Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

David Dugdale was a successful Yorkshire businessman who loved music. He also got the wine bug largely. He passed away in 2010 and left quite a legacy, a posthumous reward perhaps for Kate, his much younger widow, who made sure he enjoyed outings to Glyndebourne, Wigmore Hall and the Royal Opera House during his later years, just like he did before getting confined to a wheelchair.

In essence, their home in Yorkshire was built to accommodate David’s budding cellar, one known throughout the wine trade for its size and depth. I remember having a meal with the Dugdales in London in the 1990s during which they told us they were drinking Chablis from the 1920s.

David started buying wine shortly after World War II. By the 1950s, he was financially supporting one of his favorite wine merchants, OW Loeb in London – not only by the amount of wine he bought, but by a substantial loan, which was replenished when he became a director in 1961. For him, wine was fun. It was also an excuse to tour France with Loeb’s managing director, Anthony Goldthorp, to sniff out the best restaurants as well as the best producers to add to Loeb’s portfolio, which started very German.

Four of the earliest additions to the Loeb list, arising from these voyages, were the legendary producers Ch Rayas of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Armand Rousseau of Gevrey-Chambertin, Henri Gouges of Nuits-St-Georges and Louis Michel of Chablis. Equal stars Marquis d’Angerville of Volnay, Ramonet and Michel Niellon of Chassagne-Montrachet, Etienne Sauzet of Puligny-Montrachet, Paul Jaboulet Aîné of the northern Rhône and Faller of Alsace followed. The young Jacques Seysses’ Domaine Dujac, now a world-renowned Burgundian producer, was added to this water tooth list in the late 1960s.

The wines were great, maybe driving less like that. In 1976, Dugdale bought OW Loeb straight when the devaluation of the pound meant that wines were sold for less than what was paid for them. Dugdale offset Loeb’s losses against its more prosaic gains in Yorkshire.

No wonder then that his basement was well stocked. Kate loves music just as much as her husband and has continued to support the arts. She also worked slowly through their wine. Many musicians have received a reverent bottle from their birth year that has long been stored under Yorkshire grass. When Kate visits London, she will probably be accompanied by bottles older than most of us can dream of, the origin of which is without a doubt.

But she got a shock last spring. She sent me an email on April Fool’s Day that I knew was not a joke: “I was sorting out in the basement and got heaps of bottles of Yquem. Mostly quite old – it looks like we drank the young people. . . I will send you a list of the years. ”

The email that followed listed 24 vintages of the greatest Sauternes of all, Ch d’Yquem, from the glorious 1975 back to 1899, if you please, plus many more sweet white bordeaux of the best addresses, of the famous 1967 vintage back to 1916. Apparently this treasure chest of what were apparently at least 87 (mostly single) bottles in total was hidden behind a few metal boxes.

She decided that a day should be given to taste some of these wines with friends and asked Tim Hart of Hambleton Hall, the “luxury country house hotel” on Rutland Water, if he would provide the area. He set the date for a quiet Tuesday in early November. All that was needed now was to decide on a guest list – a combination of musical and winning friends – and which wines to taste.

Fortunately, Nicholas Payne, the wine-loving director of Opera Europe, who qualified as a guest at both points, took matters into his own hands. (His banker son Oliver and his brother Sebastian, Master of Wine and head wine buyer of The Wine Society from 1985 to 2012, were also invited.) I suggested that we taste mainly in the mornings, when our faculties would be at their freshest, before a light lunch, and then taste some wines before dinner.

As a result, Payne put together 33 wines from the collection in three flights for 16 of us to enjoy on a sunny day at Hambleton. We started with a selection he titled “Treasures from WW2 and its Aftermath”, which went from a strengthening Rieussec 1952 (the youngest Sauternes of the day) back to a 1943 Yquem, via utterly glorious 1950s and 1945s Yquems.

His second flight was the largest: 19 wines he described as “the golden post-WW1 decade, 1929 back to 1919 including the centenary 1921s”. One from 1923 suffered from cork staining and the other one was oxidized. Yet in no less than five Sauternes were we able to flush out the almost-mythical 1921 vintage, of which Yquem was the star. Almost all of the wines from the 1928 and 1929 vintages were also simply sumptuous, apart from a surprisingly disappointing 1928 Yquem bottle. (The four 1922s in the Yorkshire cellar were deterred from the Hambleton tasting to celebrate their centenary during another Sauternes athon later this year.)

Three 1920s and three 1919s followed when Hart tried to chase us, aware of a kitchen ready to serve lunch and the need to reconfigure his dining room from its current tasting room format.

After tasting a total of 25 very sweet wines in less than two hours, you would think that we might all feel completely satiated, but the reverse was true. Because these wines were of such high quality, so fascinatingly complex, and with the sweetness beautifully balanced by appetizing acidity, it was uplifting rather than sickening. They left the palate beautifully stimulated and refreshed, even though they were eager to enjoy Hambleton’s Michelin-starred menu of consommé (the perfect antidote to a wine tasting), a cleverly spiced carrot terrine and halibut.

Our early evening tasting of “serious old school” wines took place in a much less formal setting, the cozy bar rather than the airy dining room, which meant we sat on benches rather improperly. Yet the wines were so amazing that I would not mind tasting them in the parking lot.

The 1914s and the two 1918s were more remnants than delicacies, but both 1916s, somehow made in the middle of World War I, were astounding. And the last two Yquems, 1908 and 1899, were truly out of this world, worthy of 20, or even 21, points out of 20, though one was made when Queen Victoria was still on the throne.

Maybe I should not worry that today’s wine drinkers are generally unaffected by sweet wines. They will last long enough to enter many future generations.

Top senior Sauternes

I scored all these at least 18 points out of 20 and in some cases more.

  • 1950 Yquem

  • [1945Yquem[1945Yquem

  • 1944 Yquem

  • 1929 Yquem

  • 1928 Rabaud Promis

  • 1928 Lafaurie Peyraguey

  • 1926 Lafaurie Peyraguey

  • 1921 Rabaud Promis

  • 1921 Yquem

  • 1920 Climens

  • 1916 Rabaud Promis

  • 1908 Yquem

  • 1899 Yquem

Tasting notes on Purple Pages of More stockholders of

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