John Hoskins MW was born into a family of hoteliers, but had no intention of joining his relations in the business; he studied English literature instead.
But eventually wine drew him into the family firm, and in 1994 he became the first person in the restaurant industry to become a Master of Wine. In the same year, he formed his own business, buying the hotel-restaurant The Old Bridge, in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, which now includes an on-site wine shop, Old Bridge Wine.
He is also the chairman of the Master of Wine examination.
How many references have you got in your portfolio? Are there any countries or regions that you're looking to expand on?
We keep the list at Old Bridge Wine fairly succinct (by the standards of enthusiastic independent wine merchants). We have around 300 lines and I really try to avoid increasing that. It’s all about finding the best possible examples – so, when I introduce something new we almost always replace something else. The key is for team to be able to speak with excitement about every bottle on the shelf.
Having said all that, I do think that various Mediterranean countries are really going to push forward this year. I am certainly seeing leaps in quality from Greece, Slovenia, Croatia and Israel, amongst others.
What are you looking for when judging wines? What makes a Gold medal-winning wine?
Having been an MW now for 25 years I’m addicted to finding wines that are true to type. It’s so important that a Gold medal wine is (of course) a great representative of its specific category. But my personal agenda beyond that demands that a fine wine has an element of joy.
I am not someone who can accept that a wine is worthy of recommendation only because it’s intellectually stimulating, or it’s bang on trend, or it’s pushing the boundaries of winemaking. A Gold medal wine has to have a big helping of genuine, intrinsic charm or, to put it more simply, deliciousness.
What’s your most memorable experience in the wine industry (so far)?
The wine industry does have its downsides, of course, but it’s also filled with great moments. For the profit hungry, there may be easier trades.
Opening the MW results letter all those years ago was pretty special. And my best ever tasting was that hosted by Haut Brion during the 2003 MW trip to Bordeaux. They showed all the reputedly bad vintages in the previous 40 years, then all the good ones. The consistency was remarkable. And the Haut Brion Blanc served at the end was nectar.
What are you most excited about judging at the IWSC?
No single category. Rather, my excitement is with helping Christelle and her team take IWSC forward to a new level of excellence throughout 2019.