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Book celebrates blind tasting milestone

Champagne Pol Roger hosted a launch party last night to mark the publication of Reds, Whites & Varsity Blues: 60 years of the Oxford & Cambridge Blind Wine-Tasting Competition.

Edited by Jennifer Segal, the book tracks the history of the world’s oldest wine blind tasting contest, which was established by Harry Waugh in 1953 and has been sponsored by Pol Roger since 1992.

Following an appreciation of Waugh by Robert Parker, the book goes on to feature personal recollections from former participants, many of whom have since gone on to careers in the wine trade.

Among those who submitted entries are David Peppercorn MW, who competed for Cambridge in the first ever match; Arabella Woodrow MW, one of the first female contestants; Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac, who tasted for Oxford during the ‘90s; and a joint piece from husband and wife team Edward Ragg and Fongyee Walker, who are now a pioneering force for wine education in China through their firm Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting.

“We bought our samples, met, played games on each other, and tried to soak up as much as we could from the visiting merchants – in more ways than one,” recalled Charles Metcalfe of his own days as an Oxford blind taster.

Echoing many other contributors, Metcalfe outlined how this university experience provided fertile ground for pursuing a life in wine: “All the while our knowledge growing, we came to love the world of wine and the generous, friendly people who inhabited it.”

With many other aspects of university life and historic moments in the wine trade captured in a series of photos and newspaper

James Simpson MW of Pol Roger introduces the book during a launch party at Maggs Bros in Berkeley Square, London

clippings, James Simpson MW, sales director of Pol Roger UK (and a member of the Cambridge team during the ‘80s), described the book as “a social history”.

Reds, Whites & Varsity Blues is available to buy for £35 through the Pol Roger website. Any profits will be held in trust for the Oxford and Cambridge blind tasting societies in order, explained Simpson in the foreword, “to allow them to continue their exploration of the ever-broadening world of grape varieties, countries, regions and areas.”

Click here for a report on the 60th Varsity Blind Tasting match, which took place earlier this year and featured a parallel trade vs press competition.

A photograph from the book of the (losing) 1979 Oxford team, two of whom went on to become MWs

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