Swirl ‘n’ Spit

Swirl ‘n’ Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Toad Hollow Tasting Room

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: Admittedly, I’d been by the tasting room a handful of times, passing it off as, well, a little precious. The whimsical frog cartoons on the labels are certainly charming, but this, I thought, was no serious wine. I was wrong. Sort of. Because Toad Hollow isn’t serious wine, in the sense of taking itself seriously. Founded by Todd Williams (Robin Williams’ half-brother) and Rodney Strong, the winery has always been about having a good time and selling some nice $10-$14 wines. But since having two of its wines favorably reviewed in the national press–the New York Times and, most recently, the Wall Street Journal–Dr. Toad, as Williams refers to himself, has found himself with many new admirers, myself among them.

Vibe: The tasting room sits off Healdsburg’s main square and is a cozy affair with lots of cute frog kitsch. The staff is young and eager to chat, and Williams–an affable former restaurateur–makes frequent check-ins and stints behind (and in front of) the bar. Frankly, it’s refreshing after some of the pretension nearby.

Mouth value: Absolutely don’t miss the Eye of the Toad Dry Pinot Noir Rosé ($7.99). The Wall Street Journal named it the best of its rosé tasting. And before even reading the article, I had fallen in love. Crisp and dry with lots of bright fruit, it has no oak (not even a hint), being fermented in steel tanks. In fact, Williams is a huge proponent of low or no oak, preferring to let the fruit speak rather than the wood. His flagship Chardonnay ($12.99) is also steel-fermented with lots of crisp apple and none of the oaky, buttery flavors typically associated with Chardonnay–making Toad Hollow’s great for food pairing. Also interesting is the Amplexus Cremant Brut Sparkling Wine ($14.39), imported from a winery in Limoux, France. Again, the fruit shines with low yeast and tiny bubbles, but with a hint of almond. Reds aren’t quite as dynamic. Best of the bunch were the 2001 Cacophany Zinfandel ($12.59), loaded with lots of spice and jam that starts at the nose and tangos on your tongue through a long finish, and the 2001 Russian River Pinot Noir ($19.99), the oakiest of the wines with lots of dark fruit and a contemplative gentleness.

Five-second snob: Amaze your friends by pointing out the tiny frog hidden in the Chardonnay label. It moves to a different spot on the label each year. Trouble finding it? It’s in the far right corner.

Spot: Toad Hollow Vineyards Tasting Room, 409-A Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. Open daily, 10:30am to 5:30(ish)pm. 707.431.8667.

From the August 11-17, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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