Mon 13 Jan 2014

Wines On The Brink Of War: 100 Years Ago At The Society


108 new members were elected to The Wine Society in 1914. The dominant profession was medicine, not surprising since The Society’s offices were in the headquarters of The Medical Society of London in Chandos Street.

There was a fair mix of other occupations. Two names most would recognise today, HG Wells and John Galsworthy, joined just before the war. Membership recruitment remained steady the next year but had dropped to 36 by 1919, and did not pick up again until 1921, coinciding with a great vintage all over Europe.

The Wine Society's December 1914 List

The Wine Society’s December 1914 List

On the List, port took pride of place with 34 entries, and in addition there was a trailer for the 1912 vintage – which could be seen as The Wine Society’s first opening offer. The Society had been founded on the back of a cellar full of Portuguese wine left over after the Great Exhibition of 1874. The Bordeaux list was topped by Montrose 1900, ‘a very fine soft wine’ and Yquem 1901 (‘fine bouquets luscious’) at 60 shillings a dozen.

Intriguingly, Château Ducru Beaucaillou appeared as a sparkling white Médoc, ‘a most interesting light wine where Champagne is inadvisable’. Ducru’s current owner, Bruno Borie, is clearly missing a sales opportunity.

Burgundies, apparently ‘possess(ing) more tannin and body than found in claret’ – and so almost certainly bolstered with something from further south – went back to Corton 1898.

In 1914 Germany was very well represented and included the most expensive wine on the list, Scharzhofburger Auslese 1907 at 68 shillings a dozen. There were a couple of Hungarian wines, which survived the cull of all German wines from this list later in the war. Outside Portugal and France the list just had Chianti and Capri Bianco from Italy, three Australians, five Californian wines, Grand Canary and a good list of whiskies, brandy and liqueurs. By 1918 the wine list had been much reduced, apart from a long and impressive list of vintage ports. Liqueurs and aperitifs had grown. German wines came back in time for the great 1921 vintage in 1923.

The back pages pictured the Society’s cellars in Hills Place, under the Palladium, including the photograph of one of the nine corridors in the Society’s ‘Bin cellars’ (as opposed to Barrel cellar) which adorns the cover of our latest January–April 2014 List, which will be arriving on members’ doorsteps in the coming days.

The Society's new January - April 2014 List

The Society’s new January – April 2014 List

At the beginning of lists current during the First World War was a short history of The Wine Society and ‘Notes on Wine’, explaining how it was made and what to expect, stressing the importance of proper cellar accommodation: ‘The modern imperious demand for non-basement villas, maisonettes and flats has sadly curtailed the accommodation for storing wines and spirits, while such as is vouched for by the builder is too often of the hole-and corner type, and liable to great variations of temperature’.

The writer complained, perhaps foreseeing the creation of our temperature-controlled Members’ Reserves cellars.

The recommended ‘Order of Serving Wine’ gives a flavour of the times:

Sherry // As an appetiser and with Soup
Hock, Moselle or light Sauternes // With Fish
Sparkling White or still red Wines // With various meats
Sauternes or Sherry // With sweet
Fine Cognac or Liqueur // After Savoury
Fine Old Bottle Claret or Vintage Port // With Dessert

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer


  1. Anne west says:

    My father, a medic, proposed me when I graduated from medical school. I had not realized how close the link was with the BMA

  2. Alex Hunter says:

    I heard how an older cellar had suffered flooding with the result that the owner has to resort to blind tasting, rather than the label, to discover what each bottle contains! Luckily my cellar was built as part of an extension in the 1920s as has so far stayed dry, but it hasn’t stopped raining yet.

  3. Sir Simon Watson says:

    It would be interesting to have a similar note from the 1939 list perhaps showing the price of 1st growth clarets compared to the German wines which may have been more expensive.

    I believe Wincarnis (fortfying the over 40’s) may be on the list. How much was it?

    • Sebastian Payne MW says:

      In 1939, Latour and Lafite were 92s a dozen, Yquem 1928 136s, Richebourg 1925, French bottled 96s, Chevalier Montrachet 1933 112s, but as you rightly surmised, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 1937 was 130s and Rauenthaler Langenstuck Ausles 1934 was 144s and a Deidesheimer Beerenauslese 1920 was 62s per bottle.

  4. Sue Hansford says:

    I do like the cover of the 1914 list. It would make a good print or postcard.

    I wonder, has any consideration been given to creating an online archive of Society lists? I realise it would require a fair amount of work.

    • Martin Brown says:

      Thanks! An audit of some of our archive content is planned soon – the only reason it hasn’t happened sooner is indeed the workload involved. Hopefully we’ll be able to showcase a few things of interest in due course.
      Martin Brown
      The Wine Society

  5. Denis Lenihan says:

    As an Australian, I am curious about the names of the three Australian wines on the list.

  6. Peter Elliott says:

    Sorry to be pedantic, but the Portugese wine wasn’t “wine left over after the Great Exhibition of 1874” – the Great Exhibition was in 1851. The exhibition in 1874 was the London International Exhibition – hence the Society’s full name, the International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society.

  7. Quentin Sadler says:

    This has just whetted my appetite! I want to read the list, I am fascinated that there were 5 Californian wines.
    Any chance we can get to see scans of this and some other historic lists? It would be wonderfully interesting.

    • Martin Brown says:

      Thanks very much for the suggestion. How best to utilise our archives is a frequent topic of conversation here and an audit is planned soon. Hopefully we’ll be able to showcase a few things of interest!
      Martin Brown
      The Wine Society

  8. William Cowan says:

    I like Sue Hansfords idea of a collection of Society postcards.The Society has a wealth of graphic images from glasscloth designs to list illustrations over the decades. Packs of 50/100 containing a range of illustrations would be welcomed by members, turn a penny and promote the Society

    • Tom Pellow says:

      What an excellent idea-but even though an inveterate postcard sender, 50 or a 100 in a pack seems rather daunting. Perhaps they should be sold in cases of a dozen.

  9. Chris Groom says:

    May I echo Quentin Sadler’s remarks – it is tantalising to have little snippets of information without actually being able to see the list in its entirety. I am sure that the scope would have been significantly less broad than today – but it really would be fascinating to see it.


    Chris Groom

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