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Unfiltered: John Hoskins MW

The first Master of Wine in the restaurant industry and owner of The Old Bridge Hotel, Huntingdon talks to Douglas Blyde about the importance of offering genuine value, the unwelcome arrival of early-onset hangovers and the arguable irrelevance of sommeliers…

What is your vintage? 

1962 from which. David and Luciann Gleave gave me a bottle of Montrose when I passed MW in 1994 which was the same year I acquired The Old Bridge Hotel. That was excellent. Simon Farr gave me a bottle of d’Yquem ‘62 in 1985 – also brilliant. Anything I have tried more recently has been knackered – like me perhaps!

What did it mean to you to become the first Master of Wine in the restaurant industry?

It was a great honour.

What did you do as Exam Chairman?

I was in charge of the tasting exam for eight years and then of the whole exam for another eight. I just “retired” from that role this year.

When you acquired The Old Bridge Hotel what condition was it in? 

It looked tired and very provincial. It’s taken a long time, but I think – hope – we have made it a special place in the local area.

When did you open the wine shop within?

In 2009. After The Sampler and Kensington Wine Rooms, we were the third place in the UK to have Enomatics. We just replaced the old model with brand new ones in 2021. They work very well for us – offering both tastings in the shop and acting as the wines-by-the-glass in the restaurant. Very eye-catching for anyone who enters the building.

What has been a good wine and food match with a dish by head chef, Pramod Jadhav?

Pramod was born in northwest India and can obviously produce brilliant, authentic Indian dishes as well as a classical European repertoire. A sublime combo recently was a not-too-spicy vegan curry with the 2016 Höllenpfad Riesling Trocken from Dönhoff.

How does a wine “charm” you? 

Aroma first; then balance.

Describe your list?

The idea is to offer value (very pleased that The Fine Wine Mag gave us ‘Best Value Wine List’ for Europe in 2021) and quality combined. I think most restaurants go for one or the other. We use the mentality of every good independent wine merchant (“How can I have wines so interesting and exciting, at all price levels, that I can entice anyone with any interest in wine into my rather small outlet?”) in our hybrid business. So all restaurant wines are max £20 above retail price.

What are your standout collections?

I don’t like the word “collections” which implies keeping wine. We do keep wine, but we keep it to get better and then sell. Collections of vintages of the same wine looks like pure ego to me.

We do have great producers, but only if the wine is great. Sine Qua Non is over-priced, but the wines are excellent, should you be able to afford them! The same goes for Henschke, Mugnier, Gaja, Jamet, Chave, Dauvissat. But they aren’t what we are about. More interesting for us is great quality at under £50 in the shop, where, with limited shelf space, we are un-remitting in re-evaluating each wine’s place which is a great discipline. And under £70 in the restaurant: Bilancia Syrah, Danbury Pinot, Ridge Zins, Isole Chianti, Pierre Peters Cuvée de Reserve and Galician whites.

How do you categorise wine?

In both restaurant and shop, we have always categorised by style not region to encourage people to have a style of wine they like, rather than a region they have heard of.

How has it changed over the years?

Wines change as producers or regions improve.

What wine could you happily do without?

Every style is valid when done well. I don’t drink sparkling sweet whites but I still admire a perfectly made example.

What’s the biggest misconception about the role of a sommelier?

That they are necessary. I don’t believe in sommeliers (and I counted Gérard Basset as a friend). In fact, they are often talented and brilliant people. I just don’t think an “official” sommelier is what the customer wants.

Which customer habit annoys you?

The belief that paying for a meal, or drinks, entitles one to be rude or condescending or impatient or disrespectful to those serving you.

Tell us something surprising about yourself?

I have a histamine intolerance and can’t drink more than three glasses of wine without getting a crashing hangover.

Where would your fantasy vineyard be?

Central Otago.

Who should prospective team members contact if they want to join your team?

They can contact me ( And I value enthusiasm above all. – 1 High Street, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, PE29 3TQ; 01480 424 300;;

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Yes, take me to the Asia edition No