Wine Wedding Gifts: How Soon Is Too Soon to Buy a Vintage as a Gift?

wine wedding gifts

You can shop for wine wedding gifts years in advance, but you need to choose consistent producers to make the most out of your purchase. Photo Credit: Flickr CC user Peter Pham

Wine Berserkers forum member Jay Hack said he wanted the perfect wedding gift for his nephew, so he did what any self-respecting wine lover would: he invested in a wine fridge and started filling it with the best vintages he could find. He wanted to include at least one excellent bottle from his nephew’s wedding year to personalize the gift. The only problem: his nephew’s wedding isn’t until October 2017.

How does a collector decide which bottles are worth an investment when the vintage’s grapes are still at least six months away from budding? Even after the grapes have been harvested, it will take at least another two years for that wine to arrive on his doorstep. Despite these difficulties, it is possible to plan out wine wedding gifts this far in advance, but it takes some forethought and special consideration. You can’t use tasting notes, so you’ll have to rely on the producer’s reputation instead.

The Dangers of Early Research

When done correctly, this kind of wine wedding gift idea is a brilliant one. But before you get too invested in any particular wine years in advance, you’ll need to do thorough research and continue researching the wine up until the moment you can buy a pre-arrival or future. This requires looking at Liv-ex reports every few months, reading up on news stories and weather reports coming out of the region, and paying close attention to early barrel tasting notes. It carries the same risk as investing in wine futures, so I recommend this method only for seasoned collectors who know what to look for in a good wine already.

If you don’t have hours of free time to dedicate to this process, I suggest sticking with historically-significant wines that already have good track records. You can do as the forum member did and buy one or two vintages from the giftee’s birth year (in his nephew’s case, 1985). From there, you can customize it further by including bottles you already know your loved one enjoys, or pick milestones. Include the year that the couple first started dating, or the year that they first met. Past vintages are far easier to research and they are less risky compared to vintages that haven’t been bottled yet. I use this same technique whenever I’m invited to a wedding that doesn’t have a gift registry, and I’ve always had huge success.

When Is the Best Time to Invest?

There’s a best time to invest based on vintage quality and a best time to invest based on market value; unfortunately, these two are almost always at odds. If you care about vintage quality above all other considerations, the best time to invest in wine as a wedding gift is after the wine has been bottled, but before it’s readily available on the market. These pre-arrivals have usually already been tasted by both critics and the winemakers, both of whom can tell you exactly what the quality is like. The problem is that some wines aren’t available as pre-arrivals, and you’ll have to wait until they reach the market to buy them. This can add months to your wait time, and in some cases, the wine might sell out before you get your hands on it. You’ll also pay more for these wines than you would if you bought futures years in advance.

Alternatively, to get the best market value from your bottles, you can invest in futures up to two years before the wine will hit the market. It’s impossible to tell how the wine will age over the course of those two years, but if you’re lucky, you could end up with a wine that ages perfectly and results in a near-legendary vintage. Bordeaux vintages are often available four years or more in advance, however, unless the producer is Premier Cru status, I don’t recommend buying these wines this early. Not only will you have to wait years to give the bride and groom their gift, too many things can go wrong in the barreling and bottling process. To mitigate your risk, focus on investing in a handful of trustworthy producers.

Producers and Regions with High Success Rates

You’ve just found out that your loved one has a wedding planned for the fall of 2017, and you want to get them a 2017 vintage to match. Where do you start? First, consult a weather almanac. It’s not always accurate, but it can give you an idea of which regions will likely have the best weather conditions for certain varietals. In my experience, the most consistent regions in recent years have been Burgundy, California, Australia, Argentina, and Germany (specifically Riesling). While Bordeaux is well worth an investment as well, some of the recent vintages have been of spotty quality, so I don’t recommend investing too heavily in these wines years in advance unless they come from top-tier producers.

As a general rule, the Grand Crus and Premier Crus of France are almost always a safe bet, no matter how early you start your shopping. For fancier occasions or wine wedding gifts for close loved ones, invest in top producers like DRC (La Tache is an excellent pick), Margaux (one of the most historically consistent Bordeaux producers), California’s Opus One, Australia’s Penfolds, and long-lasting Sauternes like Yquem. Each of these picks is all but guaranteed to last in a cellar for at least 10 years, and they are worth a great deal on the market, even in subpar vintages. That means that your giftee can later sell the wine if critics say that the vintage isn’t as great as expected.

For lower-tier producers, I suggest waiting longer to shop. See the full 2017 harvest out before you decide on any specific producers, then regularly research Liv-ex reports that winter to make your final decision in the spring. Remember: your gift will arrive about two years after the wedding, so you’ll want a vintage of exceptional quality to make up for the wait.

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Ryan has worked in every restaurant capacity from bartender to management, and in wine distribution as a consultant and advisor to Chicago’s most elite restaurants and retailers. As a new member of Vinfolio's Executive Fine Wine Specialists, he is thrilled to share his expertise and passion for wine. Outside of the office, he can be found learning to cultivate vines in the garden, with a glass of White Burgundy in hand, or hiking with his wife and dogs.