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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.

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

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