"A flaming pot of oak chips at the base of the assembled oak staves toasts the wood and alters its flavor agents, just as toasting alters the flavor of bread."
...from my San Francisco State U. wine course
The Rest of the Story
To bend staves of oak wood so they can form a barrel, the wood must be heated. In America it was done with steam. In France it was done with open fire. Only a few decades ago California winemakers discovered that steam didn't alter flavors but toasting could have a major effect on the taste of their wines. A light toast gives subtle hints of vanilla and nuts. At the other end of the scale is heavy toast with its smokey, chocolate, roasted-coffee and even bacon-like contributions.
For those interested in identifying the taste of toasting, I recommend a medium-toast Chardonnay, as in our...
Wine of the Day
1998 La Crema Chardonnay, Cold Coast Vineyards, Sonoma Coast Toast Level: Medium-plus to Heavy (my palate could pick up only the medium plus...no coffee or smoke) Sonoma Coast?— The dynamic Jess Jackson bought La Crema in 1993. I attended a Chardonnay seminar he led in San Francisco. He said he wants his Chardonnay from cool, coastal regions to provide plenty of refreshing acidity to pair with the flavors of rich, ripe grapes. That's precisely what you'll find in this La Crema. The fruit came from all along the Somoma County coast, starting with the renowned Carneros, then up to the Russian River Valley, and on to the Mendocino county boundary. Contact—Marcia Jayne Brinker, (707) 547-4748, FAX (707) 544-4013 Price—$20
Does Jess Jackson know how to assemble a good winegrowing team? As we mentioned, he bought the winery in 1993. Only two years later, La Crema got their 1995 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay together. Upon its release, the Wine Spectator's James Laube wrote that the La Crema 1995 was "much improved with creamy pear and peach flavors. Ninety points!" I rest my case.
About the Writer
Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.