I’m not going to lie, when I heard about the Oxford Blind Tasting Society, I expected some sort of Ann Summers party involving blindfolds and naked men feeding prostrate females strange and exotic foods which they then had to identify under pressure. As it turns out, I was quite wrong. The first clue was the bow-tied gentleman in a dazzling tweed ensemble who greeted us on the door, and the second was the giant Powerpoint presentation on the structure of wine. Yeah, apparently it’s structured. Who knew. Blind tasting is a wine tasting society which aims to teach its members to identify wines and to know a bit more about grapey culture in general, mainly through the means of the Powerpoint. It had such delighting tidbits for tips on describing wines as: “Use sensible but evocative language”. Because before reading it, I’d have been tempted to go totally crazy with my lexicon over a good Pinot Grigio.
We were seated at two very long and slightly intimidating tables. Any fear at a new social situation was quickly banished however, as you rarely become so intimate with people so speedily as when it is considered polite company to spit into a communal bucket. And spit these people did. We were presented with two bottles of white wine to start with, each completely covered in little black jackets with numbers on, which gave the impression of tiny prisoners waiting for their execution.
Roughly an inch was poured into each taster’s glass, and one of the officials was heard reprimanding an unsuspecting drinker for taking a bit too much. Apparently “they normally get about thirty servings out of one bottle.” It was at this point that I started to wonder whether these people were students at all.
After a brief lesson in identifying different characteristics of wine, we were left to our own devices in order to smell, observe and generally get a feel for our glasses. Or everyone else was: I’d pretty much downed mine from the off and was left nodding bemusedly at suggestions that it was more “New French” than “Old French” because of the “buttery overtones.” After much group discussion in which, in my opinion, the wines were pretty much equated with biscuits due to their “nutty undertones” and “butter-like fragrances,” the bottles were rather unceremoniously de-robed of their little black jackets and their true identities revealed. I think I was meant to feel a bit like Archimedes at this point, but as a partaker of the Sainsbury’s Basics Vino de Mesa range, I was somewhat underwhelmed. To cover my complete inadequacy, I started talking to my fellow connoisseurs. A rather frightening man sitting to my right was most informative when I bewailed my disappointment at the lack of blindfolds. “Oh yes, it’d be much better if we did have them. Much more kinky. Maybe later when everyone’s more drunk.” I expressed amazement that anyone could get drunk on what would cumulatively be about six inches of wine, to which the friend I had dragged along to the event piped up enthusiastically: “Yeah, I’m feeling it. Can we go to Park End?”
This society takes its tasting very seriously. It has an annual varsity match against Cambridge and call in wine experts from France for their more advanced meetings. It’s probably the best place in Oxford to go if you really want to learn about wine, and probably the worst if your normal tipple is a vodka with anything and you really just want to go to Park End.
Classes for beginners take place on Mondays at 7 p.m. at Merton