Competition – Benedict Healy

'My name is Benedict Healy. I’m 34 years year old and work in finance in London. I’m very fortunate that I get to frequent some of the best restaurants as part of my job, and try some of the most interesting and delicious wines out there. Wine truly has become a way of life and has taken me to some the prettiest wineries, from Tuscany to Franschhoek. I recently returned from a trip to Napa Valley, where I actually proposed to my girlfriend at the beautiful Joseph Phelps estate. Luckily for me she said yes, but I think the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and Insignia blend had a helping hand! I also recently completed the WSET Level 2 course with a distinction, and am desperately trying to make the move into wine as my full time job.' Here's his (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition

Like the majority of juvenile men, wine was never my go to drink. I just didn’t get it. That’s not to say I didn’t like the idea of it, it was purely a sensory issue. As a habitual day dreamer and romanticist I was quite taken with the idea of wine but had built up a wildly unobtainable and confused notion of what a wine enthusiast looked like. Chiefly he was accomplished, already grown. He could regale witty anecdotes at the drop of a hat and had amassed enough worldly experience for two lifetimes. He liked to hunt; wore smoking jackets. He was basically Ernest Hemingway. Papa, I was not.

As a poor and lazy student I had neither the wallet nor inclination to explore the world of wine. Anything I’d already tried more resembled a glass of tepid Ribena as opposed to nectar of the gods. I also didn’t know my Chateaux Neufs from my Chateaux Blue nuns. I wasn’t much of a beer drinker either, so I existed, perhaps, in a niche, narrow bracket of moronic men, bereft of a drink to call their own. That all changed when my girlfriend and I went to Rome for the weekend. We were having dinner in an intimate, family run restaurant, minutes from the beautiful Giardini Del Quirinale. Frustrated at my insistence for Coca Cola to accompany all meals, she finally lost her patience. “This can’t go on!” she snapped, as I washed down a beautiful Caprese salad with the sweet, sickly, fizzy goodness. “You’re not a child anymore. You need to stop drinking coke and start drinking wine. I promise you won’t regret it and it’s something we can enjoy together. ” She had a fair point.

Moved by her heartfelt plea and quite possibly the beauty of the eternal city, I acquiesced and blindly chose a mid-priced red, acutely aware that I’d joined the long list of people that when confronted with the unknown would settle for something middle of the road. I chose a Nero D’avola. In truth I’d picked it because I’d studied ancient history at university and found the Emperor Nero’s debauched life fascinating.

When the waiter poured me a glass to taste I was surprised at how beautifully dark the wine was. It was a deep red, almost black at its heart. It was as though the spirit of the mad emperor himself was alive in my glass. (I’m prone to flights of fancy) Aware of the first taste ritual, I robotically swirled the glass and nodded at the waiter with confidence. After he left I swirled the glass again but this time I was instantly hit with delicious dark fruit aromas with a touch of spice and chocolate. My senses had truly been tingled. It was a curious, inviting smell and nothing like the cheap bottles that I’d grown accustomed to chinning at uni. I took a sip and a rush of fruit hit my palate with pleasant bright acidity. Then a mild pepperiness came though, accompanied by a nice alcoholic punch to the chops. The tannins were measured and the finish felt like it went on for an age. It was truly delicious. At that moment right there, I was converted. This was my Damascene moment, and like St Paul, equally monumental.

Whist Nero D’Avola may not carry the same gravitas as other more prominent regions, its rustic charms won me over and that glass of Sicilian goodness marked the start of my journey into the world of wine. Ever since then I have been continually amazed at the wines that I have been fortunate enough to try and indeed love. Personally wine has changed my life for the better. It’s enriched it immensely. What started off as esoteric and distant, metamorphosed into a passion and way of life.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing qualities of wine and wine producers is its constant ability to surprise me. Just when I think I have a fairly good understanding of a grape varietal or region, I will try something new that completely shifts my view. It can make the journey of amassing knowledge and experiences quite difficult, but what an incredible journey it is.

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