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by Fred McMillin
"The 1996 vintage is the second release of our "Toasted Head Chardonnay." ...a letter from Lane Giguiere of the R.H. Phillips Vineyard, Esparto, CA
The Rest of the Story
Toasted head?? Let's talk about wine barrels.
Barrels are 88 inches in diameter and use about 34 staves, ranging in width from one to seven inches. The heads, on the top and bottom of the barrel, use the wider staves. The long staves are heated over an open flame for 15 to 20 minutes to bend them to barrel shape. A cable slowly draws the staves together, then hoops are applied. No glue is used in the seams, as it could affect the flavor. (from the Wine Press Northwest)
The heating of the staves over open flames is referred to as toasting. Lane tells us that "TOASTING caramelizes the sugars in the oak which smooths out wood tannins and bitterness."
A Head Case
While toasting. is necessary to bend the staves, there's no need to apply that heat to make the heads. But, Lane says that they want to make sure there's no chance of wood bitterness in their wine, so they have their coopers (barrel makers) toast the two heads, too. Ah-h-h. Now we understand that name "Toasted Head Chardonnay." and we just re-tasted the 1996.
Our Wine of the Day
1996 R.H. Phillips Toasted Head Chardonnay
Phillips uses both French and American oak barrels. How do they compare in winemaking? Well, I've had the privilege of lunching with Enology Professor Vernon Singleton of U.C.-Davis and here's what he says. American oak adds more aroma including that of vanilla. French oak adds more body and tannins. His recommendation for Chardonnay? The French is better.
This page created January 2000