A friend of mine recommended this wine, and I hadn’t gotten around to trying it for almost a year. Finally, I was perusing the California section, saw it, remembered my friend’s recommending it, and picked it up.
Now let me make clear the fact that although I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to wines from Europe and the New World, I am hopelessly lost in the USA section of the wine shop. Crazy, I know, considering it’s the “local” wine to me, but that’s just how it is. As a result, I tread lightly when walking through the California aisle, and depend almost exclusively on recommendations.
When I picked up this bottle, a number of bright red alerts, and sirens, went off in my head. First of all, it is a Chardonnay from California, which makes me worry that it is going to be overly oaked, and possibly have a high-fructose corn syrup-like afertaste. Of course, the name — Toasted Head — further suggested that this might be an oaky wine. When I read the back label, which told the story of the name (something about the toasting of oak barrels), my fears seemed justified. Alert number three appeared when I took a closer look at the label, and discovered that Toasted Head was actually a brand owned by R.H. Phillips. What’s wrong with that? Well, R.H. Phillips is part of Vincor International, soon to be part of Constellation Brands. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing, really, except that these are publicly traded (read: HUGE) companies. And usually, companies of this size are concentrating on the bottom line, which means they are creating wines for the masses, which means there’s a chance you’re going to get a soda pop wine.
Now, that’s not ALWAYS the case. For example, Vincor also owns Kim Crawford, a winery in Australia, and those wines are still pretty damn good.
In any case, I decided to try the Toasted Head Chardonnay with salmon broiled with garlic, dill and butter. It took two sips to realize this was not a match made in heaven, and I quickly dumped the Chard in favor of Kim Crawford Pinot Noir 2004 (review on the way).
My worst suspicions were realized: Toasted Head Chardonnay is oaky, with oak, and more oak. It finishes with a fat, syrupy, butterscotch sweetness that makes it useless with most foods. However, all by itself, it is suitable as a “fireplace” wine, or a wine to drink during cocktail hour (i.e., without food). It may even be enjoyable with a big bucket of buttered popcorn, but I haven’t tried that yet.
Those of you who enjoy a big, oaky Chardonnay should pick up this wine; you will like it. If your palate is more similar to mine — meaning you prefer a little less oak — then pass it by and try something else. Different styles for different smiles, right? Thank goodness we all have unique tastes … otherwise all my favorite wines would always be sold out!
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