Toad Hollow Vineyards: Delicious wines & great value

Toad Hollow Vineyards was founded in 1994 by a group of friends. They launched their winery with “Francine’s Selection,” an unoaked Chardonnay. At the time, particularly in California, this was not only uncommon, it also ran against the trend. Defying what was popular, Francine’s Selection was a huge hit and sent the vineyard off and running. In the years since, their portfolio has expanded to include Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet and more. I tasted through some brand new releases and found a lot of deliciousness for a small amount of money.


Toad Hollow Vineyards 2014 Unoaked Chardonnay ($13.99)

This Chardonnay is produced from fruit sourced in Mendocino County. It’s made up entirely of Chardonnay. The 2014 bottling represents the 22nd vintage of this wine, the most popular in their lineup. The moment you stick your nose in the glass, a burst of fresh, unadulterated apple and pear aromas leap out. The palate is similarly stuffed with oodles of fresh fruit flavors accompanied by hints of spice. All of these characteristics continue on the long, fruit-laden finish. This is a delicious, easy-to-drink Chardonnay that you’re going to want a second glass the moment the first is empty.

Toad Hollow Vineyards 2014 “Eye of the Toad” Rosé ($11.99)

This dry Rosé is composed entirely of Pinot Noir sourced at a variety of vineyards throughout Sonoma County. Toad Hollow has been producing a dry Rosé for 20 years, well ahead of its current popularity in the U.S. A hint of crème fraiche underpins the freshly picked strawberry aromas that inform the nose here. Bing cherry and continued strawberry notes are in evidence on the beautiful and bone dry palate. White pepper and continued red fruit flavors are evident on the crisp, zippy finish. If you need a perfect pairing partner for fried chicken, this is it.

Toad Hollow Vineyards Merlot ($16.99)

This offering is composed entirely of Merlot sourced at the Richard McDowell Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. These 16 acres were planted in 1995. Ripe wild strawberry and raspberry aromas fill the nose. The palate is loaded with darker fruit flavors such as black raspberry and cherry, as well as black pepper and hints of toast. Light bits of espresso and a touch of dusty cocoa emerge on the finish, along with pomegranate and sour cherry notes. This is a well-priced and tasty example of Merlot.

Toad Hollow Vineyards 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($19.99)

This is a single-vineyard Pinot with all the fruit coming off of “Goldie’s Vineyard,” their estate property. After fermentation and being racked twice, it was aged in French oak for 14 months. Rose petal and red cherry aromas leap from the nose here. The palate is full of even-keeled red fruit flavors supported by a significant spice component. Bits of savory herb, sour red fruits and continued spices are apparent on the long, even finish. This terrific under-$20 Pinot Noir will pair well with a remarkably wide array of foods.

All of these wines represent better than average values. The Pinot Noir, though, is the steal of the bunch. This notoriously fickle and difficult to master grape is also one of the hardest to find at a bargain. At under $20, this offering from Toad Hollow Vineyards is precisely that. Buy a case and drink it as a house wine. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better value in California Pinot Noir.

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Lodi’s Markus Wine Co. home of unique and delicious wines

I recently spent several days in the Lodi wine-growing region of California as the guest of the Lodi Winegrowers. Over four days, the group I was with took a deep dive into all things Lodi. We visited wineries, vineyard sites and had lunch at the home of a couple who own a terrific winery. The overall variety of wines we tasted was stunning in its diversity, both in terms of grapes utilized as well as styles they were made in. One wine brand in particular that stuck out for me is Markus Wine Co.


This project is part of Borra Vineyards. There are a few distinct differences between them, the biggest being that while the Borra wines are produced from fruit grown on the family’s own vineyards, the wines from Markus Wine Co. are made from sourced fruit. Winemaker Markus Niggli looks for great vineyards in the region and crafts wines in a fresh, modern style. We tasted Markus’ wines at the Mokelumne Glen Vineyard, one of his sources for fruit. The family that owns this vineyard and grows the fruit is dedicated entirely to German varietals. They carefully tend a broad array of grapes and sell them to artists like Markus who use them to craft lovely wines loaded with character. Markus also works with a nearby artist to create labels that merge imagery that brings to mind a place from his past, with the spot the grapes are sourced. Three of his wines really stood out for me. The fruit for all of these is from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards.

Markus Wine Co. 2014 Nativo ($19)

This wine is a blend of Kerner (75 percent), Riesling (19 percent) and Bacchus (6 percent). Fermentation took place over 10 days in stainless steel utilizing native yeast. It was aged in-tank for five months prior to bottling. Granny Smith apple aromas dominate the nose. The refreshing palate is studded with appealing flavors such as honeysuckle and white peach. Bits of sweetness emerge on the finish, which shows lemon zest and wet limestone characteristics. Firm, racy acid keeps everything in check. If you want to blow away your wine-loving friends, bring a few bottles of this gem with you, and they’ll be in awe of your wine-selecting abilities.

Markus Wine Co. Nuvola ($19)

This selection is entirely Gewürztraminer. All of the fruit was hand-harvested. Fermentation took place in stainless steel over 10 days using native yeast. It was aged in stainless for five months prior to bottling. Apricot and lychee fruit aromas dominate the welcoming nose. Hints of savory herb lead the palate. They’re joined by copious amounts of stone fruit, lemon zest, minerals and a touch of orchard fruit. The long finish is layered with continued fruit, spice, minerals and crisp acid. This is a lovely and singular expression of Gewürztraminer loaded with charm.


Markus Wine Co. 2013 Nimmo ($22)

This offering is a blend of Kerner (69 percent), Gewürztraminer (11 percent), Riesling (10 percent) and Bacchus (10 percent). Fermentation took place in a combination of stainless steel and barrel over seven days. Barrel aging occurred over nine months in a combination of French and American oak; 60 percent of them were new. Hints of smoke lead the nose here. The body has some nice weight and heft to it. Lychee, pineapple and lemon curd are all in play. There is a viscosity and mineral-driven nature to the mouthfeel which dances alongside a core of tart green apple notes and spice. The finish is crisp, long and refreshing. All of these elements come together to make this a remarkably appealing wine. This is one of those wines I had trouble putting down.

Lodi California has some truly exciting things going on for wine lovers. Projects like Markus Wine Co. are really setting a new standard. These are remarkably well-priced wines, produced from grapes one might not expect to find in Lodi. Of huge importance, of course, is the fact that they are exceptionally delicious, well-made wines that stand apart from the pack. The wines of Markus Niggli, along with those of quite a few other artisanal family producers in Lodi, are worth a special effort to seek out. Spend your money on these; they will make your tongue do a happy dance.

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Australia and California meet with Jacob’s Creek new Two Lands line

Australia’s Jacob’s Creek has just launched a new line of wines that represents a collaboration with California winemaker Ehren Jordan. For 18 years, Ehren made the wines at Turley, and he has a Napa-based label (Failla) where he produces his own portfolio. He’s worked with numerous others over the years as well. The team at Jacob’s Creek, including chief winemaker Bernard Hickin, reached out and recruited Ehren to work with them on a range of wines made from Australian fruit but with a California sensibility. I recently sat down with both winemakers over lunch in New York City at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse to taste these new releases.


All four wines below have a few things in common. The fruit for all of them came from vineyards in South Australia. Every one of them is a single varietal wine. They’re available widely throughout the United States, but exclusively here, not in the rest of the world. The alcohol content is moderate across the board at between 12.8 and 13.9 percent. Each of the wines has a suggested retail price of $14.

Jacob’s Creek Two Lands 2014 Pinot Grigio – The bold nose is laced with gooseberry and fleshy yellow melon aromas. Those characteristics continue through the palate and are joined by lemon curd and cardamom spice, as well as Anjou pear. The refreshing, crisp, fruity and lingering finish has a nice bit of richness with a touch of crème fraiche. This Pinot Grigio has terrific varietal typicity; more in fact than some well-known Italian examples that sell for almost twice as much. Jacob’s Creek Two Lands Pinot Grigio would be a great wine to hand guests as they enter your home. Nothing more inviting than a delicious glass of wine, but it will also pair well with lighter foods. Drink it in its slightly bold, fruity youth.

Jacob’s Creek Two Lands 2014 Chardonnay – Vanilla bean, toast and white peach aromas light up the generous nose of this Chardonnay. Loads of pear character dominates the palate, followed by lesser amounts of apple and a wisp of pineapple. The spicy and mineral-laden finish shows off white pepper, wet limestone and a bit of clove. This is a good example of Chardonnay that is dominated by loads of pure fruit flavor. It’s delicious all by itself and will work well with white meats or creamy chesses.


Jacob’s Creek Two Lands 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon – The nose on this Cabernet is dense with lots of black fruit aromas. Plum and black raspberry are part of the mix, along with hints of toast. Black fruits, tinged by hints of red, fill the palate which is medium bodied, generous and smooth in nature with not a sharp edge to be found. Dusty cocoa and black pepper emerge on the finish, along with bits of sour black cherry. Velvety tannins and firm acid provide fine structure.

Jacob’s Creek Two Lands 2013 Shiraz – Red and black raspberry, plum and Mexican vanilla bean fill the nose of this Shiraz. Dried blueberry is in heavy evidence on the palate, along with continued bits or raspberry. Sweet, dark chocolate and black pepper dot the lengthy finish. This wine has plenty of giving ripe fruit, but it’s quite proportionate. Sweet, medium tannins add to the excellent mouth-feel. If the only everyday-priced Shiraz you’ve had features some sort of critter on the packaging and tastes like grape juice, try this one out for size — it’ll help adjust your perception.

All four of these wines worked well with a variety of foods. The reds really stood out alongside richer foods such as steak, mac ‘n’ cheese and the like. The whites worked with the lighter dishes but excelled on their own too. With a retail price of $14 it’s likely these will sell for a few dollars less in most stores. For that price you’re getting good varietal character and wines that will appeal to a large group of people. If you’re looking for some wines to enjoy on an everyday basis that won’t break the bank, the Jacob’s Creek Two Lands offerings should be on your radar.

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