About Me

Gavin Hubble - (BSc & Post Grad. Business Marketing) - I started working in the wine industry over 23 years ago in New Zealand. Working in; wine retail, sales, wine production, label & packaging design, marketing, wine buying, consulting and wine education. I am responsible for the Brand Health of 60+ wine brands distributed here in New Zealand. Wine Brands from New Zealand, Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Chile and Argentina. I work closely with the Trade Industry - (Retail Stores & Restaurants) introducing, educating and positioning exciting and unique brands to wine enthusiasts all over the world.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Vin Clair Tasting

I thought it would be a good idea to talk through a ‘vin clair’ tasting, as it is something very few wine enthusiasts get to experience.
Q: So what is a ‘vin clair’ tasting? - The base wine for Champagne, after the primary alcoholic fermentation and malolactic fermentation - but before the blending and second fermentation.
I had the pleasure of going through a 'vin-clair' tasting with Regis Camus ‘chef de cave’ at Piper & Charles Heidsieck - in June of this year at the new cellars in Reims, France.


Many wine writers generally only taste ‘vin clair’ wines from potential vintage years. They seem to see no point in tasting ‘vin clair’ wines from a non-vintage year, when the winemaker's skill will be employed to blend everything to a house style. Personally this is more interesting, as with a vintage year, the base wines for say a ‘millesime’ Champagne will be selected to reflect the character of simply that one vintage. I won’t be sharing any detailed notes, because Piper & Charles Heidsieck source and blend from some 160 parcels, so to try and make sense of each individual wine that will represent just a few per cent of any final cuvée would take far too long.
In simple terms - a ‘vin clair’ should be intrinsically out of balance. If a base wine is to achieve balance after a second fermentation, with its additional alcohol, CO2 gas, and a dosage of sugar, it is obliged to be out of balance before the process starts.
I was tasting with arguably the best ‘chef de cave’ Regis Camus with both Piper & Charles Heidsieck ‘vin clair’ wines in front of us. To be able to talk through all the different nuances of each vineyard with Regis and discuss how each will support and blend with the other was to say the least - one of the best days' in my wine tasting career.
The first point you learn - is try not to look for the best, I suggest you stand a better chance of finding the wines that you like least. When tasting ‘vin clair’ wines, it is the very basic characteristics, such as structure, weight, and acidity that you should look for, rather than more specific flavour characteristics, which should be far more embryonic than in a still wine.
The first fermentation of a sparkling wine is by necessity far more crude than the one and only fermentation for a still wine. In most ‘vin clair’ tastings I have done in the past, most of the more specific aspects of fruit, elegance, finesse and potential complexity that demonstrate the promise shown by a young still wine are not usually present. But with all of the samples that Regis and I worked through, already you could see the subtleties that will make the two unique styles of Piper & Charles Heidsieck.
This is not to say that the first fermentation was too sophisticated, having leached out too much of the potential that should be left for the slow enticement of a long, cool secondary fermentation, which itself would wipe out any specific characteristics created by the first fermentation. It simply showed the quality of the fruit and the complete understanding of each vineyard, as to why Regis uses each site to create each unique style of Champagne.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pedro Ximenex

Pedro Ximenez (also known as PX and many other variations) is the name of a white grape variety grown in certain regions of Spain, and also a varietal wine, an intensely sweet, dark, dessert sherry.
PX was originally grown in the Montilla-Moriles DO region of southern Spain, and along with Palomino Fino made up the majority of grapes used in the manufacture of Sherry. However, the strong resistance of the Palomino grape to disease has led to a great decline in the use of Pedro Ximenez in traditional sherry, and despite its continued use in the sweeter blends of sherry in Montilla-Moriles, Malaga and other regions of Andalusia, its fame now rests principally on its use in the varietal raisin wine of the same name.


The dessert wine Pedro Ximenez is made by drying the grapes in a time-honoured fashion under the hot Spanish sun for two or three weeks in order to allow the concentration of sugar, sweetness. The 'must' of these grapes ferment very slowly creating a wine of extraordinary depth and complexity, which are then used to create a thick, black liquid with a strong taste of raisins, figs, dates, molasses and coffee that is fortified and is used as a blender to sweeten Oloroso sherry and aged in solera.
Pedro Ximenez can be quite crisp and dry when vinified still but is more frequently used as a sweetening agent in Sherry. The grapes are dried in the sun to concentrate the sugars and flavours. In Spain the dried P.X. grapes are vinified and then aged, matured using the 'Solera and Criadera' system in barrel for many years and produce fortified wines of considerable character and sweetness.

To be enjoyed accompanying desserts, pastries and is truly delicious poured over ice cream. As an after dinner drink, it is a great way to finish the perfect meal.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Nebbiolo is a red Italian grape variety predominately associated with the Piedmont region where it makes the (DOCG) wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo is thought to derive its name from the Piedmontese word 'nebbia' which means 'fog'. During harvest, which generally takes place late in October, an intense fog sets into the Langhe region where many Nebbiolo vineyards are located.
lternative explanations refers to the fog-like 'bloom' that forms over the berries as they reach maturity or that perhaps the name is derived from the Italian word 'nobile', meaning noble.
Although there are dozens of clones and Nebbiolo is prominent, and famous for producing world renowned red wines, the reality is that this grape variety makes up barely 3% of all the wines produced in the Piedmont area. There are twice as many acres planted with Dolcetto and ten times as many planted with Barbera.


Part of the reason for this, Nebbiolo is one of the more problematic grapes for both viticulturists and winemakers to grow and work with. It is very sensitive to both soil and geography and can yield wines that vary widely in body, tannin and acidity, as well as aroma and flavour complexity. A late ripening grape, the vines need the best exposures, especially in cooler climates, in order to reach maturity. It performs better in calcareous rather than sandy soils. Nebbiolo grape skins are relatively thin, but quite tough and fairly resistant to molds and other pests.
Some winemakers feel that Nebbiolo is even more difficult to work with than Pinot Noir. It can be changeable, moody and unpredictable while undergoing typical cellar and aging procedures.
Nebbiolo produces lightly coloured red wines that can be highly tannic in their youth with scents of liquorice and roses. As they age, the wines take on a characteristic brick-orange hue at the rim of the glass and mature to reveal other aromas and flavours such as violets, liquorice, wild herbs, cherries, raspberries, truffles and tobacco. Nebbiolo wines can reward years of aging to balance out the tannins with other varietal characteristics.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Green Harvest

A green harvest is the removal of immature grape bunches, typically for the purpose of decreasing the vines yield. In French it is known as a 'vendange verte'.
Green harvesting is a relatively modern practice most often used to produce fine wine. Removing the small, immature, un-ripe grapes while they are still green encourages the vine to put all its energy into developing the remaining grapes. In theory this results in better ripening and the development of more numerous, mature flavour compounds and increases the quality. In the absence of a green harvest, a healthy, vigorous vine can produce dilute, unripe grapes.


Many traditionally renowned regions have natural conditions that repress excess vigour. Examples include the gravelly soils on the left bank of Bordeaux, the often cool, fragile climate of Burgundy, and the infrequent rainfall of Rioja. In these regions, the vine is prevented from producing too many grapes without human intervention required. However, in regions with fertile soil, abundant sunlight, and irrigation practices, the vine can generate large quantities of uninspiring grapes.
One solution is a green harvest. After fruit set, the quantity of grapes that will result from a vineyard can be projected. Often the wine-grower has a target yield in mind, measured in tons per acre or hectolitres per hectare. A portion of the grape bunches are cut off by hand, to leave approximately the correct amount. In Europe, many appellations restrict the yield permitted from a given area, so there is even more incentive to perform green harvesting when presented with excess crop. Often the excess must be sold for a nothing and used for industrial alcohol production.
While the concept of thinning or sacrificing part of the grape crop, i.e. green harvesting, with the aim of improving the quality of the remaining grapes, predates modern critics, the practice has increased in recent times in vineyards found in many regions around New Zealand and areas where grapes grow vigorously.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Grappa is a fragrant grape-based spirit of between 40% and 60% alcohol, of Italian origin. Literally a word for 'grape stalk', grappa is made by distilling pomace, grape residue (primarily the skins, but also stems and seeds) left over from winemaking after pressing.
It was originally made to prevent wastage by using leftovers at the end of the wine season. It quickly became commercialised, mass-produced, and sold worldwide. The flavour of grappa, like that of wine, depends on the type and quality of the grape used as well the specifics of the distillation process.


In Italy, grappa is primarily served as a 'digestivo' or after dinner drink. Its purpose is to aid in the digestion of the heavy Italian meals. Grappa may also be added to espresso coffee to create a caffe corretto. Another variation of this is the 'amazza caffe' (literally, 'coffee-killer'): the espresso is drunk first, followed by a few ounces of grappa served in its own glass.
While these Grappa's are produced in significant quantities and exported, there are many thousands of smaller local and regional Grappa's, all with distinct character. Most grappa is clear, indicating that it is an un-aged distillate, though some may retain very faint pigments from their original fruit pomace. Lately, aged Grappa's have become more common, and these take on a yellow or red-brown hue from the barrels in which they are stored.
Although grappa does not generally require such a long aging as some other alcoholic drinks do, Italian law requires six months of aging after the production itself is complete. However, there are distilleries that not only age grappa for six months in wooden barrels, but also add another six months of aging in airtight glass flasks or stainless-steel tanks.
This added step in the production process allows producers subsequently to add more prestigious label designations such as 'invecchiata' (aged), 'stravecchia' (very old) or 'riserva' (reserve).