Tom Hancock, general manager of Bustophers, on a neat idea for the Port Eliot festival.
The Port Eliot festival is just a month away. By way of a remarkable coup, legendary film director Martin Scorsese has curated eight films which will be shown in the sumptuous surrounds of Port Eliot, a place which, I’m told, is the oldest continually inhabited dwelling in Britain. What has been dubbed the ‘Paradiso Outdoor Cinema’ will play host to classics such as Murder on the Orient Express, The Leopard and North by Northwest, with festivalgoers able to sit out under the stars watching the films in custom-made Cadillac cars.
Sounds pretty good to me, but what’d make it really special would be some choice wine, preferably served by attendants mocked up like the cinema ice-cream vendors of yesteryear. Imagine if, during the interval, a polite, besuited teenager were to come round and serve a glass of premier cru Bordeaux from the wonderful 1990 vintage. Now that’d make for some truly compelling cinema.
Cinema is on my mind not just because of the imminent Port Eliot festival, but thanks to FT wine writer Jancis Robinson’s interview last weekend with another Hollywood legend, Francis Ford Coppola. Wine buffs will not need reminding that the man who directed The Godfather and Apocalypse Now is the proud owner of the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville in California’s Napa Valley. Robinson, one of the best wine writers around, met with him for dinner at The Square, a Mayfair restaurant beloved, as she put it, of “wine lovers and hedge fund managers”.
The pair got on well, despite Robinson accidentally arriving 20 minutes’ late. She reveals that Coppola first learnt about wine while working as a junior screenwriter in Paris, that he acquired his winery 37 years ago, and that the house red on one job (presumably, an ultra big budget Hollywood movie) was Château Lafite. That’s impressive enough in my book, but it transpires that Coppola was also once paid in burgundies by the famous French estate, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (again, the precise nature of the job paid in this fashion isn’t mentioned).
Nowadays, when it comes to wine, Coppola seems to run two distinct operations. His Napa Valley estate is upmarket – for example, Coppola, at considerable expense, has reacquired the Inglenook name which he bought in 1995, later trading under the Rubicon Estate Winery. He was clearly determined to impress Robinson, sharing two wines made back in the Ingelnook heyday. But at the same time, his Geyserville winery is unashamedly Hollywood, perhaps even, with wines called ‘Director’s Cut’, on the brash side. But whatever the mild paradox, one thing is clear. Coppola, who, says Robinson, is in the process of “trying to reposition his historic property as a Frenchified California first growth”, is a man who knows his wine.
So I have an idea for the 2012 Port Eliot festival. Next year, why not ask Scorsese to collate another of his favourite eight films – and ask Coppola to choose the wine? Or maybe even see if the Rumblefish director will both curate his own favourite films and choose the wine? Now that’d be a film festival worth taking a holiday for. Perhaps the estimable Ms Robinson might care to mention the idea when she next meets Mr Coppola?
Tom Hancock, general manager of Bustophers, muses on the great governmental wine sell-off
Rumours of a governmental wine sell-off began at the beginning of the year. I remember a piece in The Drinks Business which reported that a review by the Foreign Office was set to recommend a reduction in the size of the state’s wine cellar. It struck me then as curious that the task of reviewing the government’s wine stock should fall to the Foreign Office, but I imagined it was because visits by overseas dignitaries are managed by the FO. That, or this is a case of ‘it’s a heady job, but someone’s got to do it’.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, the second story on the front page of the Financial Times was headlined: ‘Whitehall to tap vintage wine collection to keep state banquets out of the red’. The piece, by Louise Lucas, went on to confirm that the UK government was to downsize its wine cellar, including £10,000 bottles of Château Latour. The raison d’être is to remove the drinks bill for state banquets from taxpayers’ pockets.
That this story merited second place on the front page of the FT’s Saturday edition of May 14th illustrates the appeal of wine generally but also the mysterious, enigmatic allure of so prized a cellar. No wonder, for its wines include a 1961 Château Margaux and a 1961 Château Latour. The former was apparently one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite wines, while the latter is among the most valuable of the whole collection with an estimated market price of £3,000 a bottle.
It’s interesting looking at how the media covered this story. The Daily Mail cleared one thing up for me, clarifying that the review was ordered by Foreign Secretary William Hague and that the wine cellar is administered by Government Hospitality, which is itself administered by the Foreign Office. The junior FO minister directly responsible for the review is Harry Bellingham, who, says the Mail, has ordered that no extra money will be spent on wine during this Parliament: any new bottles are to be paid for by the “targeted sale of high-value stock”.
The Mail headline – ‘Government to sell off bottles of wine from its cellar worth up to £2,500 EACH’ – suggests, with its capped up ‘EACH’, that it, or its readers, might baulk at the notion of wine being worth £2,500 a bottle in the age of austerity. Interestingly, The Guardian’s headline played it straight, saying simply: ‘Government to sell off its fine wines’, with a strapline that was just as factual: ‘Expensive wines to be replaced by cheaper versions’.
But Stephen Bates, the Guardian writer, was thinking along the same lines as me towards the end of his piece, saying that wine brokers would be “licking their lips” at the prospect of the sell-off. He quoted Darren Willis, who runs Grape and Grind, a wine merchant in Bristol, saying: “They will not have any problem selling – the market is very buoyant at the moment, particularly in the far east.”
What price a bottle or two from the government’s cellar making their way to the far west? Perhaps, even, to Bustophers? I’m on the case, as are my brokers, but please don’t expect too much. That lovely 1961 Château Latour, bought for just £3 a bottle at the time, is now worth up to £50,000 a case.
Tom Hancock, general manager of Bustophers, on a trip to London – and a Bacchanalian decision
‘Make time for wine’ is the slogan of National Wine Month, which takes place in May, and it’s one I applaud. Everything about wine calls for patience. It’s to be savoured in the tasting, in the buying, and in the growing. That wine is definitely not something to be rushed is a fact I had ample time to reflect upon when I made my way last week from Truro to London for a day at the 31st London International Wine Fair.
I couldn’t but think and ponder, because I decided to let the train take the strain. Last Tuesday I caught the first train out of Truro, at the ungodly hour of 5.30 or thereabouts, which saw me arrive in Paddington five hours later. It was then a trek across London on the tube to Tower Bridge, where I boarded the Docklands Light Railway. I always enjoy being on the DLR – the novelty of a driverless train still appeals. Eventually, just about seven hours after I closed my front door, I was amid the hustle and bustle of the wine fair, which was being held at the Excel Centre.
It may have taken a while to get there, but it was worth it. The fair provides a great opportunity to catch up on trade news, chat to some of the 20 or so Masters of Wine who are there and listen to talks by national newspaper wine columnists about things like whether the screwtop can ever really replace the traditional cork. I was pleased to meet up with a solid contingent of St Austell Brewery people but better yet were the wine tastings.
As I’ve said before on this blog, wine tasting isn’t about seeing if you can still stand at the end of the day, but it is a way of discovering fresh and exciting new wines. My favourites from the day were a selection of Vinho Verdes. These Portuguese wines, from the Minho region in the far north of the country, were special – quite traditional in a spritzy way and with a low alcohol content, but an ideal lunchtime drink and really refreshing in the summer.
By 7pm it was time to make tracks. Trust me – I was sober as a judge (as opposed to drunk as a lord, the two expressions being an interesting reflection of British high society), but I admit to finding myself in a nice and mellow mood by the time I boarded the sleeper out of London at 11.30pm. Before I got the train, I’d made time for a meal at one of my favourite London restaurants, Cecconi’s in Mayfair; a couple of glasses of good Montalcino there, to accompany a £27 dish of lovely Veal Milanese with Zucchini Fritti, was just right for the stop-start sleeper.
By the time I’d returned to Truro, at 7am the next morning, I’d made a decision. With English Wine Week around the corner – it runs from this Saturday, May 28th to Sunday, June 5th – I resolved to buy a case or two of Camel Valley Bacchus. The Camel Valley vineyard, which is near Bodmin, has won numerous awards for its wines, and its Bacchus (the name is an allusion to the Roman god of wine) is the English answer to Sancerre. A still, young, zesty and aromatic wine, it’ll be here at Bustophers next week no doubt matched up with some lovely Cornish asparagus if there is any left. And at around £28 a bottle, you won’t get better value.
Tom Hancock, general manager of Bustophers, on some choice Bordeaux wines – and the Royal Wedding
At last, the hard work is done. It took a little longer than I expected, but Bustophers’ new wine list is ready. There are quite a few new wines, thanks to the recommendations of Liam Steevenson, a Master of Wine and the owner of one of Bustophers’ wine suppliers, Red & White. But rather than list them all, I’m going to focus on three lovely Bordeaux wines.
There are two reasons for this. First, the past two to three weeks has seen the world’s wine tasters converge in the Bordeaux region to taste the 2010 vintage. It’s said to be incredible, meaning that for two years in a row Bordeaux wines have scored ten out of ten with critics, wine columnists and tasters. Secondly, I have a hunch that guests at tomorrow’s high profile nuptials will be sipping a Bordeaux or two - as well as, if The Independent has got it right, a nice glass of Pol Roger.
My hunch comes from years of enjoying Bordeaux wines, but also springs from their historic connection with the British aristocracy. For centuries Bordeaux wines have been destined for the grandest British estates, a connection that grew yet more tangible when, in 1868, James Mayer de Rothschild, a member of the British branch of the illustrious Rothschild family, acquired the Chateau Lafite vineyard.
Here at Bustophers we’re not quite as fancy, but we know a good wine when we taste one. Occupying pride of place among our Bordeaux reds is the classic Château Cos d’Estournel. This comes from the Saint-Estèphe appellation and was classified as one of fifteen Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growths) in the original Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, a system inaugurated by Napoleon III so that France’s best Bordeaux wines could be readily understood and appreciated by visitors.
The Château Cos d’Estournel is the flagship claret on our list. It’s got a wonderfully graphite texture, lots of blackcurrant and cassis flavouring and an extraordinary depth and intensity. No wonder: the average age of the vine at this beautiful chateau on the banks of the Gironde River between Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe is 35 years old. Only the wines made from vines over twenty years of age will carry the name of Château Cos d’Estournel.
We think the Chateau Cos, as it’s known in the trade, is good value at £100, but another gorgeous Bordeaux comes in at just £30 a bottle. Step forward, the wines of Château Lezongars. Situated in the small village of Villenave-de-Rions, some 20 or so miles southeast of Bordeaux, Château Lezongars was acquired in 1998 by Englishman Philip Iles and his wife Sarah. They have done a superb job, creating elegant, artful and enjoyable wines which won’t send you to the bankruptcy courts. I hope to meet the couple on a trip to France this summer.
Last but by no means least is Berry’s Good, Ordinary Claret. At £23 a bottle, this does what it says on the tin. It’s an approachable and easy-drinking Bordeaux, suitable for all occasions. Who knows, it might even be served to the 300 guests at Kate and William’s reception. But on second thoughts, no: surely they’ll go for some Château Cos. I know I would.
An old friend revisited. "We have visited Bustophers on and off for years. The place has changed hands a few times, chefs have come and go, but the atmosphere and rustic bistro nature which is so key to this restaurant still remain. Still packed at the weekends, great fish specials and steaks and a wine list to die for!"Steven Burgess, Broadway."
Consistently fab! "The menu changes seasonally, and focuses on local fresh ingredients. A recent change in kitchen personnel appears to have added a more hearty, bistro-style offering to the menu. On a recent visit we enjoyed a pea risotto and the Toulouse sausage and mash. Both were fantastic!" Lee & Pops - Tripadvisor
Understated elegance with a touch of pure class! "Whilst prices are on par with most other restaurants in Truro they do pack a lot more in for your money. Extremely friendly and courteous staff and even the owner was behind the bar. To Tom and his staff thank you this is definitely one of the best." Antony - Tripadvisor
Sunday lunch fit for a king. "Bustophers had a really nice sleepy Sunday lunch feel, red wine flowing, gentle hum from the other diners, light music in the background and some great company. As a group of foodies we have been trying out Sunday lunches all around Cornwall and along with the Gurnards Head this lunch got all of our vote as being up there with the best." Uncle Birdseye - Tripadvisor