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by Fred McMillin
for January 11, 2000

 

Toasted Heads??


Prologue

"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.

Phillips Chardonnay 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
100% aged in French oak with toasted heads.
Price—Two years ago it was $12.
Review—The June 26, 1988 WineDay stated the wine was an "excellent value." Another year in my cellar has brought it to its peak...more aroma, more flavors than before, and absolutely no bitterness.
Contact—For info on the current release, call Lane's office at (530) 662-3215, FAX (530) 662-2880.


Postscript

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.

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 


This page created January 2000

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