Decanter’s guide to anniversary wines 2020

anniversary wines 2020

A birthday or anniversary gift is welcome at the best of times, but there’s a particular thrill in receiving a special bottle that honours both your and the wine’s vintage. Fortunate indeed is anyone with a birthday or anniversary in a great year for wine, less so if you were born or married under the wine equivalent of a bad sign. Assuming you did say for better or for worse at your wedding, even so-called off-vintages can have their moments – and at least they’re cheaper. In this context, it’s worth remembering that every year is a vintage in Bordeaux, whereas Champagne’s and Port’s warts are neatly air-brushed for us by producers only ‘declaring’ a vintage considered great.

By a strange alchemy, fine wines, especially when in larger formats, have the capacity to ‘improve’ in the bottle as reduction brings new odours and flavours to the party. The further back in time, the more fragile the wine, so the condition in which the wine has been kept and the ability to trace it back to a reliable owner become all the more important as time goes by. Given the diminishing chances of (a) finding a wine in good enough condition and (b) finding that wine anywhere at all, the strongest of caveat emptors applies. You must look to a trusted wine broker, merchant or auction house, preferably aided and abettted by a search engine such as

Where quality and longevity dovetail, sod’s law probably dictates that the object of your affections – the wine, that is – is above your pay grade. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Exceptions that prove the rule are to be found in long-lived sweet wines such as Sauternes, Tokaji, Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume, German Riesling auslese, beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese and Vin de Constance from the Cape. All the more so fortified wines, in particular the vintage and 20, 30 and 40-year-old tawny Ports, vins doux naturels from France and vintage Sherries. As for Madeira, it’s one of the few wines that can claim to outlive even centenarians.

Also useful for anniversaries is that breed of wines deliberately held back for a museum or library release. Most notable among these are recently or late-disgorged Champagnes, the ultimate expressions of maturing in the bottle, such as Dom Pérignon’s three Plénitudes of ageing. Louis Roederer’s Cristal has followed suit with its Vinothèque range, Philipponnat too with its LV range released after 25 years, and Charles Heidsieck is another house specialising in older releases direct from the cellar.

A small handful of producers even offer visits to their cellars where you can try out a wine from the year of your birth or anniversary. Château Kirwan in Bordeaux, for instance, offers you the chance to taste the wine of your birth or wedding year, which is great, just as long as you weren’t born or married in a shocker such as 1965 or 1968 – you would be better off tasting the wine of your birth year on the A$90 tour of Seppeltsfield in the Barossa Valley, where the centennial cellar contains an unbroken lineage of barrels of vintage tawnies going back to 1878.

Digby 2010

Digby, Fine English Reserve Brut 2010. Credit: Lydia Evans

10th (2010)

If you were married 10 years ago, your honeymoon may have suffered from the fallout, literally, from Iceland’s volcanic Mount Eyjafjallajökull. It was also the year in which Spain won the FIFA World Cup and Wikileaks leaked. Arguably the greatest Bordeaux vintage of the 21st century before and since, prices have barely moved since en primeur, so the wise virgins who waited are well-placed to snap up wines that won’t break the bank, such as Châteaux Brane-Cantenac, Margaux 2CC and Lafon-Rochet, St-Estèphe 4CC.

In Spain, Roda 1 is rich and finely balanced after a decade. Antipodean options are plentiful – worthy of note was Ochota Barrels’ Fugazi Grenache, ‘the first of the avant-garde natural wine movement to cross over into the mainstream wine…

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