investment because demand for vintage port is currently sluggish. Worst-case scenario: you might have to drink it. 

Weekend Wines

Top White

Sacred Hill 2019 Wine Thief Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay, $34.99

This wine is a bargain when you consider it is around half the price of its famous big brother, Riflemans Chardonnay, and is made from grapes grown in the same vineyard. Ripe peach, nectarine, citrus and smoky oak flavours. Weighty, smooth-textured chardonnay with a pleasing backbone of vibrant, fruity acidity. Delicious now, but should develop well with a little bottle age.

Top Red

Craggy Range 2017 Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir, Martinborough, $49.99

Fragrant, elegant pinot noir with floral/violet/red rose, dark cherry, plum, anise/spice and classy oak flavours. A wine with power delivered with consummate subtlety. A seductively ethereal texture and lingering finish complete the picture.

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