Happy birthday to me // Short Cellar

Pop the cork and drink a bottle of wine to commemorate the day of your birth

By Matthew Sullivan

On Saturday November 28th, 2009


Short CellarChildren love birthdays for one simple reason: presents. We adults, on the other hand, have credit cards and can charge anything, any time — a convenience that saps some of the novelty of getting gifts. Too many of us find birthdays as exciting as opening a new box of tissues.

But I am nothing if not relentless in the pursuit of self-gratification, and I have found a new way to invigorate my birthdays: opening a wine from the year of my birth and drinking it with friends. Extravagantly aged wines can be the most exciting tasting experience of your life.

Unfortunately, in an act bordering on criminal neglect, my parents failed to cellar any wines from 1975. I am left with the double challenge of trying to find these bottles and then convincing my girlfriend to buy them for me.

Some restaurants have wine lists with Bordeaux going back to the 1970s — Le Sélect Bistro in downtown Toronto leaps to mind — but these ancient bottles usually cost about the same as a discount all-inclusive vacation. The best way in Ontario to find affordable oldies is to sign up for Vintages’ e-mail bulletins that notify you of special offers of rare wines (vintageslatest.com).

For my last birthday, I ordered a Montecillo 1975 Gran Reserva Selección Especial from La Rioja, Spain ($145 for 1500ml). Rioja is one of the best types of wine for longterm aging (see below). At age 34, wine is a living creature. When I first opened it, this Montecillo had aromas of gym socks, rubber and wet wood. However, these odd flavours evolved into something more graceful, like violets and dark honey. It was exquisite, unique and wonderful to share.

And don’t make the same shameful mistake my parents made: Cellar wines for your babies. They may take their college tuition for granted, but they’ll thank you for having something classy to drink when they turn 25.

Wine For Babies

If you are looking for a wine that will age beautifully and taste great 20 or 30 years from now, what should you buy?

German Riesling is by far the cheapest and most overlooked way to get a wine with great longevity. The sweeter styles of Riesling can easily age 30 or even 40 years. Some acquire a much-prized scent of petroleum.

Spanish Rioja is another variety that can be aged for decades. Over time, this wine can be described as tasting like “old books” or “musty basement.” Sounds bad. But isn’t cheese delicious with a little blue mould?

Vintage Port was traditionally bought in the year a baby was born in both England and Portugal. A well-aged port stops being a wine and turns into liquid velvet. But only vintage port will do — cheaper types are not for aging.

Into the Short Cellar

Shingleback 2007Shingleback 2007 Red Knot Cabernet Sauvignon $17.95, Australia, LCBO #91702
I love this wine because it isolates the wild flavour that pure Cabernet Sauvignon is meant to have. Look for dense berry flavours stippled with tasty hints of roasted seeds and cedar. But it is also a little uncouth — two to three years in the cellar will polish its rough hewn edges. 89/100

Sella & Mosca 2005Sella & Mosca 2005 Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva $14.95, Italy, Vintages #425488
What an incredible bargain! This is a lighter style of red wine made from the Grenache grape, one of the varietals used in the expensive Châteauneufdu- Pape wines of France. It is already showing some attractive maturity. Astounding complexity and harmony for the price. 91/100

Matthew Sullivan is a civil litigator in Toronto. He writes a weekly blog entry here on lawandstyle.ca. The Short Cellar column also appears in the print edition of Precedent. Matthew can be reached at matthew@lawandstyle.ca. Follow along on Twitter: @shortcellar.