Toad Hollow Pinot Noir 2016, Monterrey County
Cost: $16-18
W e may be in the Golden Age for pinot noir. After some difficult years when the popularity of the varietal led to planting vines where they did not produce the best fruit, growers and winemakers have figured things out.
Now we find great pinot noir from all over the world, but especially from Burgundy, New Zealand, Oregon and California. The Toad Hollow pinot is a wonderful example of this grape at an affordable price.
It is a beautiful translucent red in the glass with aromas of cherry and cola. Cherry flavors predominate on the palate, but with hints of spice and caramel. The wine is medium-bodied and doesn’t overpower your senses.
The easy way to say that is it is smooth and pleasant, leaving your mouth with a fresh feeling.
The grapes all come from Monterrey County, where the Toad Hollow team feels the flavor profile perfectly matches their need for grapes that deliver a juicy, mouth-filling pinot noir. The 2016 vintage is considered one of the region’s best for pinot noir.
The grapes were picked in the cool of early morning, gently pressed and then aged in medium toast oak.
Most really good pinot noirs sell for $25 or more, so this sleek and supple beauty is a great bargain. Pinot noir is a difficult grape to grow, and finding the right location is only half the battle. This usually adds to the price.
It can be a delicate plant, needing just the right conditions to produce good fruit. When everything is just right pinot noir grapes produce an inviting, approachable wine that is great with food.
Lucky for us the folks at Toad Hollow have found a way to keep prices low without slashing quality. They introduced fun new labels two years ago, featuring whimsical drawings of Mr. Toad.
Winery: Francine (Frankie) Williams is president of Toad Hollow. Born in Connecticut she arrived in San Francisco in 1972 and met Todd Williams, whom she later married. Together they owned a San Francisco bar called Toad Manner.
They also owned the legendary Whiskey River Inn in Arnold in the Sierra Foothills of California.
In 1994 Frankie and Todd joined Rodney Strong to found Toad Hollow Vineyards in Sonoma County.
Strong was an icon in the wine industry after a successful career as a dancer and choreographer in Paris and on Broadway. He settled in Sonoma and became an innovator in the wine industry. He especially loved pinot noir.
Frankie joined the firm full time in 1997, leaving a long-time position managing a local law firm.
Todd got into the wine business after years of having owned bars and restaurants all over the world, and selling wine for many first-class wineries. He opened his own winery because he felt that too many people were intimidated by wine. His mission was to strip away the mystique and make wine inclusive.
Todd believed that wine should a part of people’s everyday lives, not just something that was celebratory. He believed that wine should be fun and he loved sharing that experience with everyone he met.
Rodney Strong retired from dancing and began making his own wine in 1959. Three years later he bought a winery that became Rodney Strong. He replanted vineyards with chardonnay in an area that later became known as the Chalk Hill AVA.
In 1968 he bought land in the Russian River Valley and planted pinot noir grapes. Two years later he built a winery and tasting room there. Strong sold the business in 1989 and planned to retire.
Todd Williams also had planned to retire, but when he and Strong became friends they decided they should open a winery together and Toad Hollow was born. Strong was the winemaker and Williams the marketer.
The Toad Hollow website has a delightful story about Dr. Toad and Mr. Badger, using characters from the children’s story “Wind in the Willows.” Dr. Toad is Williams and The Dancing Badger is Strong.
Both have since died, but Francine Williams has carried on the Toad Hollow traditions with the help of business partner and general manager Erik Thorson.
The winery opened a tasting room in Healdsburg in 2003. They produce a wide variety of wines including an unoaked chardonnay, a dry rosé, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and two sparkling wines.
Michael liked the Toad Hollow pinot with duck.
Goes with: Pinot noir is a great wine with food, and the Toad Hollow pinot over delivers.
We had this wine with roast duck, one of my favorite meats. When I was young, the only time I could eat duck was when we went out to a Bohemian restaurant and a few fancy places. Duck has so much fat you couldn’t cook it at home without making a mess.
But now you can buy a half duck already cooked and frozen. You just pop it out of the packaging, thaw it and put it on the grill for a few minutes and you have a fancy meal. You also can cook it in the oven, but the grill is easier. The package even comes with some frozen orange sauce, if you need it.
I don’t usually use sauce, unless I make some raspberry or black cherry sauce. My side dish of choice with duck is dumplings. These are not the kind of dumplings you find in Southern chicken and dumplings.
These are made from potatoes, flour and eggs, rolled into a dough, shaped like logs and boiled in water. They are heavy and solid. I like to smother them in sauerkraut, just like you would find in a Bohemian restaurant. To be fair restaurants often use yeast dumplings, which do not use potatoes and look like oval slices of bread. They are more elegant, but they can be harder to make than potato dumplings.
My wife Teri and son Michael had to settle for mashed potatoes and creamed corn because they don’t like dumplings. More for me.
The Toad Hollow pinot had just the right amount of fruit and warmth to pair perfectly with the duck. Most of the fat from these duck halves have been cooked out, so the meat has a lot of flavor, but not much grease with it. Duck and pinot were made for each other.
You could also drink this wine with pork chops, roast chicken, and dishes with a light cream sauce.

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