LIKE many of us, when Angie Metcalfe had her first taste of proper wine she thought it was disgusting. She was working as a nanny in France, and her employer just happened to live on a Pouilly-Fumé-producing vineyard in the Loire Valley. It wasn’t much like the Liebfraumilch she was used to. “I was given a glass of Pouilly-Fumé and it was bone dry and I just thought it was revolting,” she says. “Now it’s one of my favourite wines in the world.”

During her time in France, she was also introduced to red wine – again, vintage, thanks to her employer’s status. “She was a courtesan,” explains Angie, 53. “The bloke she was with used to send her cases of wine. Our house table wine was Chateau Lafite.”

Fast-forward a few years and now Angie, who goes by the sobriquet The Winebitch, is a freelance drinks expert, having previously managed the wine department at Lewis & Cooper, in Northallerton. Yet making a career out of something she enjoyed socially was never part of the plan.

“I got into it about 12 or 13 years ago and it was a complete step aside from anything I’d previously done,” she says. “All my training was in design, so I was going to be a fashion designer or a theatre costume designer. I did interior design for about eight years, then I separated from my husband and I needed a job. I had a look around, saw a job, and thought, I can do that. I know alcohol, I’ve consumed massive amounts of it. My parents were publicans, so I’d never stopped working with alcohol since my early teens.”

The job was at gourmet food retailer Lewis & Cooper and by sheer good fortune, Angie was interviewed by renowned wine expert Danny Cameron, a consultant to the store. He hired her – but she freely admits to her ignorance about wine. “I thought I knew something about it, but I was completely and utterly wrong. I knew nothing,” she says.

“I became completely fascinated by it and I just struck lucky to have Danny Cameron as my mentor. I was there for about 11 or 12 years and my favourite part was connecting with people and trying to develop in them a love of wine that I had – basically, infecting them. I think that’s one of my skills. I went on some amazing visits to vineyards in different countries. No amount of reading books can substitute for actually tasting and discovering the personalities of the wines and the people who make them.

“People want wine with a personality. There was one wine that I used to describe as if it had been a person, it would be Sophia Loren. I never wanted to sell the most expensive bottle, I wanted to sell the right bottle. That’s the biggest buzz of all.”

It was while she was at Lewis & Cooper that Angie, who lives in Great Smeaton, near Northallerton, was offered the chance of a lifetime – being tutored at the illustrious Champagne Academy. “You can’t apply – you have to be nominated by a champagne house – and only 16 people a year get to go,” she says. “It’s hardcore hard. You’ve got to go back to school. At the end, we were blind-tasting, having to identify vineyards and grapes and ages and who made it and which year. We ate our own body weight in foie gras and one of my root canals dropped out from acid erosion from the champagne, but it was the most amazing experience.”

Nowadays, Angie is more likely to be found doing tastings than living the high life with fellow connoisseurs. It’s not just wine, but all the popular drinks. “I’ve had to be an all-rounder,” she explains. “At Lewis & Cooper, I was the go-to person for any wine information and by default, any information on whisky, gin, liqueurs and any other alcohol. I made sure I could give answers to pretty much everything, though that took a long time.”

A speciality is “immersive” gin tastings. “I was really lucky – I got a lady to make some sprays using essential oils, so I have different groups in different corners of the room and I spray a garnish into the air and it makes the gin seem like it’s garnished,” says Angie. “You taste with several senses at the same time so you’re tasting with your nose. People call it witchcraft.”

Following a change in legislation which opened the field in distilling, in 2009, gin has experienced a massive resurgence. While Angie is glad of this, she’s not personally a fan of the current trend for “jelly tot” gins. “I love proper London Dry style, but the big sellers at the moment are compound gins,” she says. “With a lot of the flavoured gins, people who wouldn’t normally touch it are now becoming gin drinkers.”

Her own favourite tipple – surprisingly – is sherry. Isn’t that what grandma drinks? “Shut up!” she admonishes. “Sherry is one of the most amazing, versatile drinks there is. There are at least ten different styles, ranging from the most bone dry to the most intense, syrupy kind, which is almost like Christmas pudding in a glass. That’s why tapas was invented – tapas and sherry were made for each other. You just need a bowl of smoked almonds and Palo Cortado (a type of sherry) by your side and you’re in heaven.”

What’s not surprising is that Angie, who is writing a book demystifying wine, gives short shrift to the idea of Dry January – or any other self-imposed ban. “You go on a diet and all you think about is food,” she says. “I went on a wine diet and all I thought about was wine. It’s all about balance. I drink alcohol because of how it makes me feel. It’s the social aspect, it’s seeing what it’s like with food, it’s having a gin and tonic because you can make it taste absolutely lovely. I think it’s enjoying it, as opposed to using it.”

This, she feels, is something millennials, who seem to have turned away from alcohol, should take heed of. “I don’t think there’s a comfortable middle ground,” she says. “I do think it’s a shame because misuse of alcohol is a terrible thing, but enjoyed for the sake of the senses, it can open magical doors.”