Credit: Oxford University Wine Society

Academics meet alcohol: Oxford Wine Society tastes college wines

With a 3000 strong mailing list, the Oxford University Wine Society is clearly popular. College wines, on the other hand, are notoriously questionable, so naturally the Oxford Wine Society hosted a tasting showcasing 12 of them. This was admittedly a quantity over quality event, which, for me at least, produced a bias towards those drunk at the end of the night (you sort of stop caring about taste when you’re 10 glasses in).

I may only remember a fraction of the night, but I learned a lot. Terms which I was aware of, and could maybe use in a sentence, were defined clearly for the first time. I know why wine is decanted, the impact of a cork on the taste when the bottle is opened, and that what you smell or taste in a wine is suggestive, and not something you necessarily get on your own or your first time.

I can only accurately recount the night given the notes I made, on the sheets provided by the society to all attendees. These were collected and compiled at the end to produce a ranking of the college wines sampled, which can be found on their instagram page. I was reassured to see that overall, the latter wines were much more strongly favoured, correlating with my own experience; the more wine you drink, the better it tastes. As per my notes for the final port: “nicest by far, may just be drunk”.

Clemente, Oliver, Maddie and James formed an incredible team, presenting and pouring, generously. It was abundantly clear that they all possessed more knowledge about wine than most have the opportunity to forget, though with none of the aloof superiority often associated with sommeliers. 

One of the greatest assets of OUWS is undoubtedly its accessibility. Writing this in OWC Wine Cafe in Jericho – where the night ended – you can’t buy a small glass of wine for under £4.50, still a relatively low price in the industry. So, 12 glasses for £18 is a bargain, and add the wealth of knowledge and camaraderie of OUWS, they offer great value for money for an Oxford night out.

But if there’s one takeaway from the night I attended, it is this: avoid college wines at all costs. Wildly unreliable in both quality and taste, they are good for little more than getting you drunk. Save your money, and your tastebuds, for something better. Maybe discover something new at another OUWS tasting. If college wines proved that enjoyable, I can only imagine how much fun they must have with a real vintage.