Sorcha Holloway writes, ‘Originally from Northern Ireland, I now live in Plymouth with my long-suffering family. Despite a past career as a Gynaecologist, my time is now fully taken up with wine and wine tourism, and I am the founder and host of the popular Twitter chat #ukwinehour, every Thursday at 7pm. I love to bring people together, united in their love of wine – everybody has a voice on #ukwinehour. ‘ This is her (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition.
Growing up in the most bombed town in Northern Ireland, the luxuries of life were not really a priority. In our small town, we still had great pubs, frequently evacuated because of bomb scares, and I have many happy memories of them from young adulthood. Yet there was no culture of wine.
The only exposure to wine would be at the local hotel, the regular Sunday Lunch venue for our family, and many families like ours. That is, of course, when it was open, and not undergoing repair of bomb damage. Either Beaujolais or Châteauneuf-du-Pape would grace our table – I have no recollection of looking at the wine list there myself and really knew nothing about the wines. I do remember my younger brothers playing with the candle on the table and setting fire to the table cloth, doused with water and not wine, fortunately! It was memories of these times that saw me toast my father with Chateauneuf-du-Pape on his passing to the great winery above earlier this year.
Wine was not something I really thought much about as a young adult. Again, while at Med School, the wonderful Dublin pubs kept us entertained, and the price of wine at the basement clubs in Leeson Street was well beyond our student budgets. A classmate who lived at home used to stay at my flat on a Friday and would always bring something for pre-drinks – her father’s lethal homemade wine. Yes, it often got rather messy. A few years on, when I was a junior doctor in Sheffield in the early nineties, we frequented charming Italian restaurants with the clichéd checked table cloths and flasks of Chianti, and house parties were often fuelled by inexpensive forgettable wine. I remember being invited to my professor’s house for dinner once, and being advised not to bring wine since he had a serious cellar. I was fascinated and intrigued – he was such a role model in every other way, I couldn’t imagine ever having such a cellar myself at that point. I was horrified when my Senior Registrar turned up with cheap plonk (I wisely stuck to chocolates). Unfortunately, I don’t remember much about the wine that evening either, although I am sure it was the best I would ever have encountered at that point.
Despite some very commercial winery visits in the Barossa Valley some years earlier, it wasn’t until I travelled to Italy with Mr H for the first time that my wine paradigm really shifted. I had recently read the book “Vanilla Beans and Brodo” by the Australian writer Isabella Dusi, and had been fascinated by her stories of Montalcino, its people and its revered wine. My sister had sourced a restaurant for us there, one of the best in Italy at that time, and booked us in for a special birthday meal. It just happened to be at a winery so it was imperative, of course, to do a winery tour and tasting. That was where my wine switch was truly flicked. The giant oak casks, the stillness, the aromas and order in the cellar clearly impressed. As for the tasting – the reverence shown towards this finest of Italian wines touched something inside, from the rinsing of the glasses with the wine itself to the tutored tasting and ultimate savouring of the Brunello. I was enchanted! My senses had never encountered such wine before and my life would never be the same again.
Montalcino itself had drawn me in to its charm, and I have been back many times since then. In fact, I am writing this from my room there today, overlooking the rolling hills and valleys below, before joining the friends I have made here for the medieval archery tournament in the playing fields below the Fortezza.
Something about this place and its wine has firmly embedded itself in my bloodstream, and leaving here tomorrow for the long drive back through France will certainly be painful. However, I have my liquid souvenirs all ready to accompany me home to enrich my future vinous life, and of course, I have no doubt that I will be back.
Right now, I hear the toll of the clock tower bell announce the historic parade of the archers to the Campo, and feel the beat of the accompanying drums in my core – the tournament awaits.