Author Jennifer Segal
Publisher Pavilion
RRP £35.00
Reds, Whites and Varsity Blues

It might not be a conventional ‘sport’ and doesn’t command an official blue, yet the annual varsity blind wine-tasting match, under the careful patronage of Pol Roger UK since 1992, is now the most serious competition of its kind in the world. Taking part is the wine equivalent of being offered a prize fellowship at All Souls, and the contest has produced an extraordinary crop of participants, as this amazing volume makes emphatically clear.

Comprising an immense scrapbook of photos and individual recollections, arranged decadally, Robert M Parker Jr kicks off the action with a tribute to the late, great Harry Waugh (1904−2001), the man who came to embody wine merchants John Harvey & Sons of Bristol, and thereby visit the majority of Oxbridge colleges… to whom they sold port and sherry. It was via this connection that Waugh founded the varsity match in 1953. It is to his eternal credit that he elevated wine-tasting to the level of the blindfold. He noted in his diary, “It is so easy to pronounce with the labels in full view, but impossible to overcome prejudice.” He also eschewed the daft vocabulary of today’s tasting notes. “It’s all about three,” he’d note, “good body, good structure, good fruit.”

Occasionally a memoir betrays a slight shakiness of hand, but the inclusiveness of the editorial approach has netted numerous brilliant dons shown in a fresh light (Jack Plumb, Denis Mack Smith). It gets better as women were admitted, and by the end globalisation has transformed the contest and the participants.

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