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New wine reviews: En Garde

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I’ve always liked the wines of En Garde, which I believe are nearly as good as anyone else’s in Napa Valley, although En Garde’s name isn’t as well known. If I have a quibble—and it’s not just with En Garde, it’s with Napa Cabernet in general—it’s that there’s a sameness across the board. At these ripeness levels, with high alcohol and extensive new oak, terroir tends to be obliterated. There is a certain Napa Valley Cabernet description that can be applied to almost all of them, regardless of where they’re from: east or west, north or south. The best, which include En Garde, tend to be from the mountains, but wineries like Screaming Eagle and even Dominus and Mondavi Tokalon prove that’s not a hard rule. One note: I’ve pointed out before that I don’t understand why En Garde has so many different Cabs under their label. It’s confusing for the consumer, and there’s no reason I can see why they don’t stick to a regular and a reserve. But hey, that’s just me. As for En Garde’s current prices, caveat emptor.

En Garde 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain); $200. It’s always exciting to taste an older wine, and particularly one you reviewed when it was younger, as I did this wine. At the time, I wrote “It screams Age me more!” The tannins then were “hard-edged”; I suggested drinking it into the 2020s. Well now, here we are, less than a year short of 2020, and what do we have? The tannins are still evident: vigorous, firm and, yes, hard-edged. The fruit, then ripe in blackberries, is still enormous, a black hole of cassis and currants. The oak—which nearly dominated the wine back then (60% new French for 28 months) remains aggressive. But its evolution is clear. There’s more orange around the meniscus, or rim. The fruit is more mature, going from freshly picked to slightly stewed. The alcohol (14.9%) is more evident. The wine, in other words, is aging, a grande dame who refuses to admit to the ravages of time. Where does it go from here? Downhill. I would drink this now. If you do open the bottle, consume it all; it won’t last after the air hits it. Score: 93.

En Garde 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain); $300. I had high expectations for this wine. After all, it’s En Garde’s most expensive, and when I initially reviewed it, in 2014, I gave it a pretty high 95 points. (Incidentally, the price then was “only” $118!) I wrote that it was drinkable now, but “try giving it six more years to really show its stuff.” Well, here we are, not quite six years later but close, and what do we have? The aroma is delightful, that of an aged (but not tertiary) Cabernet Sauvignon, and from Napa Valley at that. The fruit is aging, too, with dried currant and blackberry tapenade notes, with still-plentiful toasted oak and a savory herbal edge. As for the tannins, they’re as mellow as a velvet glove. The alcohol—14.9%–makes it a little hot, and you’ll want to decant it, to judge by the deposit of sediment at the bottom of the glass. It’s better than the regular 2007, not by much, and not enough to justify the price, but still, it’s a flashy bottle to drink now. And, as with the 2007 regular, you don’t want to leave any of it in the bottle overnight (unless you have some sort of protection against the air), because it will deteriorate rapidly. Score: 95.

En Garde 2015 Adamus Proprietary Red Wine (Diamond Mountain); $100. In certain past vintages Adamus had a Cabernet Sauvignon designation, but this year the blend is only 45% Cabernet, with the rest comprised of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, so it doesn’t qualify for varietal status. Nevertheless, the Cabernet Sauvignon dominates, as it always does, offering powerful waves of blackberries and black currants. The other varieties contribute delicious complexity: ripe cherry pie filling, red licorice, and a wonderful green olive tapenade richness. Meanwhile, aging in 50% new French oak for 27 months brings a lot of smoky vanilla and barrel spice, but the underlying wine is so powerful, it easily handles all that wood. As usual, Adamus is absolutely delicious from the get-go. Sourced from the Sori Bricco (“sunny hillside” in Italian) Vineyard, at an altitude of 2,000 feet, it shows Diamond Mountain’s tannins; in years past they used to be hard as nails, requiring aging, but modern methods make them soft, intricate and sweet. I would drink this wine now and over the next six years. Score: 92.

En Garde 2015 Le Bijou du Roi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain); $120. From the Sori Bricco Vineyard, this is almost entirely Cabernet Sauvignon, with a half-percent of Cab Franc. It is the essence of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a deep dive into black currants and cassis. Inky black in color, it’s a young, tannic wine; the tannins give it astringency. But the fruit is so powerful, it smashes right through, dominating the palate with richness. There’s a ton of new oak but, of course, these gigantic Cabs—from Napa or Bordeaux–easily handle it. Flashy and opulent, it’s high in alcohol (15.5%), with perhaps a little volatile acidity. It might age for a decade; it might not. To be on the safe side, drink now and through 2023. Score: 92.

En Garde 2015 Touché Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $180. This doesn’t have a Diamond Mountain appellation because the grapes come from there as well as Mount Veeder and, across the valley floor, Howell Mountain. It’s mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, with a splash of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, and has been heavily oaked: 100% new French barrels for 27 months. I have tended to give Touché high scores in the past because I love the decadent lusciousness that is balanced with fine acidity and tannins; and so it is again with this 2015. The wine is what the world expects from Napa Cabernet: enormous in fruit, spice, herb and oak complexity. Few wines in history can have been this spectacular, although to be fair, it is somewhat wounded by a surfeit of richness. I would have loved to taste this blind against, say, Shafer Hillside Select or Colgin. The alcohol is high, 15.6%, but it’s not hot, just comforting and rich. I don’t think the wine shows aging potential, but for sheer grandeur, it’s hard to beat. Score: 93.

En Garde 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County); $65. It’s not clear why En Garde chooses to make a Sonoma County Cabernet, since they’re such a Napa Valley-Diamond Mountain specialist. Maybe it’s to have something under $100 to sell. Whatever, this very good wine shows the En Garde signature: ripe, opulent fruit, plenty of oak, refined tannins and a voluptuous mouthfeel that makes it instantly ready to drink. The flavors veer towards sweet summer blackberries and cassis, with a mocha-choca richness and savory spiciness. An elegant, delicious Cabernet of style and substance. Score: 90.

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