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Château Climens Proprietor Pairs Her Sauternes With Cheeses, Seafood, and More

Château Climens Proprietor Pairs Her Sauternes With Cheeses, Seafood, and More


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Global wine production in 2017 fell to a low not seen in seven decades. Extreme weather events occurred in Italy, France, and Spain. Then came the heat of summer, which sent French wine production totals plummeting by an overall 19 percent.

These conditions hit Château Climens, in Bordeaux's Sauternes region — a property many wine experts consider second only to the iconic Château d’Yquem in quality — particularly hard. In New York recently to promote her wines, the château’s proprietaire, Bérénice Lurton, said it became a question of whether to proceed with any harvest at all, as she and her crew went vine by vine seeking survivors of this terrible year.

Lurton is the daughter of Lucien Lurton, one of his ten children. The elder Lurton is a major figure in French wine, the owner of such boldface names in the Médoc as the châteaux Brane-Cantenac, Desmirail, Villegeorge, La Tour de Bessan… and the list goes on. He acquired Château Climens in 1971, also a year of crisis for Sauternes. The property has been owned by only five families, remarkable for a parcel whose story dates back to 1547. In 1992, he retired from the active management of his properties and gave each of his children stewardship of one of them. He turned Château Climens — whose extremely high standards he was determined to maintain while bringing it into the modern world — to his then-22-year-old daughter, Bérénice.

Under her direction, the entire vineyard was converted to biodynamic practices in 2010, with chemical sprays replaced by plant infusions, including tea made from chamomile that grows alongside the vines.

The Sauternes appellation is made up of only five small villages in Graves, 25 miles southwest of the city of Bordeaux. Its wines are made from grapes that have been affected by a fungus called Botrytis cinerea, also known as “noble rot.” This causes the grapes to become partially raisined, resulting in a unique concentrated flavor. Sauternes is made from sauvignon blanc, sémillon, muscadelle, and occasionally sauvignon gris grapes — usually a blend of two or more of them. Climens, which is in the Barsac region within Sauternes (it has long been known as the "Lord of Barsac") is unique in that it uses only sémillion.

The wine itself has freshness and minerality that transcend its rich, sweet character. As it ages, it becomes deeper and darker in color. But whatever its age, it is eminently drinkable, and Lurton was in New York to prove that point.

At a tasting at New York City’s French Cheese Board, four vintages each of Château Climens and its second-label wine, Cypres de Climens, were paired with eight French cheeses. A sip of Sauternes followed by a bite of buttery, salty cheese was a taste revelation. But Lurton also asked her guests to pair her wines with savory dishes, keeping a few guidelines in mind. A classic pairing is Château Climens and foie gras —sweet, flowery, and rich paired with meaty, sharp, and rich. It's a matter of finding flavors and textures that will stand up to the intensity of the wine. Fine matches can also be made, said Lurton, with components that are creamy (high-fat cheeses), salty (ham), briny (seafood), acidic (lemons), and even spicy; she is particularly fond of drinking her wine with Thai food.

All the trials and tribulations at Chateau Climens this year produced one happy side effect: Lurton had the time to take her wine on the road and introduce its glories to a willing audience, who will never think of Sauternes as just a dessert wine again.


Finding Wine of a Certain Age

Blogger Tyler Colman scoured auctions and quizzed wine-shop clerks in pursuit of a great bottle from his birth year, 1971. Here, his advice on how to buy older vintages.

At the end of the summer of 1971, vineyard workers in Piedmont labored to bring in the harvest. Around the same time in Chicago, my mother went into labor.

Somehow, I never thought these two things would be linked. During that era, my parents were probably preoccupied with changing cloth diapers, watching that evening’s guest on Johnny Carson or deciding which bell-bottoms to wear the wines of Piedmont could not have been further from their minds.

And so several decades passed. Then a reader of my Web site, DrVino.com, sent in an unusual question about birth-year wines. New parents often think about socking away some wine from their newborn’s birth year—I did myself𠅋ut this reader was wondering if I drank wine from my birth year on my birthday.

Oddly, the thought had never crossed my mind. For birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions, my wife, Michelle, and I choose wines that are sentimental in other ways: wines from the year we were married, from wineries we had visited, or some of the hard-to-find wines that we had managed to squirrel away. But those were all young wines, so this was a new quest: finding a mature wine.

The first problem with this task is finding out whether a wine from a given birth year is a good one the second is determining whether it’s still drinking wonderfully. Conveniently, there are a number of resources that rate past vintages—one good one is Robert M. Parker Jr.’s vintage chart (erobertparker.com). Parker’s chart goes back only to 1970, though, so I would have had to consult a wine-collector friend, an auctioneer or Michael Broadbent’s classic book Vintage Wine if I were born before then. And while vintage charts give just a general rating for a year, books like Broadbent’s also usually estimate a life span for individual wines.

It turns out that 1971 was a pretty good year in a lot of places, particularly Germany and Piedmont. In Bordeaux it was fairly strong, though not as strong as 1970, with not nearly as much produced. Checking more references, including Parker’s Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines, I learned that Bordeaux’s Château Latour was excellent in � and would likely still be drinking well. But with the 2005 Latour (not arriving until 2008) rolling in at $800 a bottle, I feared serious sticker shock.

To find more names, I posted a query on the eRobertParker bulletin board and soon had suggestions for more than a dozen wines, among them Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti from Burgundy, Château Climens from Sauternes, and Penfolds Grange from Australia. And Northern California had its partisans, too: After all, the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello placed fifth at the famous Paris tasting in 1976 and was the top-scoring wine at a reenactment of the tasting last year.

Armed with these choices, I turned to selecting a wine. I went to Wine-searcher.com, a site that consolidates the catalogs of wine shops around the country, and found the 1971 Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti La Tฬhe for $4,200—the end of that idea. Winezap.com and Wineaccess.com also proved fruitless. Mature German Riesling suddenly seemed much more intriguing. I floated the idea by Michelle.

"What about a � German Riesling?" I asked.

"Why drink white when you could drink red?" she replied.

Finally, I found some � Latour at an upcoming auction. (Of the major wine auctioneers, Christie’s, Hart Davis Hart and Acker Merrall & Condit allow people to download catalogs from their Web sites Sotheby’s requires registration.) The estimate was about $300 a bottle: not bad. The catch was that the Latour was part of a lot of six bottles—too much left over if I didn’t like it, and a huge bill up front.

I called Acker Merrall for some advice on how to score a single bottle. They said that it was difficult to buy just one bottle at auction, so unless I wanted to buy multiple bottles of the same wine or a mixed lot containing a single bottle of the wine I was looking for, I𠆝 do better going through their New York City retail store. This wasn’t entirely surprising—the best retail stores often buy older collections directly from their owners, or send representatives to the big auctions.

At the store, a rare-wine specialist named Jason Hyde answered the phone. He said that he didn’t have a bottle of the 1971 Latour in stock, but that he did have some 1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo. I wondered aloud whether I might be a chump, buying such old wine, given that proper storage is critical when buying older vintages. Just as with art or antiques, provenance is a crucial consideration for older wines.

"This Barolo is a known quantity," Hyde replied. He explained that Acker Merrall had just acquired 10 cases of it from a private cellar in Piedmont. The wine had been there since the day it was released from the winery, he added, answering my next question before I could ask it.

"It’s a really fantastic $300 wine that drinks like the $1,500 Monfortino from that vintage," he said. "It is an excellent mature-wine experience."

Suddenly, the most expensive bottle of wine I would ever have bought was beginning to seem like a bargain. And as Michelle was also born in 1971, the cost was doubly justified. I told Hyde I𠆝 drop by the store that evening.

The one caveat, he said, was that although the bottle had a good fill line, it looked "like hell." (When buying older bottles, check the level of the wine in the bottle to see if any has leaked also, sticky residue around the base of the capsule may indicate that wine had seeped out after being exposed to heat at some point.) But after 35 years in a dark, damp cellar, Hyde added, you𠆝 want the bottle to look somewhat decrepit. Cheery thought good thing I haven’t spent my 35 years in a 55-degree basement.

Once the ancient-looking bottle was in my possession, I had to think about how and why to serve it. Our actual birthdays were nowhere in sight, and Michelle and I couldn’t stand the wait, so we opted for a romantic dinner at home. And since I remembered an article by food writer Alan Richman about the unfortunate pairing of a fabulous wine with an even more fabulous meal, which left the wine second place in his memory, we went with simple.

Michelle rounded up some hard cheeses from Italy. I made a porcini risotto. We tucked our son into bed. I lit a candle. And then I opened the bottle.

I decided to decant the wine—mostly to separate it from the sediment, not because it needed to breathe (vintages this old rarely need to breathe in fact, they tend to fade slightly faster than younger wines when exposed to oxygen). I poured the brick-red wine into a decanter, careful to stop as soon as I could see bits of sediment streaming out, then poured the wine from the decanter into two crystal glasses.

I took a sniff: Black cherries, tobacco, truffles and an enticing earthiness mingled in the aroma. This wine was not remotely past its peak it was drinking beautifully. On the palate, it had a gorgeous balance between mature fruit, amazingly crisp acidity and fine, supple tannins.

We drank. We ate. We reminisced. We even called my mom to complete the circle. She told me (as she does every year on my birthday) about going to the hospital on the warm, late summer day in 1971. This time, though, she also told me something that I didn’t know. After delivering me, she was given a menu to pre-order her meals for the rest of her hospital stay. But when it was time for her last dinner before going home, the menu came back to her with a big X through the meal she𠆝 requested. Instead, the staff brought her steak and a glass of Champagne.

As I hung up, it occurred to me that for my next birthday, finding a � Dom Pérignon might be just the thing.


Finding Wine of a Certain Age

Blogger Tyler Colman scoured auctions and quizzed wine-shop clerks in pursuit of a great bottle from his birth year, 1971. Here, his advice on how to buy older vintages.

At the end of the summer of 1971, vineyard workers in Piedmont labored to bring in the harvest. Around the same time in Chicago, my mother went into labor.

Somehow, I never thought these two things would be linked. During that era, my parents were probably preoccupied with changing cloth diapers, watching that evening’s guest on Johnny Carson or deciding which bell-bottoms to wear the wines of Piedmont could not have been further from their minds.

And so several decades passed. Then a reader of my Web site, DrVino.com, sent in an unusual question about birth-year wines. New parents often think about socking away some wine from their newborn’s birth year—I did myself𠅋ut this reader was wondering if I drank wine from my birth year on my birthday.

Oddly, the thought had never crossed my mind. For birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions, my wife, Michelle, and I choose wines that are sentimental in other ways: wines from the year we were married, from wineries we had visited, or some of the hard-to-find wines that we had managed to squirrel away. But those were all young wines, so this was a new quest: finding a mature wine.

The first problem with this task is finding out whether a wine from a given birth year is a good one the second is determining whether it’s still drinking wonderfully. Conveniently, there are a number of resources that rate past vintages—one good one is Robert M. Parker Jr.’s vintage chart (erobertparker.com). Parker’s chart goes back only to 1970, though, so I would have had to consult a wine-collector friend, an auctioneer or Michael Broadbent’s classic book Vintage Wine if I were born before then. And while vintage charts give just a general rating for a year, books like Broadbent’s also usually estimate a life span for individual wines.

It turns out that 1971 was a pretty good year in a lot of places, particularly Germany and Piedmont. In Bordeaux it was fairly strong, though not as strong as 1970, with not nearly as much produced. Checking more references, including Parker’s Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines, I learned that Bordeaux’s Château Latour was excellent in � and would likely still be drinking well. But with the 2005 Latour (not arriving until 2008) rolling in at $800 a bottle, I feared serious sticker shock.

To find more names, I posted a query on the eRobertParker bulletin board and soon had suggestions for more than a dozen wines, among them Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti from Burgundy, Château Climens from Sauternes, and Penfolds Grange from Australia. And Northern California had its partisans, too: After all, the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello placed fifth at the famous Paris tasting in 1976 and was the top-scoring wine at a reenactment of the tasting last year.

Armed with these choices, I turned to selecting a wine. I went to Wine-searcher.com, a site that consolidates the catalogs of wine shops around the country, and found the 1971 Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti La Tฬhe for $4,200—the end of that idea. Winezap.com and Wineaccess.com also proved fruitless. Mature German Riesling suddenly seemed much more intriguing. I floated the idea by Michelle.

"What about a � German Riesling?" I asked.

"Why drink white when you could drink red?" she replied.

Finally, I found some � Latour at an upcoming auction. (Of the major wine auctioneers, Christie’s, Hart Davis Hart and Acker Merrall & Condit allow people to download catalogs from their Web sites Sotheby’s requires registration.) The estimate was about $300 a bottle: not bad. The catch was that the Latour was part of a lot of six bottles—too much left over if I didn’t like it, and a huge bill up front.

I called Acker Merrall for some advice on how to score a single bottle. They said that it was difficult to buy just one bottle at auction, so unless I wanted to buy multiple bottles of the same wine or a mixed lot containing a single bottle of the wine I was looking for, I𠆝 do better going through their New York City retail store. This wasn’t entirely surprising—the best retail stores often buy older collections directly from their owners, or send representatives to the big auctions.

At the store, a rare-wine specialist named Jason Hyde answered the phone. He said that he didn’t have a bottle of the 1971 Latour in stock, but that he did have some 1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo. I wondered aloud whether I might be a chump, buying such old wine, given that proper storage is critical when buying older vintages. Just as with art or antiques, provenance is a crucial consideration for older wines.

"This Barolo is a known quantity," Hyde replied. He explained that Acker Merrall had just acquired 10 cases of it from a private cellar in Piedmont. The wine had been there since the day it was released from the winery, he added, answering my next question before I could ask it.

"It’s a really fantastic $300 wine that drinks like the $1,500 Monfortino from that vintage," he said. "It is an excellent mature-wine experience."

Suddenly, the most expensive bottle of wine I would ever have bought was beginning to seem like a bargain. And as Michelle was also born in 1971, the cost was doubly justified. I told Hyde I𠆝 drop by the store that evening.

The one caveat, he said, was that although the bottle had a good fill line, it looked "like hell." (When buying older bottles, check the level of the wine in the bottle to see if any has leaked also, sticky residue around the base of the capsule may indicate that wine had seeped out after being exposed to heat at some point.) But after 35 years in a dark, damp cellar, Hyde added, you𠆝 want the bottle to look somewhat decrepit. Cheery thought good thing I haven’t spent my 35 years in a 55-degree basement.

Once the ancient-looking bottle was in my possession, I had to think about how and why to serve it. Our actual birthdays were nowhere in sight, and Michelle and I couldn’t stand the wait, so we opted for a romantic dinner at home. And since I remembered an article by food writer Alan Richman about the unfortunate pairing of a fabulous wine with an even more fabulous meal, which left the wine second place in his memory, we went with simple.

Michelle rounded up some hard cheeses from Italy. I made a porcini risotto. We tucked our son into bed. I lit a candle. And then I opened the bottle.

I decided to decant the wine—mostly to separate it from the sediment, not because it needed to breathe (vintages this old rarely need to breathe in fact, they tend to fade slightly faster than younger wines when exposed to oxygen). I poured the brick-red wine into a decanter, careful to stop as soon as I could see bits of sediment streaming out, then poured the wine from the decanter into two crystal glasses.

I took a sniff: Black cherries, tobacco, truffles and an enticing earthiness mingled in the aroma. This wine was not remotely past its peak it was drinking beautifully. On the palate, it had a gorgeous balance between mature fruit, amazingly crisp acidity and fine, supple tannins.

We drank. We ate. We reminisced. We even called my mom to complete the circle. She told me (as she does every year on my birthday) about going to the hospital on the warm, late summer day in 1971. This time, though, she also told me something that I didn’t know. After delivering me, she was given a menu to pre-order her meals for the rest of her hospital stay. But when it was time for her last dinner before going home, the menu came back to her with a big X through the meal she𠆝 requested. Instead, the staff brought her steak and a glass of Champagne.

As I hung up, it occurred to me that for my next birthday, finding a � Dom Pérignon might be just the thing.


Finding Wine of a Certain Age

Blogger Tyler Colman scoured auctions and quizzed wine-shop clerks in pursuit of a great bottle from his birth year, 1971. Here, his advice on how to buy older vintages.

At the end of the summer of 1971, vineyard workers in Piedmont labored to bring in the harvest. Around the same time in Chicago, my mother went into labor.

Somehow, I never thought these two things would be linked. During that era, my parents were probably preoccupied with changing cloth diapers, watching that evening’s guest on Johnny Carson or deciding which bell-bottoms to wear the wines of Piedmont could not have been further from their minds.

And so several decades passed. Then a reader of my Web site, DrVino.com, sent in an unusual question about birth-year wines. New parents often think about socking away some wine from their newborn’s birth year—I did myself𠅋ut this reader was wondering if I drank wine from my birth year on my birthday.

Oddly, the thought had never crossed my mind. For birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions, my wife, Michelle, and I choose wines that are sentimental in other ways: wines from the year we were married, from wineries we had visited, or some of the hard-to-find wines that we had managed to squirrel away. But those were all young wines, so this was a new quest: finding a mature wine.

The first problem with this task is finding out whether a wine from a given birth year is a good one the second is determining whether it’s still drinking wonderfully. Conveniently, there are a number of resources that rate past vintages—one good one is Robert M. Parker Jr.’s vintage chart (erobertparker.com). Parker’s chart goes back only to 1970, though, so I would have had to consult a wine-collector friend, an auctioneer or Michael Broadbent’s classic book Vintage Wine if I were born before then. And while vintage charts give just a general rating for a year, books like Broadbent’s also usually estimate a life span for individual wines.

It turns out that 1971 was a pretty good year in a lot of places, particularly Germany and Piedmont. In Bordeaux it was fairly strong, though not as strong as 1970, with not nearly as much produced. Checking more references, including Parker’s Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines, I learned that Bordeaux’s Château Latour was excellent in � and would likely still be drinking well. But with the 2005 Latour (not arriving until 2008) rolling in at $800 a bottle, I feared serious sticker shock.

To find more names, I posted a query on the eRobertParker bulletin board and soon had suggestions for more than a dozen wines, among them Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti from Burgundy, Château Climens from Sauternes, and Penfolds Grange from Australia. And Northern California had its partisans, too: After all, the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello placed fifth at the famous Paris tasting in 1976 and was the top-scoring wine at a reenactment of the tasting last year.

Armed with these choices, I turned to selecting a wine. I went to Wine-searcher.com, a site that consolidates the catalogs of wine shops around the country, and found the 1971 Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti La Tฬhe for $4,200—the end of that idea. Winezap.com and Wineaccess.com also proved fruitless. Mature German Riesling suddenly seemed much more intriguing. I floated the idea by Michelle.

"What about a � German Riesling?" I asked.

"Why drink white when you could drink red?" she replied.

Finally, I found some � Latour at an upcoming auction. (Of the major wine auctioneers, Christie’s, Hart Davis Hart and Acker Merrall & Condit allow people to download catalogs from their Web sites Sotheby’s requires registration.) The estimate was about $300 a bottle: not bad. The catch was that the Latour was part of a lot of six bottles—too much left over if I didn’t like it, and a huge bill up front.

I called Acker Merrall for some advice on how to score a single bottle. They said that it was difficult to buy just one bottle at auction, so unless I wanted to buy multiple bottles of the same wine or a mixed lot containing a single bottle of the wine I was looking for, I𠆝 do better going through their New York City retail store. This wasn’t entirely surprising—the best retail stores often buy older collections directly from their owners, or send representatives to the big auctions.

At the store, a rare-wine specialist named Jason Hyde answered the phone. He said that he didn’t have a bottle of the 1971 Latour in stock, but that he did have some 1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo. I wondered aloud whether I might be a chump, buying such old wine, given that proper storage is critical when buying older vintages. Just as with art or antiques, provenance is a crucial consideration for older wines.

"This Barolo is a known quantity," Hyde replied. He explained that Acker Merrall had just acquired 10 cases of it from a private cellar in Piedmont. The wine had been there since the day it was released from the winery, he added, answering my next question before I could ask it.

"It’s a really fantastic $300 wine that drinks like the $1,500 Monfortino from that vintage," he said. "It is an excellent mature-wine experience."

Suddenly, the most expensive bottle of wine I would ever have bought was beginning to seem like a bargain. And as Michelle was also born in 1971, the cost was doubly justified. I told Hyde I𠆝 drop by the store that evening.

The one caveat, he said, was that although the bottle had a good fill line, it looked "like hell." (When buying older bottles, check the level of the wine in the bottle to see if any has leaked also, sticky residue around the base of the capsule may indicate that wine had seeped out after being exposed to heat at some point.) But after 35 years in a dark, damp cellar, Hyde added, you𠆝 want the bottle to look somewhat decrepit. Cheery thought good thing I haven’t spent my 35 years in a 55-degree basement.

Once the ancient-looking bottle was in my possession, I had to think about how and why to serve it. Our actual birthdays were nowhere in sight, and Michelle and I couldn’t stand the wait, so we opted for a romantic dinner at home. And since I remembered an article by food writer Alan Richman about the unfortunate pairing of a fabulous wine with an even more fabulous meal, which left the wine second place in his memory, we went with simple.

Michelle rounded up some hard cheeses from Italy. I made a porcini risotto. We tucked our son into bed. I lit a candle. And then I opened the bottle.

I decided to decant the wine—mostly to separate it from the sediment, not because it needed to breathe (vintages this old rarely need to breathe in fact, they tend to fade slightly faster than younger wines when exposed to oxygen). I poured the brick-red wine into a decanter, careful to stop as soon as I could see bits of sediment streaming out, then poured the wine from the decanter into two crystal glasses.

I took a sniff: Black cherries, tobacco, truffles and an enticing earthiness mingled in the aroma. This wine was not remotely past its peak it was drinking beautifully. On the palate, it had a gorgeous balance between mature fruit, amazingly crisp acidity and fine, supple tannins.

We drank. We ate. We reminisced. We even called my mom to complete the circle. She told me (as she does every year on my birthday) about going to the hospital on the warm, late summer day in 1971. This time, though, she also told me something that I didn’t know. After delivering me, she was given a menu to pre-order her meals for the rest of her hospital stay. But when it was time for her last dinner before going home, the menu came back to her with a big X through the meal she𠆝 requested. Instead, the staff brought her steak and a glass of Champagne.

As I hung up, it occurred to me that for my next birthday, finding a � Dom Pérignon might be just the thing.


Finding Wine of a Certain Age

Blogger Tyler Colman scoured auctions and quizzed wine-shop clerks in pursuit of a great bottle from his birth year, 1971. Here, his advice on how to buy older vintages.

At the end of the summer of 1971, vineyard workers in Piedmont labored to bring in the harvest. Around the same time in Chicago, my mother went into labor.

Somehow, I never thought these two things would be linked. During that era, my parents were probably preoccupied with changing cloth diapers, watching that evening’s guest on Johnny Carson or deciding which bell-bottoms to wear the wines of Piedmont could not have been further from their minds.

And so several decades passed. Then a reader of my Web site, DrVino.com, sent in an unusual question about birth-year wines. New parents often think about socking away some wine from their newborn’s birth year—I did myself𠅋ut this reader was wondering if I drank wine from my birth year on my birthday.

Oddly, the thought had never crossed my mind. For birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions, my wife, Michelle, and I choose wines that are sentimental in other ways: wines from the year we were married, from wineries we had visited, or some of the hard-to-find wines that we had managed to squirrel away. But those were all young wines, so this was a new quest: finding a mature wine.

The first problem with this task is finding out whether a wine from a given birth year is a good one the second is determining whether it’s still drinking wonderfully. Conveniently, there are a number of resources that rate past vintages—one good one is Robert M. Parker Jr.’s vintage chart (erobertparker.com). Parker’s chart goes back only to 1970, though, so I would have had to consult a wine-collector friend, an auctioneer or Michael Broadbent’s classic book Vintage Wine if I were born before then. And while vintage charts give just a general rating for a year, books like Broadbent’s also usually estimate a life span for individual wines.

It turns out that 1971 was a pretty good year in a lot of places, particularly Germany and Piedmont. In Bordeaux it was fairly strong, though not as strong as 1970, with not nearly as much produced. Checking more references, including Parker’s Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines, I learned that Bordeaux’s Château Latour was excellent in � and would likely still be drinking well. But with the 2005 Latour (not arriving until 2008) rolling in at $800 a bottle, I feared serious sticker shock.

To find more names, I posted a query on the eRobertParker bulletin board and soon had suggestions for more than a dozen wines, among them Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti from Burgundy, Château Climens from Sauternes, and Penfolds Grange from Australia. And Northern California had its partisans, too: After all, the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello placed fifth at the famous Paris tasting in 1976 and was the top-scoring wine at a reenactment of the tasting last year.

Armed with these choices, I turned to selecting a wine. I went to Wine-searcher.com, a site that consolidates the catalogs of wine shops around the country, and found the 1971 Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti La Tฬhe for $4,200—the end of that idea. Winezap.com and Wineaccess.com also proved fruitless. Mature German Riesling suddenly seemed much more intriguing. I floated the idea by Michelle.

"What about a � German Riesling?" I asked.

"Why drink white when you could drink red?" she replied.

Finally, I found some � Latour at an upcoming auction. (Of the major wine auctioneers, Christie’s, Hart Davis Hart and Acker Merrall & Condit allow people to download catalogs from their Web sites Sotheby’s requires registration.) The estimate was about $300 a bottle: not bad. The catch was that the Latour was part of a lot of six bottles—too much left over if I didn’t like it, and a huge bill up front.

I called Acker Merrall for some advice on how to score a single bottle. They said that it was difficult to buy just one bottle at auction, so unless I wanted to buy multiple bottles of the same wine or a mixed lot containing a single bottle of the wine I was looking for, I𠆝 do better going through their New York City retail store. This wasn’t entirely surprising—the best retail stores often buy older collections directly from their owners, or send representatives to the big auctions.

At the store, a rare-wine specialist named Jason Hyde answered the phone. He said that he didn’t have a bottle of the 1971 Latour in stock, but that he did have some 1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo. I wondered aloud whether I might be a chump, buying such old wine, given that proper storage is critical when buying older vintages. Just as with art or antiques, provenance is a crucial consideration for older wines.

"This Barolo is a known quantity," Hyde replied. He explained that Acker Merrall had just acquired 10 cases of it from a private cellar in Piedmont. The wine had been there since the day it was released from the winery, he added, answering my next question before I could ask it.

"It’s a really fantastic $300 wine that drinks like the $1,500 Monfortino from that vintage," he said. "It is an excellent mature-wine experience."

Suddenly, the most expensive bottle of wine I would ever have bought was beginning to seem like a bargain. And as Michelle was also born in 1971, the cost was doubly justified. I told Hyde I𠆝 drop by the store that evening.

The one caveat, he said, was that although the bottle had a good fill line, it looked "like hell." (When buying older bottles, check the level of the wine in the bottle to see if any has leaked also, sticky residue around the base of the capsule may indicate that wine had seeped out after being exposed to heat at some point.) But after 35 years in a dark, damp cellar, Hyde added, you𠆝 want the bottle to look somewhat decrepit. Cheery thought good thing I haven’t spent my 35 years in a 55-degree basement.

Once the ancient-looking bottle was in my possession, I had to think about how and why to serve it. Our actual birthdays were nowhere in sight, and Michelle and I couldn’t stand the wait, so we opted for a romantic dinner at home. And since I remembered an article by food writer Alan Richman about the unfortunate pairing of a fabulous wine with an even more fabulous meal, which left the wine second place in his memory, we went with simple.

Michelle rounded up some hard cheeses from Italy. I made a porcini risotto. We tucked our son into bed. I lit a candle. And then I opened the bottle.

I decided to decant the wine—mostly to separate it from the sediment, not because it needed to breathe (vintages this old rarely need to breathe in fact, they tend to fade slightly faster than younger wines when exposed to oxygen). I poured the brick-red wine into a decanter, careful to stop as soon as I could see bits of sediment streaming out, then poured the wine from the decanter into two crystal glasses.

I took a sniff: Black cherries, tobacco, truffles and an enticing earthiness mingled in the aroma. This wine was not remotely past its peak it was drinking beautifully. On the palate, it had a gorgeous balance between mature fruit, amazingly crisp acidity and fine, supple tannins.

We drank. We ate. We reminisced. We even called my mom to complete the circle. She told me (as she does every year on my birthday) about going to the hospital on the warm, late summer day in 1971. This time, though, she also told me something that I didn’t know. After delivering me, she was given a menu to pre-order her meals for the rest of her hospital stay. But when it was time for her last dinner before going home, the menu came back to her with a big X through the meal she𠆝 requested. Instead, the staff brought her steak and a glass of Champagne.

As I hung up, it occurred to me that for my next birthday, finding a � Dom Pérignon might be just the thing.


Finding Wine of a Certain Age

Blogger Tyler Colman scoured auctions and quizzed wine-shop clerks in pursuit of a great bottle from his birth year, 1971. Here, his advice on how to buy older vintages.

At the end of the summer of 1971, vineyard workers in Piedmont labored to bring in the harvest. Around the same time in Chicago, my mother went into labor.

Somehow, I never thought these two things would be linked. During that era, my parents were probably preoccupied with changing cloth diapers, watching that evening’s guest on Johnny Carson or deciding which bell-bottoms to wear the wines of Piedmont could not have been further from their minds.

And so several decades passed. Then a reader of my Web site, DrVino.com, sent in an unusual question about birth-year wines. New parents often think about socking away some wine from their newborn’s birth year—I did myself𠅋ut this reader was wondering if I drank wine from my birth year on my birthday.

Oddly, the thought had never crossed my mind. For birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions, my wife, Michelle, and I choose wines that are sentimental in other ways: wines from the year we were married, from wineries we had visited, or some of the hard-to-find wines that we had managed to squirrel away. But those were all young wines, so this was a new quest: finding a mature wine.

The first problem with this task is finding out whether a wine from a given birth year is a good one the second is determining whether it’s still drinking wonderfully. Conveniently, there are a number of resources that rate past vintages—one good one is Robert M. Parker Jr.’s vintage chart (erobertparker.com). Parker’s chart goes back only to 1970, though, so I would have had to consult a wine-collector friend, an auctioneer or Michael Broadbent’s classic book Vintage Wine if I were born before then. And while vintage charts give just a general rating for a year, books like Broadbent’s also usually estimate a life span for individual wines.

It turns out that 1971 was a pretty good year in a lot of places, particularly Germany and Piedmont. In Bordeaux it was fairly strong, though not as strong as 1970, with not nearly as much produced. Checking more references, including Parker’s Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines, I learned that Bordeaux’s Château Latour was excellent in � and would likely still be drinking well. But with the 2005 Latour (not arriving until 2008) rolling in at $800 a bottle, I feared serious sticker shock.

To find more names, I posted a query on the eRobertParker bulletin board and soon had suggestions for more than a dozen wines, among them Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti from Burgundy, Château Climens from Sauternes, and Penfolds Grange from Australia. And Northern California had its partisans, too: After all, the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello placed fifth at the famous Paris tasting in 1976 and was the top-scoring wine at a reenactment of the tasting last year.

Armed with these choices, I turned to selecting a wine. I went to Wine-searcher.com, a site that consolidates the catalogs of wine shops around the country, and found the 1971 Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti La Tฬhe for $4,200—the end of that idea. Winezap.com and Wineaccess.com also proved fruitless. Mature German Riesling suddenly seemed much more intriguing. I floated the idea by Michelle.

"What about a � German Riesling?" I asked.

"Why drink white when you could drink red?" she replied.

Finally, I found some � Latour at an upcoming auction. (Of the major wine auctioneers, Christie’s, Hart Davis Hart and Acker Merrall & Condit allow people to download catalogs from their Web sites Sotheby’s requires registration.) The estimate was about $300 a bottle: not bad. The catch was that the Latour was part of a lot of six bottles—too much left over if I didn’t like it, and a huge bill up front.

I called Acker Merrall for some advice on how to score a single bottle. They said that it was difficult to buy just one bottle at auction, so unless I wanted to buy multiple bottles of the same wine or a mixed lot containing a single bottle of the wine I was looking for, I𠆝 do better going through their New York City retail store. This wasn’t entirely surprising—the best retail stores often buy older collections directly from their owners, or send representatives to the big auctions.

At the store, a rare-wine specialist named Jason Hyde answered the phone. He said that he didn’t have a bottle of the 1971 Latour in stock, but that he did have some 1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo. I wondered aloud whether I might be a chump, buying such old wine, given that proper storage is critical when buying older vintages. Just as with art or antiques, provenance is a crucial consideration for older wines.

"This Barolo is a known quantity," Hyde replied. He explained that Acker Merrall had just acquired 10 cases of it from a private cellar in Piedmont. The wine had been there since the day it was released from the winery, he added, answering my next question before I could ask it.

"It’s a really fantastic $300 wine that drinks like the $1,500 Monfortino from that vintage," he said. "It is an excellent mature-wine experience."

Suddenly, the most expensive bottle of wine I would ever have bought was beginning to seem like a bargain. And as Michelle was also born in 1971, the cost was doubly justified. I told Hyde I𠆝 drop by the store that evening.

The one caveat, he said, was that although the bottle had a good fill line, it looked "like hell." (When buying older bottles, check the level of the wine in the bottle to see if any has leaked also, sticky residue around the base of the capsule may indicate that wine had seeped out after being exposed to heat at some point.) But after 35 years in a dark, damp cellar, Hyde added, you𠆝 want the bottle to look somewhat decrepit. Cheery thought good thing I haven’t spent my 35 years in a 55-degree basement.

Once the ancient-looking bottle was in my possession, I had to think about how and why to serve it. Our actual birthdays were nowhere in sight, and Michelle and I couldn’t stand the wait, so we opted for a romantic dinner at home. And since I remembered an article by food writer Alan Richman about the unfortunate pairing of a fabulous wine with an even more fabulous meal, which left the wine second place in his memory, we went with simple.

Michelle rounded up some hard cheeses from Italy. I made a porcini risotto. We tucked our son into bed. I lit a candle. And then I opened the bottle.

I decided to decant the wine—mostly to separate it from the sediment, not because it needed to breathe (vintages this old rarely need to breathe in fact, they tend to fade slightly faster than younger wines when exposed to oxygen). I poured the brick-red wine into a decanter, careful to stop as soon as I could see bits of sediment streaming out, then poured the wine from the decanter into two crystal glasses.

I took a sniff: Black cherries, tobacco, truffles and an enticing earthiness mingled in the aroma. This wine was not remotely past its peak it was drinking beautifully. On the palate, it had a gorgeous balance between mature fruit, amazingly crisp acidity and fine, supple tannins.

We drank. We ate. We reminisced. We even called my mom to complete the circle. She told me (as she does every year on my birthday) about going to the hospital on the warm, late summer day in 1971. This time, though, she also told me something that I didn’t know. After delivering me, she was given a menu to pre-order her meals for the rest of her hospital stay. But when it was time for her last dinner before going home, the menu came back to her with a big X through the meal she𠆝 requested. Instead, the staff brought her steak and a glass of Champagne.

As I hung up, it occurred to me that for my next birthday, finding a � Dom Pérignon might be just the thing.


Finding Wine of a Certain Age

Blogger Tyler Colman scoured auctions and quizzed wine-shop clerks in pursuit of a great bottle from his birth year, 1971. Here, his advice on how to buy older vintages.

At the end of the summer of 1971, vineyard workers in Piedmont labored to bring in the harvest. Around the same time in Chicago, my mother went into labor.

Somehow, I never thought these two things would be linked. During that era, my parents were probably preoccupied with changing cloth diapers, watching that evening’s guest on Johnny Carson or deciding which bell-bottoms to wear the wines of Piedmont could not have been further from their minds.

And so several decades passed. Then a reader of my Web site, DrVino.com, sent in an unusual question about birth-year wines. New parents often think about socking away some wine from their newborn’s birth year—I did myself𠅋ut this reader was wondering if I drank wine from my birth year on my birthday.

Oddly, the thought had never crossed my mind. For birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions, my wife, Michelle, and I choose wines that are sentimental in other ways: wines from the year we were married, from wineries we had visited, or some of the hard-to-find wines that we had managed to squirrel away. But those were all young wines, so this was a new quest: finding a mature wine.

The first problem with this task is finding out whether a wine from a given birth year is a good one the second is determining whether it’s still drinking wonderfully. Conveniently, there are a number of resources that rate past vintages—one good one is Robert M. Parker Jr.’s vintage chart (erobertparker.com). Parker’s chart goes back only to 1970, though, so I would have had to consult a wine-collector friend, an auctioneer or Michael Broadbent’s classic book Vintage Wine if I were born before then. And while vintage charts give just a general rating for a year, books like Broadbent’s also usually estimate a life span for individual wines.

It turns out that 1971 was a pretty good year in a lot of places, particularly Germany and Piedmont. In Bordeaux it was fairly strong, though not as strong as 1970, with not nearly as much produced. Checking more references, including Parker’s Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines, I learned that Bordeaux’s Château Latour was excellent in � and would likely still be drinking well. But with the 2005 Latour (not arriving until 2008) rolling in at $800 a bottle, I feared serious sticker shock.

To find more names, I posted a query on the eRobertParker bulletin board and soon had suggestions for more than a dozen wines, among them Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti from Burgundy, Château Climens from Sauternes, and Penfolds Grange from Australia. And Northern California had its partisans, too: After all, the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello placed fifth at the famous Paris tasting in 1976 and was the top-scoring wine at a reenactment of the tasting last year.

Armed with these choices, I turned to selecting a wine. I went to Wine-searcher.com, a site that consolidates the catalogs of wine shops around the country, and found the 1971 Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti La Tฬhe for $4,200—the end of that idea. Winezap.com and Wineaccess.com also proved fruitless. Mature German Riesling suddenly seemed much more intriguing. I floated the idea by Michelle.

"What about a � German Riesling?" I asked.

"Why drink white when you could drink red?" she replied.

Finally, I found some � Latour at an upcoming auction. (Of the major wine auctioneers, Christie’s, Hart Davis Hart and Acker Merrall & Condit allow people to download catalogs from their Web sites Sotheby’s requires registration.) The estimate was about $300 a bottle: not bad. The catch was that the Latour was part of a lot of six bottles—too much left over if I didn’t like it, and a huge bill up front.

I called Acker Merrall for some advice on how to score a single bottle. They said that it was difficult to buy just one bottle at auction, so unless I wanted to buy multiple bottles of the same wine or a mixed lot containing a single bottle of the wine I was looking for, I𠆝 do better going through their New York City retail store. This wasn’t entirely surprising—the best retail stores often buy older collections directly from their owners, or send representatives to the big auctions.

At the store, a rare-wine specialist named Jason Hyde answered the phone. He said that he didn’t have a bottle of the 1971 Latour in stock, but that he did have some 1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo. I wondered aloud whether I might be a chump, buying such old wine, given that proper storage is critical when buying older vintages. Just as with art or antiques, provenance is a crucial consideration for older wines.

"This Barolo is a known quantity," Hyde replied. He explained that Acker Merrall had just acquired 10 cases of it from a private cellar in Piedmont. The wine had been there since the day it was released from the winery, he added, answering my next question before I could ask it.

"It’s a really fantastic $300 wine that drinks like the $1,500 Monfortino from that vintage," he said. "It is an excellent mature-wine experience."

Suddenly, the most expensive bottle of wine I would ever have bought was beginning to seem like a bargain. And as Michelle was also born in 1971, the cost was doubly justified. I told Hyde I𠆝 drop by the store that evening.

The one caveat, he said, was that although the bottle had a good fill line, it looked "like hell." (When buying older bottles, check the level of the wine in the bottle to see if any has leaked also, sticky residue around the base of the capsule may indicate that wine had seeped out after being exposed to heat at some point.) But after 35 years in a dark, damp cellar, Hyde added, you𠆝 want the bottle to look somewhat decrepit. Cheery thought good thing I haven’t spent my 35 years in a 55-degree basement.

Once the ancient-looking bottle was in my possession, I had to think about how and why to serve it. Our actual birthdays were nowhere in sight, and Michelle and I couldn’t stand the wait, so we opted for a romantic dinner at home. And since I remembered an article by food writer Alan Richman about the unfortunate pairing of a fabulous wine with an even more fabulous meal, which left the wine second place in his memory, we went with simple.

Michelle rounded up some hard cheeses from Italy. I made a porcini risotto. We tucked our son into bed. I lit a candle. And then I opened the bottle.

I decided to decant the wine—mostly to separate it from the sediment, not because it needed to breathe (vintages this old rarely need to breathe in fact, they tend to fade slightly faster than younger wines when exposed to oxygen). I poured the brick-red wine into a decanter, careful to stop as soon as I could see bits of sediment streaming out, then poured the wine from the decanter into two crystal glasses.

I took a sniff: Black cherries, tobacco, truffles and an enticing earthiness mingled in the aroma. This wine was not remotely past its peak it was drinking beautifully. On the palate, it had a gorgeous balance between mature fruit, amazingly crisp acidity and fine, supple tannins.

We drank. We ate. We reminisced. We even called my mom to complete the circle. She told me (as she does every year on my birthday) about going to the hospital on the warm, late summer day in 1971. This time, though, she also told me something that I didn’t know. After delivering me, she was given a menu to pre-order her meals for the rest of her hospital stay. But when it was time for her last dinner before going home, the menu came back to her with a big X through the meal she𠆝 requested. Instead, the staff brought her steak and a glass of Champagne.

As I hung up, it occurred to me that for my next birthday, finding a � Dom Pérignon might be just the thing.


Finding Wine of a Certain Age

Blogger Tyler Colman scoured auctions and quizzed wine-shop clerks in pursuit of a great bottle from his birth year, 1971. Here, his advice on how to buy older vintages.

At the end of the summer of 1971, vineyard workers in Piedmont labored to bring in the harvest. Around the same time in Chicago, my mother went into labor.

Somehow, I never thought these two things would be linked. During that era, my parents were probably preoccupied with changing cloth diapers, watching that evening’s guest on Johnny Carson or deciding which bell-bottoms to wear the wines of Piedmont could not have been further from their minds.

And so several decades passed. Then a reader of my Web site, DrVino.com, sent in an unusual question about birth-year wines. New parents often think about socking away some wine from their newborn’s birth year—I did myself𠅋ut this reader was wondering if I drank wine from my birth year on my birthday.

Oddly, the thought had never crossed my mind. For birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions, my wife, Michelle, and I choose wines that are sentimental in other ways: wines from the year we were married, from wineries we had visited, or some of the hard-to-find wines that we had managed to squirrel away. But those were all young wines, so this was a new quest: finding a mature wine.

The first problem with this task is finding out whether a wine from a given birth year is a good one the second is determining whether it’s still drinking wonderfully. Conveniently, there are a number of resources that rate past vintages—one good one is Robert M. Parker Jr.’s vintage chart (erobertparker.com). Parker’s chart goes back only to 1970, though, so I would have had to consult a wine-collector friend, an auctioneer or Michael Broadbent’s classic book Vintage Wine if I were born before then. And while vintage charts give just a general rating for a year, books like Broadbent’s also usually estimate a life span for individual wines.

It turns out that 1971 was a pretty good year in a lot of places, particularly Germany and Piedmont. In Bordeaux it was fairly strong, though not as strong as 1970, with not nearly as much produced. Checking more references, including Parker’s Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines, I learned that Bordeaux’s Château Latour was excellent in � and would likely still be drinking well. But with the 2005 Latour (not arriving until 2008) rolling in at $800 a bottle, I feared serious sticker shock.

To find more names, I posted a query on the eRobertParker bulletin board and soon had suggestions for more than a dozen wines, among them Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti from Burgundy, Château Climens from Sauternes, and Penfolds Grange from Australia. And Northern California had its partisans, too: After all, the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello placed fifth at the famous Paris tasting in 1976 and was the top-scoring wine at a reenactment of the tasting last year.

Armed with these choices, I turned to selecting a wine. I went to Wine-searcher.com, a site that consolidates the catalogs of wine shops around the country, and found the 1971 Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti La Tฬhe for $4,200—the end of that idea. Winezap.com and Wineaccess.com also proved fruitless. Mature German Riesling suddenly seemed much more intriguing. I floated the idea by Michelle.

"What about a � German Riesling?" I asked.

"Why drink white when you could drink red?" she replied.

Finally, I found some � Latour at an upcoming auction. (Of the major wine auctioneers, Christie’s, Hart Davis Hart and Acker Merrall & Condit allow people to download catalogs from their Web sites Sotheby’s requires registration.) The estimate was about $300 a bottle: not bad. The catch was that the Latour was part of a lot of six bottles—too much left over if I didn’t like it, and a huge bill up front.

I called Acker Merrall for some advice on how to score a single bottle. They said that it was difficult to buy just one bottle at auction, so unless I wanted to buy multiple bottles of the same wine or a mixed lot containing a single bottle of the wine I was looking for, I𠆝 do better going through their New York City retail store. This wasn’t entirely surprising—the best retail stores often buy older collections directly from their owners, or send representatives to the big auctions.

At the store, a rare-wine specialist named Jason Hyde answered the phone. He said that he didn’t have a bottle of the 1971 Latour in stock, but that he did have some 1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo. I wondered aloud whether I might be a chump, buying such old wine, given that proper storage is critical when buying older vintages. Just as with art or antiques, provenance is a crucial consideration for older wines.

"This Barolo is a known quantity," Hyde replied. He explained that Acker Merrall had just acquired 10 cases of it from a private cellar in Piedmont. The wine had been there since the day it was released from the winery, he added, answering my next question before I could ask it.

"It’s a really fantastic $300 wine that drinks like the $1,500 Monfortino from that vintage," he said. "It is an excellent mature-wine experience."

Suddenly, the most expensive bottle of wine I would ever have bought was beginning to seem like a bargain. And as Michelle was also born in 1971, the cost was doubly justified. I told Hyde I𠆝 drop by the store that evening.

The one caveat, he said, was that although the bottle had a good fill line, it looked "like hell." (When buying older bottles, check the level of the wine in the bottle to see if any has leaked also, sticky residue around the base of the capsule may indicate that wine had seeped out after being exposed to heat at some point.) But after 35 years in a dark, damp cellar, Hyde added, you𠆝 want the bottle to look somewhat decrepit. Cheery thought good thing I haven’t spent my 35 years in a 55-degree basement.

Once the ancient-looking bottle was in my possession, I had to think about how and why to serve it. Our actual birthdays were nowhere in sight, and Michelle and I couldn’t stand the wait, so we opted for a romantic dinner at home. And since I remembered an article by food writer Alan Richman about the unfortunate pairing of a fabulous wine with an even more fabulous meal, which left the wine second place in his memory, we went with simple.

Michelle rounded up some hard cheeses from Italy. I made a porcini risotto. We tucked our son into bed. I lit a candle. And then I opened the bottle.

I decided to decant the wine—mostly to separate it from the sediment, not because it needed to breathe (vintages this old rarely need to breathe in fact, they tend to fade slightly faster than younger wines when exposed to oxygen). I poured the brick-red wine into a decanter, careful to stop as soon as I could see bits of sediment streaming out, then poured the wine from the decanter into two crystal glasses.

I took a sniff: Black cherries, tobacco, truffles and an enticing earthiness mingled in the aroma. This wine was not remotely past its peak it was drinking beautifully. On the palate, it had a gorgeous balance between mature fruit, amazingly crisp acidity and fine, supple tannins.

We drank. We ate. We reminisced. We even called my mom to complete the circle. She told me (as she does every year on my birthday) about going to the hospital on the warm, late summer day in 1971. This time, though, she also told me something that I didn’t know. After delivering me, she was given a menu to pre-order her meals for the rest of her hospital stay. But when it was time for her last dinner before going home, the menu came back to her with a big X through the meal she𠆝 requested. Instead, the staff brought her steak and a glass of Champagne.

As I hung up, it occurred to me that for my next birthday, finding a � Dom Pérignon might be just the thing.


Finding Wine of a Certain Age

Blogger Tyler Colman scoured auctions and quizzed wine-shop clerks in pursuit of a great bottle from his birth year, 1971. Here, his advice on how to buy older vintages.

At the end of the summer of 1971, vineyard workers in Piedmont labored to bring in the harvest. Around the same time in Chicago, my mother went into labor.

Somehow, I never thought these two things would be linked. During that era, my parents were probably preoccupied with changing cloth diapers, watching that evening’s guest on Johnny Carson or deciding which bell-bottoms to wear the wines of Piedmont could not have been further from their minds.

And so several decades passed. Then a reader of my Web site, DrVino.com, sent in an unusual question about birth-year wines. New parents often think about socking away some wine from their newborn’s birth year—I did myself𠅋ut this reader was wondering if I drank wine from my birth year on my birthday.

Oddly, the thought had never crossed my mind. For birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions, my wife, Michelle, and I choose wines that are sentimental in other ways: wines from the year we were married, from wineries we had visited, or some of the hard-to-find wines that we had managed to squirrel away. But those were all young wines, so this was a new quest: finding a mature wine.

The first problem with this task is finding out whether a wine from a given birth year is a good one the second is determining whether it’s still drinking wonderfully. Conveniently, there are a number of resources that rate past vintages—one good one is Robert M. Parker Jr.’s vintage chart (erobertparker.com). Parker’s chart goes back only to 1970, though, so I would have had to consult a wine-collector friend, an auctioneer or Michael Broadbent’s classic book Vintage Wine if I were born before then. And while vintage charts give just a general rating for a year, books like Broadbent’s also usually estimate a life span for individual wines.

It turns out that 1971 was a pretty good year in a lot of places, particularly Germany and Piedmont. In Bordeaux it was fairly strong, though not as strong as 1970, with not nearly as much produced. Checking more references, including Parker’s Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines, I learned that Bordeaux’s Château Latour was excellent in � and would likely still be drinking well. But with the 2005 Latour (not arriving until 2008) rolling in at $800 a bottle, I feared serious sticker shock.

To find more names, I posted a query on the eRobertParker bulletin board and soon had suggestions for more than a dozen wines, among them Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti from Burgundy, Château Climens from Sauternes, and Penfolds Grange from Australia. And Northern California had its partisans, too: After all, the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello placed fifth at the famous Paris tasting in 1976 and was the top-scoring wine at a reenactment of the tasting last year.

Armed with these choices, I turned to selecting a wine. I went to Wine-searcher.com, a site that consolidates the catalogs of wine shops around the country, and found the 1971 Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti La Tฬhe for $4,200—the end of that idea. Winezap.com and Wineaccess.com also proved fruitless. Mature German Riesling suddenly seemed much more intriguing. I floated the idea by Michelle.

"What about a � German Riesling?" I asked.

"Why drink white when you could drink red?" she replied.

Finally, I found some � Latour at an upcoming auction. (Of the major wine auctioneers, Christie’s, Hart Davis Hart and Acker Merrall & Condit allow people to download catalogs from their Web sites Sotheby’s requires registration.) The estimate was about $300 a bottle: not bad. The catch was that the Latour was part of a lot of six bottles—too much left over if I didn’t like it, and a huge bill up front.

I called Acker Merrall for some advice on how to score a single bottle. They said that it was difficult to buy just one bottle at auction, so unless I wanted to buy multiple bottles of the same wine or a mixed lot containing a single bottle of the wine I was looking for, I𠆝 do better going through their New York City retail store. This wasn’t entirely surprising—the best retail stores often buy older collections directly from their owners, or send representatives to the big auctions.

At the store, a rare-wine specialist named Jason Hyde answered the phone. He said that he didn’t have a bottle of the 1971 Latour in stock, but that he did have some 1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo. I wondered aloud whether I might be a chump, buying such old wine, given that proper storage is critical when buying older vintages. Just as with art or antiques, provenance is a crucial consideration for older wines.

"This Barolo is a known quantity," Hyde replied. He explained that Acker Merrall had just acquired 10 cases of it from a private cellar in Piedmont. The wine had been there since the day it was released from the winery, he added, answering my next question before I could ask it.

"It’s a really fantastic $300 wine that drinks like the $1,500 Monfortino from that vintage," he said. "It is an excellent mature-wine experience."

Suddenly, the most expensive bottle of wine I would ever have bought was beginning to seem like a bargain. And as Michelle was also born in 1971, the cost was doubly justified. I told Hyde I𠆝 drop by the store that evening.

The one caveat, he said, was that although the bottle had a good fill line, it looked "like hell." (When buying older bottles, check the level of the wine in the bottle to see if any has leaked also, sticky residue around the base of the capsule may indicate that wine had seeped out after being exposed to heat at some point.) But after 35 years in a dark, damp cellar, Hyde added, you𠆝 want the bottle to look somewhat decrepit. Cheery thought good thing I haven’t spent my 35 years in a 55-degree basement.

Once the ancient-looking bottle was in my possession, I had to think about how and why to serve it. Our actual birthdays were nowhere in sight, and Michelle and I couldn’t stand the wait, so we opted for a romantic dinner at home. And since I remembered an article by food writer Alan Richman about the unfortunate pairing of a fabulous wine with an even more fabulous meal, which left the wine second place in his memory, we went with simple.

Michelle rounded up some hard cheeses from Italy. I made a porcini risotto. We tucked our son into bed. I lit a candle. And then I opened the bottle.

I decided to decant the wine—mostly to separate it from the sediment, not because it needed to breathe (vintages this old rarely need to breathe in fact, they tend to fade slightly faster than younger wines when exposed to oxygen). I poured the brick-red wine into a decanter, careful to stop as soon as I could see bits of sediment streaming out, then poured the wine from the decanter into two crystal glasses.

I took a sniff: Black cherries, tobacco, truffles and an enticing earthiness mingled in the aroma. This wine was not remotely past its peak it was drinking beautifully. On the palate, it had a gorgeous balance between mature fruit, amazingly crisp acidity and fine, supple tannins.

We drank. We ate. We reminisced. We even called my mom to complete the circle. She told me (as she does every year on my birthday) about going to the hospital on the warm, late summer day in 1971. This time, though, she also told me something that I didn’t know. After delivering me, she was given a menu to pre-order her meals for the rest of her hospital stay. But when it was time for her last dinner before going home, the menu came back to her with a big X through the meal she𠆝 requested. Instead, the staff brought her steak and a glass of Champagne.

As I hung up, it occurred to me that for my next birthday, finding a � Dom Pérignon might be just the thing.


Finding Wine of a Certain Age

Blogger Tyler Colman scoured auctions and quizzed wine-shop clerks in pursuit of a great bottle from his birth year, 1971. Here, his advice on how to buy older vintages.

At the end of the summer of 1971, vineyard workers in Piedmont labored to bring in the harvest. Around the same time in Chicago, my mother went into labor.

Somehow, I never thought these two things would be linked. During that era, my parents were probably preoccupied with changing cloth diapers, watching that evening’s guest on Johnny Carson or deciding which bell-bottoms to wear the wines of Piedmont could not have been further from their minds.

And so several decades passed. Then a reader of my Web site, DrVino.com, sent in an unusual question about birth-year wines. New parents often think about socking away some wine from their newborn’s birth year—I did myself𠅋ut this reader was wondering if I drank wine from my birth year on my birthday.

Oddly, the thought had never crossed my mind. For birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions, my wife, Michelle, and I choose wines that are sentimental in other ways: wines from the year we were married, from wineries we had visited, or some of the hard-to-find wines that we had managed to squirrel away. But those were all young wines, so this was a new quest: finding a mature wine.

The first problem with this task is finding out whether a wine from a given birth year is a good one the second is determining whether it’s still drinking wonderfully. Conveniently, there are a number of resources that rate past vintages—one good one is Robert M. Parker Jr.’s vintage chart (erobertparker.com). Parker’s chart goes back only to 1970, though, so I would have had to consult a wine-collector friend, an auctioneer or Michael Broadbent’s classic book Vintage Wine if I were born before then. And while vintage charts give just a general rating for a year, books like Broadbent’s also usually estimate a life span for individual wines.

It turns out that 1971 was a pretty good year in a lot of places, particularly Germany and Piedmont. In Bordeaux it was fairly strong, though not as strong as 1970, with not nearly as much produced. Checking more references, including Parker’s Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines, I learned that Bordeaux’s Château Latour was excellent in � and would likely still be drinking well. But with the 2005 Latour (not arriving until 2008) rolling in at $800 a bottle, I feared serious sticker shock.

To find more names, I posted a query on the eRobertParker bulletin board and soon had suggestions for more than a dozen wines, among them Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti from Burgundy, Château Climens from Sauternes, and Penfolds Grange from Australia. And Northern California had its partisans, too: After all, the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello placed fifth at the famous Paris tasting in 1976 and was the top-scoring wine at a reenactment of the tasting last year.

Armed with these choices, I turned to selecting a wine. I went to Wine-searcher.com, a site that consolidates the catalogs of wine shops around the country, and found the 1971 Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti La Tฬhe for $4,200—the end of that idea. Winezap.com and Wineaccess.com also proved fruitless. Mature German Riesling suddenly seemed much more intriguing. I floated the idea by Michelle.

"What about a � German Riesling?" I asked.

"Why drink white when you could drink red?" she replied.

Finally, I found some � Latour at an upcoming auction. (Of the major wine auctioneers, Christie’s, Hart Davis Hart and Acker Merrall & Condit allow people to download catalogs from their Web sites Sotheby’s requires registration.) The estimate was about $300 a bottle: not bad. The catch was that the Latour was part of a lot of six bottles—too much left over if I didn’t like it, and a huge bill up front.

I called Acker Merrall for some advice on how to score a single bottle. They said that it was difficult to buy just one bottle at auction, so unless I wanted to buy multiple bottles of the same wine or a mixed lot containing a single bottle of the wine I was looking for, I𠆝 do better going through their New York City retail store. This wasn’t entirely surprising—the best retail stores often buy older collections directly from their owners, or send representatives to the big auctions.

At the store, a rare-wine specialist named Jason Hyde answered the phone. He said that he didn’t have a bottle of the 1971 Latour in stock, but that he did have some 1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo. I wondered aloud whether I might be a chump, buying such old wine, given that proper storage is critical when buying older vintages. Just as with art or antiques, provenance is a crucial consideration for older wines.

"This Barolo is a known quantity," Hyde replied. He explained that Acker Merrall had just acquired 10 cases of it from a private cellar in Piedmont. The wine had been there since the day it was released from the winery, he added, answering my next question before I could ask it.

"It’s a really fantastic $300 wine that drinks like the $1,500 Monfortino from that vintage," he said. "It is an excellent mature-wine experience."

Suddenly, the most expensive bottle of wine I would ever have bought was beginning to seem like a bargain. And as Michelle was also born in 1971, the cost was doubly justified. I told Hyde I𠆝 drop by the store that evening.

The one caveat, he said, was that although the bottle had a good fill line, it looked "like hell." (When buying older bottles, check the level of the wine in the bottle to see if any has leaked also, sticky residue around the base of the capsule may indicate that wine had seeped out after being exposed to heat at some point.) But after 35 years in a dark, damp cellar, Hyde added, you𠆝 want the bottle to look somewhat decrepit. Cheery thought good thing I haven’t spent my 35 years in a 55-degree basement.

Once the ancient-looking bottle was in my possession, I had to think about how and why to serve it. Our actual birthdays were nowhere in sight, and Michelle and I couldn’t stand the wait, so we opted for a romantic dinner at home. And since I remembered an article by food writer Alan Richman about the unfortunate pairing of a fabulous wine with an even more fabulous meal, which left the wine second place in his memory, we went with simple.

Michelle rounded up some hard cheeses from Italy. I made a porcini risotto. We tucked our son into bed. I lit a candle. And then I opened the bottle.

I decided to decant the wine—mostly to separate it from the sediment, not because it needed to breathe (vintages this old rarely need to breathe in fact, they tend to fade slightly faster than younger wines when exposed to oxygen). I poured the brick-red wine into a decanter, careful to stop as soon as I could see bits of sediment streaming out, then poured the wine from the decanter into two crystal glasses.

I took a sniff: Black cherries, tobacco, truffles and an enticing earthiness mingled in the aroma. This wine was not remotely past its peak it was drinking beautifully. On the palate, it had a gorgeous balance between mature fruit, amazingly crisp acidity and fine, supple tannins.

We drank. We ate. We reminisced. We even called my mom to complete the circle. She told me (as she does every year on my birthday) about going to the hospital on the warm, late summer day in 1971. This time, though, she also told me something that I didn’t know. After delivering me, she was given a menu to pre-order her meals for the rest of her hospital stay. But when it was time for her last dinner before going home, the menu came back to her with a big X through the meal she𠆝 requested. Instead, the staff brought her steak and a glass of Champagne.

As I hung up, it occurred to me that for my next birthday, finding a � Dom Pérignon might be just the thing.


Finding Wine of a Certain Age

Blogger Tyler Colman scoured auctions and quizzed wine-shop clerks in pursuit of a great bottle from his birth year, 1971. Here, his advice on how to buy older vintages.

At the end of the summer of 1971, vineyard workers in Piedmont labored to bring in the harvest. Around the same time in Chicago, my mother went into labor.

Somehow, I never thought these two things would be linked. During that era, my parents were probably preoccupied with changing cloth diapers, watching that evening’s guest on Johnny Carson or deciding which bell-bottoms to wear the wines of Piedmont could not have been further from their minds.

And so several decades passed. Then a reader of my Web site, DrVino.com, sent in an unusual question about birth-year wines. New parents often think about socking away some wine from their newborn’s birth year—I did myself𠅋ut this reader was wondering if I drank wine from my birth year on my birthday.

Oddly, the thought had never crossed my mind. For birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions, my wife, Michelle, and I choose wines that are sentimental in other ways: wines from the year we were married, from wineries we had visited, or some of the hard-to-find wines that we had managed to squirrel away. But those were all young wines, so this was a new quest: finding a mature wine.

The first problem with this task is finding out whether a wine from a given birth year is a good one the second is determining whether it’s still drinking wonderfully. Conveniently, there are a number of resources that rate past vintages—one good one is Robert M. Parker Jr.’s vintage chart (erobertparker.com). Parker’s chart goes back only to 1970, though, so I would have had to consult a wine-collector friend, an auctioneer or Michael Broadbent’s classic book Vintage Wine if I were born before then. And while vintage charts give just a general rating for a year, books like Broadbent’s also usually estimate a life span for individual wines.

It turns out that 1971 was a pretty good year in a lot of places, particularly Germany and Piedmont. In Bordeaux it was fairly strong, though not as strong as 1970, with not nearly as much produced. Checking more references, including Parker’s Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines, I learned that Bordeaux’s Château Latour was excellent in � and would likely still be drinking well. But with the 2005 Latour (not arriving until 2008) rolling in at $800 a bottle, I feared serious sticker shock.

To find more names, I posted a query on the eRobertParker bulletin board and soon had suggestions for more than a dozen wines, among them Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti from Burgundy, Château Climens from Sauternes, and Penfolds Grange from Australia. And Northern California had its partisans, too: After all, the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello placed fifth at the famous Paris tasting in 1976 and was the top-scoring wine at a reenactment of the tasting last year.

Armed with these choices, I turned to selecting a wine. I went to Wine-searcher.com, a site that consolidates the catalogs of wine shops around the country, and found the 1971 Domaine de la Romanພ-Conti La Tฬhe for $4,200—the end of that idea. Winezap.com and Wineaccess.com also proved fruitless. Mature German Riesling suddenly seemed much more intriguing. I floated the idea by Michelle.

"What about a � German Riesling?" I asked.

"Why drink white when you could drink red?" she replied.

Finally, I found some � Latour at an upcoming auction. (Of the major wine auctioneers, Christie’s, Hart Davis Hart and Acker Merrall & Condit allow people to download catalogs from their Web sites Sotheby’s requires registration.) The estimate was about $300 a bottle: not bad. The catch was that the Latour was part of a lot of six bottles—too much left over if I didn’t like it, and a huge bill up front.

I called Acker Merrall for some advice on how to score a single bottle. They said that it was difficult to buy just one bottle at auction, so unless I wanted to buy multiple bottles of the same wine or a mixed lot containing a single bottle of the wine I was looking for, I𠆝 do better going through their New York City retail store. This wasn’t entirely surprising—the best retail stores often buy older collections directly from their owners, or send representatives to the big auctions.

At the store, a rare-wine specialist named Jason Hyde answered the phone. He said that he didn’t have a bottle of the 1971 Latour in stock, but that he did have some 1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo. I wondered aloud whether I might be a chump, buying such old wine, given that proper storage is critical when buying older vintages. Just as with art or antiques, provenance is a crucial consideration for older wines.

"This Barolo is a known quantity," Hyde replied. He explained that Acker Merrall had just acquired 10 cases of it from a private cellar in Piedmont. The wine had been there since the day it was released from the winery, he added, answering my next question before I could ask it.

"It’s a really fantastic $300 wine that drinks like the $1,500 Monfortino from that vintage," he said. "It is an excellent mature-wine experience."

Suddenly, the most expensive bottle of wine I would ever have bought was beginning to seem like a bargain. And as Michelle was also born in 1971, the cost was doubly justified. I told Hyde I𠆝 drop by the store that evening.

The one caveat, he said, was that although the bottle had a good fill line, it looked "like hell." (When buying older bottles, check the level of the wine in the bottle to see if any has leaked also, sticky residue around the base of the capsule may indicate that wine had seeped out after being exposed to heat at some point.) But after 35 years in a dark, damp cellar, Hyde added, you𠆝 want the bottle to look somewhat decrepit. Cheery thought good thing I haven’t spent my 35 years in a 55-degree basement.

Once the ancient-looking bottle was in my possession, I had to think about how and why to serve it. Our actual birthdays were nowhere in sight, and Michelle and I couldn’t stand the wait, so we opted for a romantic dinner at home. And since I remembered an article by food writer Alan Richman about the unfortunate pairing of a fabulous wine with an even more fabulous meal, which left the wine second place in his memory, we went with simple.

Michelle rounded up some hard cheeses from Italy. I made a porcini risotto. We tucked our son into bed. I lit a candle. And then I opened the bottle.

I decided to decant the wine—mostly to separate it from the sediment, not because it needed to breathe (vintages this old rarely need to breathe in fact, they tend to fade slightly faster than younger wines when exposed to oxygen). I poured the brick-red wine into a decanter, careful to stop as soon as I could see bits of sediment streaming out, then poured the wine from the decanter into two crystal glasses.

I took a sniff: Black cherries, tobacco, truffles and an enticing earthiness mingled in the aroma. This wine was not remotely past its peak it was drinking beautifully. On the palate, it had a gorgeous balance between mature fruit, amazingly crisp acidity and fine, supple tannins.

We drank. We ate. We reminisced. We even called my mom to complete the circle. She told me (as she does every year on my birthday) about going to the hospital on the warm, late summer day in 1971. This time, though, she also told me something that I didn’t know. After delivering me, she was given a menu to pre-order her meals for the rest of her hospital stay. But when it was time for her last dinner before going home, the menu came back to her with a big X through the meal she𠆝 requested. Instead, the staff brought her steak and a glass of Champagne.

As I hung up, it occurred to me that for my next birthday, finding a � Dom Pérignon might be just the thing.


Watch the video: This FRENCH GARDEN left us speechless - Visiting the Jardin du pays dAuge


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