I have long been interested in the effects of climatic conditions and wine-making trends on the vinous output of any given vintage in any specific place. Some years seem blessed, yielding great tasting and long-lived wines in numerous locations. In other years conditions can be more challenging and you really have to sharpen your focus to track down any gems.
My own birth year, 1967, is a case in point. It didn't impress much in Bordeaux or Burgundy but wasn't bad in the Rhône and Italy but pickings are getting thin over a half a century after the event. It was good for sweet Bordeaux. I'm holding on to a precious half-bottle of Château Yquem 1967 that I bought at auction some years ago and am saving for a special occasion. Earlier this year it was given a score of 99/100 and a drinking window of 2020-2040 by wine critic Josh Reynolds writing for vinous.com. He made the following observation:
"This hauntingly complex, powerful yet shockingly lively Sauternes could be served with all sorts of decadent desserts, but it really deserves to be appreciated by itself, especially since one never knows when another chance to experience it might come around again."
I share my ignominious birth year with two wine loving friends. The wine journalist Matthew Jukes and the restaurateur Clive Greenhalgh. When we have significant anniversaries we try to get together and broach a few bottles that are the same age as us. For our fiftieth birthdays four years ago we sampled the sensational canard à la presse at Otto's on Grays Inn Road and did ourselves proud with an impressively rich 'Añada' sherry from Gonzalez Byass, some 'Chapoutier' Côte-Rôtie, a brace of brilliant Barbarescos and, just for good measure, a bottle of 'Château Prieuré du Montastir del Camp' Rivesaltes.
There are some clever ruses if you really don't like the fruit of the year you are born in. Anthony Barton has recalled that he doesn't particularly rate Léoville-Barton in 1930, the year of his birth, so favours celebrating with the 1929 - the year of his conception. The other thing to consider is that every year will be good for something somewhere or you can always broaden your field by opting for a distillate or fortified wine which are much less dependent on fine weather.
Happily, my sons had the good fortune to be born in great Rhône vintages – 1998 and 2001. Both were terrific in Châteauneuf-du-Pape so that was my first port of call for their nascent cellars. I stocked up on bottles and magnums of Vieux Donjon and Vieux Télégraphe that should be drinking well over the next 10-15 years.
A vintage I love, that was terrific all over the place, is 1990. Happily, it is the birth year of my French friend Alex, one of the patrons of Authentique Épicierie and Bar in Tufnell Park. To celebrate ending far too long a period of isolation we recently met for dinner and enjoyed a bottle of the magnificent Domaine de Trévallon 1990. It fully lived up to our high expectations, I just wish I knew where I could get more of it.
Lastly, a memorable tip from the late Michael Broadbent. He was once presenting an ancient wine to an enthusiastic audience at a wine auction in California. It tasted terribly oxidised but he preceded the pouring with the terrific advice: "Remember you are not tasting wine, you are tasting history." Nobody complained and the event was great success.