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Cambridge noses ahead to vinous victory in Varsity taste off

Published:  12 June, 2019

Cambridge narrowly triumphed over Oxford last night in a hard fought blind tasting challenge between these rival indie merchants.

In what had been billed as a friendly blind tasting match between the two Oxbridge counterparts, the team from Cambridge Wine Merchants swirled, sniffed and slurped its way to victory, pipping Oxford Wine Company’s finest palates by just 19 points, at 233 to 214.

The match was effectively a replay of a similar blind taste off some eight years ago between the two indie merchants, where Oxford tasted victory on its home turf.

The follow up took place at St John’s Chop House in Cambridge, where – despite the friendly nature of the event - the teams showed a few nerves going into the tasting room, where the battle would commence.

“We’d held onto the crown for eight years, so we decided we should give them a chance to win it back,” quipped Oxford’s team leader Ted Sandbach.

Cambridge host Hal Wilson showed steely reserve in the face of such provocation, welcoming all on behalf of his crack team of tasters, before reminding everyone that this was just “a bit of fun”, then diving into a team huddle for a spot of last minute tactical advice.

Acting tasting master Martin Gamman MW, the UK and Eire market manager for event sponsor Champagne Joseph Perrier, briefed the teams, who then set their noses and palates to work on the first flight of six white and sparkling wines.

Points were awarded for correctly identifying north or south hemisphere, country of origin, principle grape variety and RRP to within a couple of quid, plus an extra point available for reasoning.

Some early nerves gave way to intense concentration as silence descended over the tasting tables, with Gamman finally calling time on a first half that saw Cambridge nudge ahead of Oxford by a slender 122 to 117.

There was just time for the teams to down a swift palate-refreshing G&T at the bar before heading back in to tackle a flight of reds, as the tension and stakes mounted.

As with the whites, the reds ran through a gamut of varieties, styles and countries, but with no conferring allowed between team members, each taster scribbled and marked in their own private heaven, or hell, depending on how it was going.

Time out, Gamman dismissed the tasters to the bar once more, crunched the scores and then gathered all back to announce Cambridge as the overall winners, bringing the Varsity tasting cup to East Anglia for the first time in its history, to the obvious delight and relief of the home team.

There was, however, a sweetener for the losing side, with Oxford's Sandbach being declared the taster of the day.

Over well-earned post-tasting glasses of 2010 Joseph Perrier Blanc de Blancs, Wilson and Sandbach promised a rematch the following year.