I've always tried to refrain from having favourite producers, or favourite vineyards, while running and writing for Great British Wine. However, there is one place that is so unique, so special, that I have to admit that it probably is my favourite vineyard spot in England. That place is Breaky Bottom, home to stunning landscapes, some of England's most historic vines and, of course, the winemaking legend that is Peter Hall. I don't use the term legend lightly; if you've met Peter, you would almost certainly agree that he deserves that title.
I've visited this unique place multiple times since my first meeting with Peter in 2017. Each visit has been a little like stepping into a time capsule; Peter's tales of a colourful life full of even more colourful people are intricately (and sporadically) interwoven into his wines. And with the arrival of three new wines, there are three more fascinating stories to learn about. Last month I revisited Breaky Bottom to catch up with Peter and his wife, Christine, with my good friend and fellow English wine ambassador, Alex, for a thorough tasting of the latest releases, as well as one or two surprises along the way.
The latest Seyval Blanc vintage 2014 is named after University of Sussex Space Physics reader, Peter Christiansen, while the latest classic blend is dedicated to Michelle Moreau, a dear friend of Peter and Christine, and sister of the famous French actress Jeanne Moreau. Perhaps the most poignant story, though, is that of Oliver Minkley, who had visited and worked part-time at Breaky Bottom over many years. Oliver sadly lost a battle with depression at the young age of 35 in 2010. It's fitting that a wine packed full of exuberant and spirited energy was dedicated to Oliver, who touched many people with his stand-up comedy routines.
During our tasting, we were treated to a bowl of Peter's home-made asparagus soup, with asparagus grown from the same fertile Breaky Bottom soils as the delicious Cuvée that we were drinking alongside it. Naturally, the Seyval Blanc 2014 made an engaging pairing to Peter's humble, delightful soup. Peter had a few more surprises in store for us too, including an impromptu opening of a rare bottle of Peter's early still wine, just one year younger than me: the Breaky Bottom Dry White 1983. This is a 36-year-old marvel, made from Müller-Thurgau. Peter opened the bottle carefully, and, to our delight, the wine was still in good shape. Pale golden in colour, it had a nose of dried apricot and mango, savoury mushroom and nuttiness. It had surprisingly bright acidity on the palate, with again mango and dried fruit notes. The wine was oxidised, but not overwhelmingly so, and the bitter almond and spice notes kept us all fascinated with its character.
Peter had one final treat for us. We had tasted the present and the past of Breaky Bottom but what of the future? Much has been said about the fantastic 2018 crop in England and, after asking Peter for his thoughts on the vintage, he promptly swept us straight to the winery for a quick tasting of the fruits of his labour. With a plentiful harvest that will eventually see 17,000 bottles released, Peter is planning on doing something a little different with the 2018 base wines. Of course, we will see the classic expression of single varietal Seyval Blanc but also, for the first time due to the volume of wine produced, Peter will release a separate Blanc de Blancs (from 100% Chardonnay) and a Blanc de Noirs (from the Pinot Noir and Meunier). The base wines were intense, energetic and concentrated, with the Seyval having that punchy, driving acidity and powerful, crisp citrus fruit flavour. Meanwhile, the Chardonnay entertained with its flamboyant orchard fruit character and, once again, punchy acidity that should see it go on to become a future classic.
It's incredible how quickly time dissipates at Breaky Bottom. A cheery chat here, and a thorough tasting there, and you soon realise that the best part of the afternoon has passed. It's so easy to get lost in the beauty of both the vineyard itself and Peter's intricately woven world of wine, people and history, so we expressed our thanks and departed with several cases of Breaky Bottom wine in hand.
- 6 Acres
- By Appointment
Cuvée Peter Christiansen 2014
GRAPES: Seyval Blanc
There's something special about Peter's Seyval Blanc. Many other producers release their Seyval Blanc sparkling young, with minimal lees ageing. However, Peter's wines tend to have a minimum of four to five years on them, elevating the wines with texture and complexity.
With that said, Cuvée Peter Christiansen feels like it's only just at the start of its journey. The nose is bright, if a little tight right now, with chalky aromas, waxy lemon peel and light honeysuckle tones.
It has a bright precision and linear intensity that is immediately recognisable as Breaky Bottom Seyval in its youth. There’s a crisp mixture of citrus fruits, crisp green apples and delightful chalky undertones.
The warmth of the 2014 vintage manifests itself in a riper, almost honeyed white peach streak. That's a quality that I don't recall Peter's Seyval having on release but it does add a softness and warmth that does also come with age. It will be fascinating to see how this vintage develops.
- Buy from Breaky Bottom £31.00
Cuvée Michelle Moreau 2014
GRAPES: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
Cuvée Michelle Moreau 2014 is the latest vintage of the Champagne-only blend, made from 70% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier.
The wine poured with a pleasing, slightly bronzed hue to contrast with the very light Seyval that preceded it.
The nose presented itself with an opulent, ripe fusion of apricot, red apple, honeydew melon and citrus.
To taste, this wine felt the most fruit-forward of the three new releases, again a sign of that ripe, warm 2014 vintage. There are lots of lush, fleshy peach favours, underpinned by tangy green orchard fruit, with hints of honey and nutty pastry coming through on the finish.
Ultimately, while notably gratifying up-front, this was one Breaky Bottom Cuvée that felt like it had revealed its hand already. This is something I have found with quite a few 2014 vintage English sparkling wines.
- Buy from Breaky Bottom £33.00
Cuvée Oliver Minkley 2011
GRAPES: Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc, Pinot Meunier & Pinot Noir
This was a real treat, and again a reminder of just how very kind time is to Breaky Bottom wines. Cuvée Oliver Minkley is a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Seyval Blanc, 5% Pinot Meunier & 5% Pinot Noir. It was a small batch of 2,600 bottles that spent six years on lees before release.
I first came across this wine during my judging duties on this year's IEWA where it proudly earned a Gold Medal for its precision and complexity.
As well as its delightful golden hues, the wine has a rich, redolent nose of almond croissant and dried apricot with hints of savoury cream cheese, toasted spice and a seasoning of crushed seashells. Beautiful!
To taste, there's still a remarkable, exuberant youth to this Cuvée. It's tightly wound up front with a biting tension of citrus and tangy green apples. There's a giving depth on the mid-taste here, where baked stone fruit and creamy autolytic richness break out.
This is a delicious, multi-faceted treat, and it's still got such a long life ahead.
- Buy from Breaky Bottom £35.00