By Sarah Klena and Marion Lefèvre, Sciences Po students in Reims and journalists with the Sundial Press.
The Sciences Po International Tasting, cheekily abbreviated to SPIT, is France’s largest winetasting competition for students. The eighth edition of this international competition took place on April 1 and 2 on the Sciences Po campus in Reims, in the heart of the Champagne wine region.
Seeking truth from wine
In vino veritas. In wine, truth. For the tasting aficionados gathered at the annual Sciences Po International Tasting, the saying acquired new meaning as they competed to prove their knowledge about their passion: the finest of the world’s finest beverage. For those from the Parisian campus of Sciences Po, the Latin phrase also denotes the name of their winetasting association, which organised the competition for the eighth consecutive year. Stopping in Reims, the city of Aÿ-Champagne, and finally the prestigious Caves Legrand, twelve teams from across the globe devoted their weekend to the art of winetasting. Contestants from all over the world gathered for the two days, hoping indeed to seek truth from wine.
An Asian university in the competition for the first time
The eighth edition of the Sciences Po International Tasting attracted six French Business schools (1), as well as six foreign universities (2). For the first time, an Asian University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, also participated. The events were introduced on Friday night with a tasting at the Sciences Po campus in Reims, in the richly decorated Salle des Actes. Surrounded by Jesuit paintings and ornate wooden carvings, participants mingled, glasses of champagne and wine. On Saturday, the competition commenced, with participants asked to answer theoretical winetasting questions about first Bollinger’s finest champagnes, then three white wines within the theme “along the Rhine,” and finally three Black pinots. The jury, composed of wine specialists and merchants (3), presided over the events. A final commentary on the tasting led to the selection of three finalists: Cambridge University, Oxford University, and EM Lyon. In the end, EM Lyon was victorious by a small margin, serving to highlight further the exceptional quality of the teams.
For the second consecutive year, the inaugural cocktail before Saturday’s competition took place at Sciences Po campus in Reims, home to the Europe-North America and the Europe-Africa undergraduate programmes.
Bringing the events and excitement of SPIT to the various Sciences Po campuses will help expand its reach, as Ségolène Bon, member of the SPIT team, explained: “The international character of this contest is really our hobbyhorse. We organise weekly and sometimes even biweekly tastings at the Sciences Po campus in Paris with the In Vino Veritas association. Our aim is to get closer to its Reims equivalent, the Champagne Tasting Club, and eventually work together.”
SPIT’s growing focus on an international experience was evident, from Cornell University student William Kinney Jr.’s weak spot for Spanish wines, to the mention of the grands blancs from the Côte de Beaune, to Chinese University of Hong Kong student Ronald Chan’s preferences for the “complexity of Burgundy wines.” Thanks to SPIT’s goals of expansion, international participants and international wine mingled for a fruitful two days.
“Wine is a school of life”
The event’s prestigious judge, Andreas Larsson, World’s Best Sommelier 2007, expressed his excitement at working for the first time with students, calling it a “tremendous idea.” The students themselves had arrived at this competition from various paths. Unlike some of the organisers, including Jean-Quentin Prats, who had “practically been raised in a vineyard,” many students had been introduced later in life to this art. For
Robin Lenfant, one of the champions from EM Lyon, what hooked him on winetasting was “conviviality, and an exhilarating sense. It adds a challenge to deepen our understanding about wine.” For many members of the Cornell team, it was a college course with a beloved professor which initially sparked their interest in wine. For the Saint Andrew’s team, two of whom were competing in their first SPIT, the competition was an exciting event
allowing students to discover Reims and its treasures, including the Sciences Po campus in Reims.
At the conclusion of the eight edition of SPIT, the team of organisers looked towards the future. Bon hopes to one day create an even more competitive entry contest for teams wishing to compete. She also hopes for even greater international participation, with universities across the globe joining the contest. All these hopes notwithstanding, Bon and SPIT certainly have a lot to be proud of already. In the ornate Salle des Actes, glass of champagne in hand, surrounded by students conversing in different languages, she reflects on their months of work. A photographer for the event snaps pictures of eager and content participants ready for the great competition tomorrow. As Larsson had proclaimed in a speech earlier that evening, wine is a “school of life”, but also simply “bloody delicious.” Sharing this passion with more and more of the world through SPIT is an incredible task for the future, hopefully one to be celebrated for years to come in the spirit of Reims’ bubbly welcome.
(1) ENS, EM Lyon, ESSEC, ESTP, Polytechnique, HEC.
(2) Cambridge University, Copenhagen Business School, Cornell University, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Oxford University, St Andrews.
(3) The jury was composed of Andreas Larsson (2007 World Best Sommelier), Angélique de Lencquesaing (cofounder of Idealwine), Joëlle Weiss Boisson (Terre de Vins journalist), Jérôme Philipon (president of Champagne Bollinger), Gilles Descotes (cellar master of Champagne Bollinger), and Franck Ramage (head of wine department at l’Ecole Le Cordon Bleu).
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