Barbara Hine and her French husband Denis bought the Corse Lawn House in Gloucestershire in 1978 and ran it until Denis's death in 2005. Baba continues to run the hotel en famille with her son Giles. The lovely Queen Anne house has an elegant restaurant featuring ‘Modern British' cooking and an excellent, wellpriced wine list. Giles Hine is responsible for much of the list, despite currently working in New Zealand (he is married to a Kiwi) and Baba counts herself extremely fortunate to have as a close family friend, "the great Bill Baker" (himself a wine merchant) who advises on, and approves all additions to the list. I asked Baba and Bill about the 400 bin list.
What makes the list special?
BH: Value for money.
There's a traditional and French bias to the list…
BB: The Hine family are from France [Denis was a scion of the Hine cognac family] so naturally their knowledge is wider in France. However we feel that the New World has very adequate coverage, which suits everyone.
It has a fairly conventional layout – by geography and leading (after By the Glass and Halves) with Bordeaux. Have you always done it this way?
BH: Yes and it works.
BB: Any other alternative means foisting your judgement about style on the customer, or if you do it by variety you end up with a big section of odds and sods.
The list changes weekly. Do regulars like familiarity or change?
BH: Regulars like both.
What is less traditional is your very customer friendly pricing. Domaine de Vogüé, Grand Cru 1972 Bonnes Mares, for example, is a steal at £111. How do you set margins?
BH: It's personal.
BB: We think we buy well and that our suppliers offer us fair prices.
There are a lot of personalised and sometimes quirky notes on the list, which I like, but isn't " I'm sorry but I just do not like this – no acidity" going a bit far?
BH: "Possibly – but honesty is our God."
What's the point of a long list?
BB: To cover a lot of ground! It enables us to showcase different styles from the ever-spreading world of wine.
The half bottle selection is unusually long. Why? Do they sell?
BH: Yes. Half bottles are probably a country demand rather than a town demand, as so often one of two people has to drive."
Does a wine list have to be comprehensive?
BB: You can never be entirely comprehensive; there's too much on offer. The key is to choose classic wines from classic areas and fascinating, interesting wines to try to maintain the punters' excitement.