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Pol Roger Brut 1999

Two very special events that occurred during the past week might just have influenced where my hand fell on Friday as I searched for a bottle to help me while away the evening. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Oxford & Cambridge Blind Wine Tasting Competition, a regular fixture in the wine calendar which began back in 1953, at that time overseen by wine trade legend Harry Waugh (yes, he of the "not since lunch" quote). The competition is not a piece of student frippery; it has kick-started the careers of many in the wine trade, and is taken very seriously by those who enter. They are well aware that their tastings sheets will be rigorously marked by the judges, this year Jancis Robinson MW OBE and Hugh Johnson. Sponsorship of the competition was taken on by Pol Roger back in 1992, in case you were wondering how my choice of wine might have been influenced.

And so last Thursday the two teams of students faced each other once again, and on the day Oxford were victorious, as they had been the previous year. Congratulations go to them for a hard-won victory (the scores were 689 and 677 points, a slim margin indeed). You will note, however, that I referred to two special events; there was a second blind tasting on the day, held to celebrate the event's 60th anniversary. The two teams pitted against one another were from the wine trade and the wine press, and featured a list of heavy hitters, including a slew of MWs.

Pol Roger Brut 1999

The wine trade were headed up by Jasper Morris MW of Berry Bros. & Rudd, and among others he had on his team Alex Hunt MW, Arabella Woodrow MW (captain of the Oxford team in 1979 and Jasper's sister, by the way), Jonathon Pedley MW and sommeliers Gearoid Devaney MS and Chris Delalonde MS. That makes four Masters of Wine and two Master Sommeliers, a formidable force; the wine press had their work cut out. These were led into battle by Will Lyons of the Wall Street Journal, his team members Oz Clarke (one of many graduates of the Oxford-Cambridge blind tasting), Matthew Jukes, Michael Schuster, Jo Wadsack, Anthony Rose and Peter Richards. The end result was extraordinarily close, even more so than the students' competition; out of a possible 920 points, there was only a six-point difference between the teams. It was the trade that came out on top (cynics would of course point out that this means all their MW and MS qualifications were worth one extra point each, but I would never say such a thing, obviously), but the press also took a coveted prize in best taster (I assume for highest individual score) which went to Anthony Rose. Congratulations to all involved, and kudos in particular to Anthony.

And so to my weekend's wine, which wasn't - to be clear - tasted blind. I placed a hand on top of a pile of bottles of Pol Roger, a pile which I know include at least five different vintages, in search of the 1999. The first bottle I picked up was indeed that vintage....how often does that happen? Usually never, in my case. In the glass, the 1999 Pol Roger Brut showed a rich, gold-tinged hue, and a plentiful bead which inspired confidence. And the nose was quite captivating; this is not an esoteric wine, instead it shows an open, welcoming character. Less Lord Snooty, more the Marquess of Bath, perhaps. The nose is full of expressive character, with evolving scents of fresh coffee, almond macaroons and orange blossom. This hint of citrus also comes through on the palate, which has a supple and creamy texture, a sensation engendered in particular by its soft and accessible mousse, but the citrus-toned acidity comes in and wraps it all up with an exciting and electric definition. Towards the end it shows a little more grip and bite, and there is a good pithy finish. In short, this is a delicious wine. 18/20

Here's to next year's competition, and here's hoping that the trade versus press face-off continues. If you would like to know more about both tastings, see this Wall Street Journal video. (25/2/13)

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