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Recent wine reviews: En Garde

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Csaba Szakal sent me some of his En Garde wines to taste, so here we go.

I preferred the Cabernets/Bordeaux blends, which are from Diamond Mountain, to the Russian River Valley/Green Valley Pinot Noirs. En Garde’s style veers in a bigger heavier direction, making the Cabs lush and flashy, but I wish the Pinots were more delicate–with the exception of the very good ’13 Gold Ridge. The Pinots are also quite oaky. They are all 2013s, a great vintage; no problem with ripeness and lots of fruit. The Cabs were split between 2011 and 2012. The ‘12s are riper, plusher and richer than in ’11 – and higher in alcohol, too, which doesn’t mean the ‘11s aren’t good. They’re a little leaner but more elegant, although if I had to choose, I’d go with the 2012s. There was one Petite Sirah, from Livermore, and quite good in its own right.

The Cabernet Sauvignons

95 En Garde 2012 Adamus (Diamond Mountain), $100. More Cabernet in the ’12 Adamus than the ’11, and higher alcohol (14.8%), too, all of which makes for a better wine. It has the black currants and cassis, the macaroons, the smoky blueberries and the chocolate, but that herby, olivey tapenade of the less ripe 2011 is gone. It’s richer, smoother, deeper and ultimately more satisfying and fun to drink. Really lovely and complete, and the famously hard Diamond Mountains tannins have been buffed as soft and satiny as a pearl. Delicious now, and will age seamlessly for at least ten years.

95 En Garde 2012 Le Bijou du Roi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain), $118, 14.9% alcohol. Fascinating to compare the ’11 and ’12 Bijous. The latter is of course higher in alcohol by a fairly significant amount because it was a warmer, drier vintage. It is thus richer, rounder and more opulent. Like the ’12 Adamus, it is also higher in the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, presumably because the Cab got riper in ’12. The result is a seriously good wine, delicious right out of the bottle, with soft, complex tannins framing blackberry jam, crème de cassis, dark chocolate, espresso and anisette flavors that finish long and spicy. As rich as the wine is, it’s dry, and the alcohol contributes a welcoming note of warmth. I’m not sure I would age this much beyond six years, but it sure is a rewarding Cab that shows the pedigree of its Sori Bricco Vineyard origin.

93 En Garde 2011 Le Bijou du Roi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain), $108, 14.2% alcohol. This is from the Sori Bricco Vineyard, whose grapes have gone to such wineries as Sterling, Stonegate and Nickel & Nickel. En Garde gets a significant quantity of fruit. The blend is 92.5% Cab, the rest being Petit Verdot and Malbec. As might be expected from a Diamond Mountain, the wine is very dark and quite tannic. For an ’11, it’s a big success, but the vintage, much maligned, was far from bad in the Napa mountains, where rainfall drains right off and the grapes did just fine. The wine brims with young, jammy blackberries and cassis, and the 100% new French oak in which it was aged seamlessly adds notes of vanilla and smoke. This is a gorgeous, sumptuous, elegant and rather fleshy young Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, full-bodied and powerful. Already throwing some sediment, it needs time. Give it at least six years, and it should hold and change in the bottle for a good many years afterwards.

93 En Garde 2011 Adamus (Diamond Mountain), $100, 14.2% alcohol. I must admit it’s not clear to me why En Garde bottles both the Adamus and Le Bijou du Roi. Both are Cabernet-based Bordeaux blends from the Sori Bricco Vineyard. The Bijou has more new oak and a little more Cabernet, and it costs a few dollars more, but still, they’re pretty similar, although I suppose the Bijou is worth an extra point for additional concentration. This ’11 Adamus, like the ’11 Bijou, is very rich and full-bodied. Packed with black currants, macaroons, vanilla and spices, it’s a young wine that really needs time. Like the Bijou, it has a suave, smooth, earthy fleshiness: think olive tapenade. Fancy and elegant, it’s a mountain wine of great intensity that will be better after 2018, and should last a long time.

91 En Garde 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain), $78. There’s been some noise out there in the critical community that 2011 was a bad vintage because it was so cold. What they’re not telling you is that some appellations did better than others, and one of the exceptions is Napa Valley mountain Cabernet. This wine is lighter in body than you’d expect from a Diamond Mountain Cab, but it’s still quite tannic, with a fine core of blackberry and cassis fruit. And it’s very low in alcohol, compared to the winery’s previous vintages, only 13.6%, as opposed to, say, the 2008, which was 16%. The result is much more elegant, as opposed to opulent, with a sleek, streamlined angularity that makes you yearn for food. I would not age this wine beyond 3 or 4 years, though.

A Petite Sirah

92 En Garde 2013 Ghielmetti Vineyard Petite Sirah (Livermore Valley): $38. Alcohol 14.4%. A fine Petite Sirah, inky black at the center, yet with a gorgeous ruby-crimson hue at the very edge. It smells youthful and rich, giving a whiff of blackberries, blueberries, licorice, mocha and something animal, now sweet leather, now crisped bacon. These flavors are replicated in the mouth. The tannins are big and hard, exactly what you’d expect in a young Petite Sirah, and I would not recommend drinking the wine at this time because of the astringency. But there’s an impressive core of sweetness, just waiting to burst out. Best after 2020 and possibly well beyond, as it throws sediment.

The Pinot Noirs

92 En Garde 2013 Gold Ridge Pinot Noir (Green Valley): $54, alcohol 13.8%. The color is lighter and the mouthfeel more delicate than En Garde’s other 2013 Pinots, no doubt because the alcohol is considerably lower. The Gold Ridge soil in which the vines are growing is coveted in the Russian River Valley and along the Sonoma Coast; known as “desert rain forest,” it drains quickly, making it infertile, which is great for concentrated, complex wines. This is a tremendously enjoyable Pinot Noir, so silky and transparent that you can taste the minerality that girds the tart red cherries and cranberries. There’s a spicy, tannic, green tea earthiness that adds to that notion of terroir. The delicacy is pure joy: the wine is complex and experiencing it doesn’t tire the palate. I’m thinking of lamb chops or a filet of Wagyu Kobe beef when I drink this very fine wine.

90 En Garde 2013 Olivet Court Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley): $54, alcohol 14.2%. One presumes this is from the Olivet Road section of the valley, a cooler area to the southeast open to the winds and fogs of the Petaluma Gap. And in fact it shows juicy acidity that smacks of chilly, damp nights. Flavorwise, it’s rich in cherry pie filling, with sweet, toasty oak and tremendous spiciness. Very good, very easy to drink, very upscale, if a little full-bodied.

90 En Garde 2013 Starkey Hill Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley): $54, alcohol 14.2%. The winery says the vineyard is “just outside” Green Valley; It implies a cooler climate, and the wine does have that signature. It’s ruby-colored and translucent, and feels lightly alcoholic, with delicacy and silkiness. There’s a mushroomy earthiness, but by and large the flavors are of fruits: tart pomegranates and cranberries. It’s an intense wine whose 75% new French oak gives smoky, woody and vanilla-tinged notes. Give it 3-4 years in the cellar.

89 En Garde 2013 Pinot Noir Reserve (Russian River Valley): $60, alcohol 14.5%. This is the most expensive of En Garde’s Pinot Noirs, and also the oakiest. It’s highish in alcohol, and finishes a little hot, but it is very ripe and flamboyant, offering scads of black cherries, red currants, licorice, blueberries and tart cranberries. The oak is obvious, with toast and vanilla layered onto the fruit. It’s a bit ungainly in youth; my former colleague at Wine Enthusiast, Virginie Boone, described the 2012 as “wild and dense,” which applies also to this ’13. Might develop bottle complexity by 2018.

88 En Garde 2013 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley): $38, Medium-bodied and a little hot in alcohol (officially, 14.5%), this is a good, all-purpose Pinot Noir for drinking now. It’s quite rich in red berries and cherries, while oak adds a vanilla-white chocolate sweetness. Nice and silky on the palate, with a pleasant, spicy finish. It’s super-easy to drink, with some fancy qualities, and ideal for a juicy steak or filet mignon.

87 En Garde 2013 Pleasant Hill Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley): $54, alcohol 14.5%. The vineyard is in Sebastopol, in the southwestern part of the valley, a cooler region. Yet this is among En Garde’s riper Pinots. The black cherry candy flavors veer into chocolate-coated raisins, and there’s some heat throughout. Yet there’s a fat deliciousness. The wine needs rich, fatty food to balance it out.

  1. Thank you Steve for the amazing words. I am very pleased that you enjoyed the tasting (pretty much over the moon right about now). I would love to cook that rich fatty food in form of an authentic Hungarian goulash for you sometime to pair it with the Pinot.

  2. Bob Henry says:

    Csaba:

    Good thing IPOB is giving up the ghost.

    16% Cabernets won’t get you invited into the Cool Kids’ Club.

    I don’t associate 2008 as being a torridly hot year in Napa, producing ABV in Cabernet Sauvignon on the level of a Zinfandel. Disabuse me of my ignorance.

    Had you considered “watering back” the pressed juice if it came from dehydrated grapes?

    http://articles.latimes.com/print/2004/oct/27/food/fo-wine27

    ~~ Bob

  3. Bob Henry says:

    Csaba:

    You appear to be in good company.

    337 Wine Enthusiast reviews of 2008 vintage Napa Valley Cabs can be found here:

    http://www.winemag.com/?s=2008%20Napa%20Valley%20Cabernet%20Sauvignon&drink_type=search-wine&page=1&sort_by=rating&sort_dir=desc

    These are the Napa Valley Cabs (rated 91 points and above) that had a listed ABV of 16%:

    95 [points] Hundred Acre 2008 Ark Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 16%
    94 [points] Raymond 2008 Generations Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 16%
    94 [points] Hundred Acre 2008 Kayli Morgan Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 16%
    94 [points] Hundred Acre 2008 Few and Far Between Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 16%
    93 [points] Frazier 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 16%
    92 [points] Knights Bridge 2008 Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 16%
    92 [points] Robert Mondavi 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 16%

    ~~ Bob

  4. Bob Henry says:

    With Steve’s indulgence, these are the Napa Valley Cabs (rated 91 points and above) that had a listed ABV of 15%:

    97 [points] Jarvis 2008 Estate Grown Cave Fermented Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    96 [points] Krupp Brothers 2008 Veraison Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    96 [points] Celani Family Vineyards 2008 Ardore Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    95 [points] D.R. Stephens 2008 Moose Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    95 [points] Venge 2008 Bone Ash Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] Shafer 2008 Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon (Stags Leap District) ABV: 15.5%
    94 [points] PerryMoore 2008 Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] PerryMoore 2008 Paradii Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] PerryMoore 2008 Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] Napa Angel by Montes 2008 Aurelio’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] Krupp Brothers 2008 Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] Tayson Pierce 2008 Cuvée Rothschild Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] Frazier 2008 Memento Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] Antica 2008 Townsend Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] Hunnicutt 2008 9-3-5 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] ZD 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] Darms Lane 2008 Bon Passe Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] Parallel 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] B Cellars 2008 Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] D.R. Stephens 2008 Walther River Block Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] Hall 2008 Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    94 [points] Switchback Ridge 2008 Peterson Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] Swanson 2008 Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] Macauley 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] Macauley 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] Villa del Lago 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] Seavey 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] Laird 2008 Mast Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] Krutz 2008 Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] Gallo Signature Series 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] Madrigal 2008 Las Vinas del Señor Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] Louis M. Martini 2008 Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] B Cellars 2008 Syn3rgy Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] Knights Bridge 2008 Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 16%
    93 [points] David Arthur 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] David Arthur 2008 Elevation 1147 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] Janzen 2008 Missouri Hopper Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] Pride Mountain 2008 Vintner Select Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    93 [points] D.R. Stephens 2008 D.R. II Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Tobacco Road 2008 Vitality Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Tobacco Road 2008 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Casa Piena 2008 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Cade 2008 Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Tayson Pierce 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Aurielle 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Clos Pegase 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Cali 351 2008 Founder’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Piña 2008 Firehouse Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] V. Sattui 2008 Preston Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Carter 2008 Coliseum Block Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Meander 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Chappellet 2008 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Tudal 2008 Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Armanino Family Cellars 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Guarachi Family 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    92 [points] Hall 2008 Exzellenz Sacrashe Vineyard Red Wine (Rutherford) ABV: 15%
    91 [points] Axios 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    91 [points] Celani Family Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    91 [points] Laird 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    91 [points] Jean Edwards 2008 Seventy Four-Forty One Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    91 [points] Janzen 2008 Cloudy’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    91 [points] V. Sattui 2008 Vittorio’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%
    91 [points] Coup de Foudre 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) ABV: 15%

    Due to time and space constraints, I have left off wines rated 90 points with ABVs at 15% or higher . . .

  5. Bob:
    Of course we all use that tool as we in California enjoy more sun than most other Cabernet regions in the world. Therefore the vintage would not have to be a hot one but rather a long one. In 2008 we harvested late October and actually had another 10 days of beautiful weather after our harvest. That extra ten days could have added to that precious “hang time” but the fruit was already perfectly if not a bit over ripe at the time of harvest. The 2008 juice was super concentrated and even more so than usual at our Diamond Mountain vinyard. That is why I chose to leave the sugar a bit higher than I am normally comfortable with and I believe the result turned out to be pretty balanced. I would like to hear your take on the 2008 Steve IPOB of course 🙂

  6. Bob Henry says:

    Csaba,

    Thank you for the insights into the growing and harvest season in 2008.

    I am not a dogmatist who blindly declares that higher ABV wines cannot — by definition — be “balanced.”

    Many great vintage Ports that clock in at 20% ABV are balanced.

    Many of the higher ABV wines poured at the recent “Elevating Zinfandel” trade tasting in Los Angeles were balanced. (And yes more than a few exhibited stewed fruit/raisiny aromas and flavors that were a turn-off.)

    By way of example, Hendry’s Zins exhibited “classic” 1970s era characteristics — without a hint of their 15% ABV.

    Let me use this opportunity to reproduce Steve’s reviews of your twin 2008 Cabs:

    90 [points] En Garde 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain District)

    Holding its wines in barrel and bottle longer than most before release, En Garde’s Cabernet shows ample, leathery tannin that will benefit from further aging, in addition to being hedonistically enjoyable now. Cinnamon and clove are the most pronounced aromas and flavors, followed by black currant. ABV: 16%

    91 [points] En Garde 2008 “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain District)

    A mountain of a mountain-grown Cabernet, this is hearty and generous in cherry-vanilla-laden tannins and a leathery grip on the palate. Herbal notes intermix with anise and soy sauce, a taste of black tea and ripe black, brambly fruit upfront. Give the wine time and air to soften. ABV: 16%

    ~~ Bob

  7. I did not mean to imply anything by my comments of course. I just wanted to explain the thought process of my wine making that year. I don’t specifically think that was my greatest effort although the customers loved it. And that is the real test isn’t it. Anyways, I am just amazed by the response from both the professional critics and consumers alike. Btw those reviews were by Virginie Boon so I yet to hear Steves take on the vintage.

  8. Bob Henry says:

    Csaba,

    I found the review here without a byline, so I naturally “assumed” it was composed by Steve:

    http://www.winemag.com/buying-guide/en-garde-2008-cabernet-sauvignon-napa-diamond-mountain-district

    So my apology to Virginie Boone for not crediting the review to her.

    ~~ Bob

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