Pol Roger Reds, Whites and Varsity Blues: 60 Years of the Oxford & Cambridge Blind Wine-Tasting Competition

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Reds, Whites & Varsity Blues: 60 Years of the Oxford & Cambridge Blind Wine-Tasting Competition - A stylishly entertaining book and a "must have" for the wine enthusiast.

2013 marked the 60th anniversary of the Oxford & Cambridge varsity blind wine-tasting competition.

Started in 1953 by the legendary Harry Waugh of John Harvey & Sons, the competition has been sponsored by Champagne Pol Roger since 1992. The oldest contest of its kind, the tasting match has fostered the careers of many leading members of the wine trade and press, including a number of Masters of Wine, and has cultivated fine wine enthusiasts internationally and encouraged the discipline of blind wine tasting, a notoriously difficult feat.

To celebrate this iconic rivalry – rife with politics, subterfuge, camaraderie and enduring friendships – its history over six decades has now been documented, through a lavishly illustrated collection of special contributions and vivid oral histories.

“One of last year’s crop of wine books that I enjoyed almost more than any other was Reds, Whites & Varsity Blues, the highly illustrated memoir-fest centred on the annual Oxford v Cambridge wine-tasting competition.”

Jancis Robinson OBE, MW, JancisRobinson.com

“The book is fantastic and a real addition to knowledge, as well as to the sense of the annual tasting being globally important within its context … reads like an incredible vertical tasting of the British Establishment!”

Dr Richard Lofthouse, Editor, Oxford Today magazine

“It is absolutely fantastic. It’s a book one can pore over … upside down and in every way.. It’s brilliant, wonderfully edited, marvellously put together, most inspiring.” 

Michael Broadbent MW

Hardcover/256 pages
Produced and edited by Jennifer Segal/JSNewMedia
Published by Pavilion, an imprint of Anova Books, in association with Pol Roger


Royalties from the book will be held in trust for the benefit of the university blind wine-tasting teams.

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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