skip to content

Call My Bluff wine tasting 2016

Dr Lucy Colwell, Professor John Pyle and Dr Silvia Vignolini bluff their way through the 2016 wine tasting

A toast to the Chemistry 'Call My Bluff' wine tasting 2017

Our very popular "Call My Bluff" wine tasting event was held once again this year as part of the University of Cambridge Alumni Festival.  Head of Department Professor John Pyle and his fellow bluffers, Dr Silvia Vignolini and Dr Nick Bampos, held forth on the qualities and properties of the wines being tasted, while audience members had to decide who was telling the truth and who was bluffing, thus proving the untruth of the proverb "In Vino Veritas." Feedback on what the best part of the event was included these comments: "chatting, drinking and being baffled"; "the wit, repartee and the booze"; and "heavily distinguished academics talking complete bollocks - and believing them."  

Tasks for the guests included 'guessing the grape' of the two sparkling wines on their tables, completing a wine quiz, and choosing their team names, which included "Blanquetty Blanc" and "Knowledge Holds You Back". Watch out for next year's event, which will again be advertised as part of the Alumni Festival.  

This year's wines were all purchased from Cambridge Wine Merchants.  Each round was named in honour of a different aspect of the department and included:

Guess the grape” sparkling wines

Cremant de Bourgogne Pinot Noir NV

  • Bailly Lapierre
  • Grape: Pinot Noir
  • £14.99

Dom. J. Laurens Blanquette de Limoux Le Moulin NV

  • Grape: 90% Mauzac and 10% Chardonnay
  • £13.99

Round 1 (Nobel Prize)

First Drop “Vivo” Arneis

  • Adelaide Hills, Australia 2016
  • £15.99

Round 2 (Alumni)

Alemany I Corrio Principia Mathematica DO

  • Penedes, Spain  2016
  • £17.99

Round 3 (Students)

Heartland Dolcetto Lagrein

  • South Australia 2013
  •  £13.99

Round 4  (Department)

Henriques & Henriques 10yo Verdelho

  • Madeira, Portugal
  • £19.99

Wine B(l)uffs 2016

A full house crowd of alumni from all areas of the University helped to make the event a success.  With opportunities to sample good wines, detect which of the expert 'bluffers' was not being completely honest, and meet and greet fellow alumni, what's not to like? 

Alumni returning to Cambridge for the Alumni Festival descended on the Cybercafe in September for the “Call my Bluff” wine tasting, whose popularity has spread rapidly after its first appearance last year.  

Two of last year’s panelists returned to the table, Head of Department and Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry, John Pyle and materials chemist Dr Silvia Vignolini. Theoretical and computational chemist Dr Lucy Colwell made up the trio, promising to do her best to fill the mischievous shoes of former Head of Department Professor Daan Frenkel, who participated last year.

For each round the three chemistry experts (not necessarily in wine tasting!) described the wine samples being enjoyed by the audience.  The audience teams then had to determine who was bluffing, and who was telling the truth.  The simple but effective format offered opportunities for humorous banter, mixed with information about the panelists’ research and the world-class work being done in the department.

Each panel member used their own special way of assessing the wines:  Silvia produced an app with a probe that looked suspiciously like a cotton swab on string taped to the back of her smartphone. She claimed it was a low-cost photonic sensor based on cellulose, with the advantage of being renewable and biocompatible (see Silvia's actual research about low-cost photonic sensors). John used a “periodic table of wines” reference book, asserting that the grapes in a glass of wine constituted one of your five a day, which was a very popular opinion.  Lucy took a ‘big data’ approach (see Lucy's recent research), simply running etailed wine notes through an algorithm, which returned the “correct” grape variety.

The panel and other academic staff mingled with alumni during the interval, giving further opportunity to discuss both chemistry and wine.

The team calling themselves Bibendum won the drinking tasting competition, finishing three points ahead of their nearest rivals Grapes of Wrath. Next year will surely be a battle (Kir) royal.  All wines were purchased from Cambridge Wine Merchants on King’s Parade.

Many thanks to the academics who sponsored the wine:
•    Round 1: Professor Chris Hunter, Vilacetinho Vinho Verde, Portugal 2015
•    Round 2: Professor David Klenerman, Ma’d Dry Furmint, Tokaji, Hungary 2014
•    Round 3: Professor Oren Scherman, Domaine les Yeuses Classic Merlot IGP, Pays d’Oc 2014
•    Round 4: Department of Chemistry, Beerenauslese Umathum, Austria
•    And on the tables:
o    Guess the grape (white): Professor Shankar Balasubramanian, Pinot Gris, Escarpment Over the Edge, Martinborough 2014
o    Guess the grape (red): Professor Robert Glen, Cabernet Franc, Saumur Rouge, Langlois-Chateau 2012 

  Please email your comments or suggestions for items to include in these pages to Diane Harris at