The morning of Monday May 30th saw a lot of rain in Epernay, but spirits were not dampened for the coming together of three blind-wine tasting teams, hailing from three different countries and universities; Oxford, Edinburgh and Lyon.
In the thirteen years of the competition being held at Maison Pol Roger, this year saw the most challenging and exciting match in the competition’s history. As is customary, the match consisted of six white followed by six red wines, all of French origin, served ‘blind’ over two 45 minute sessions.
This year the judges were Pol Roger Portfolio’s Director of Fine Wine Dart, Cassidy Dart and consultant sommelier Costa, based in Paris.
It was clear from the outset that the teams had a markedly different approach to identifying the wine; the judges remarked that the British write quick and concise and can gain 7 marks in 12 words, and the French tend to write more romantic notes, gaining 7 marks in no less than 78 words.
The Jura Savignan was the most distinctive; very well made and the easiest wine of the flight. With one of the French team members gaining an extra half mark for commenting “this wine would be at its best with a large slice of Comte”.
The Sancerre was clearly of a high quality, although was very refined and not as pronounced in character as you would expect, with a lot of tasters putting the wine in Alsace rather than the Loire.
A Cote de Provence, made using 100% Rolle, and a Crozes-Hermitage Blanc, which was predominantly Marsanne, proved a test for the students; it was these trickier wines that really helped separate the contenders for the top taster award.
The general consensus was that the flight of reds was more classic and less obscure. The flight started with a very well structured Fleurie which, given its power, was mistaken by many for Morgon or St Amour.
Then we saw a Samur Cabernet Franc, which was textbook in style with leafy aromas, violets and pencil shavings. Followed by a St Joseph, again showing that black pepper character of Syrah in a well-defined manner.
The toughest of all the reds proved to be Savigny-Les-Beaune, oft presumed to be a blind-wine tasting ‘banker’. The wine had a slightly reductive nose and an unusually firm tannic structure for Pinot Noir, seeing most tasters put this wine in southern Rhone.
Whilst the scores were checked and verified, all of the teams were taken for a guided tour of the Pol Roger cellars with Hubert de Billy, 5th generation family of the Pol Roger family to own and run the Maison. Upon their return, the teams waited anxiously for Laurent d’Harcourt, President du Directoire, to announce the results.
First up and in third place was Edinburgh University, still a fantastic performance and only the second year that they have competed in the International match. Then, the moment both Oxford and Lyon had been waiting for…… but in a remarkable twist of fate, for the first time in thirteen years, there was a tie; several hundreds of points apiece, papers counted several times and the scores were still level.
The judges debated for some time how the score should be settled and it was agreed that one team needed to be awarded the title. One wine, two teams, five minutes was the agreed decider; rather than working individually, the teams were allowed to work together and discuss possible options amongst themselves.
The Oxford side called Left Bank Bordeaux, Pauillac, 2000 and Lyon went for Southern Rhone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 2002.
Hubert De Billy announced the results and just one mark separated the winners from the runners up; the worthy winners of the 2016 International Blind-Wine Tasting Match were Lyon having nearly identified the exact wine, Chateau Beaucastel 2004.
Congratulations also go to Ang Jit Hang Jackie from the Oxford team who was the best taster and won a Magnum of 2004 Churchill.