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En Garde: 2012 Pinots Very Promising

In July 2014, I reported on my first exposure to the 2012 wines of Csaba Szakal, the proprietor and winemaker of En Garde Winery in Sonoma Valley. Csaba launched his winery originally in Livermore in 2007, but soon quit his day job as a computer programmer, moved to Santa Rosa, and pursued fruit sources from the Russian River Valley. He began crafting his wines at the Mayo Winery facility in Sonoma Valley and opened a stylish tasting room nearby on Sonoma Highway.

The first En Garde Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs were released from the 2008 vintage. I visited Csaba this past summer and tasted some of the 2012 Pinot Noirs from barrel. I recently had the opportunity to taste the same wines from bottle. The vineyard-designated and reserve wines are still very young and the aromatics haven’t fully arrived, but the wines are very promising and will show much better when released in the spring or summer of 2015.

Csaba told me both of his Pinot Noir vineyard sources were picked at about 25º Brix. The different clones were picked and processed individually over a two week period in early mid-October. Fermentation was whole berry with 10%-25% whole cluster after a 4 to 5-day cold soak. The Pinot Noirs were aged 10 - 18 months sur lie with battonage over the winter. The wines were bottled unfined and unfiltered.

2012 En Garde Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 175 cases, $48. Released September 1, 2014. Martini and Pommard clones. Aged 10 months in 28% new French oak barrels. · Moderate cherry red color in the glass. Shy aromas of dark cherry with hints of nutty oak. Middleweight flavors of black cherry, dark raspberry, plum and cola with oak and dried herbs in the background. Very approachable and easy to drink, with supple tannins and a bright cut of acidity on the dry finish. Two bottles tasted. Score: 87-88

2012 En Garde Starkey Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 125 cases, $54. Release summer 2015. 25% “828,” 25% Pommard, 50% 23. 35-year-old vines planted in Goldridge soil and located just outside the Green Valley AVA. This vineyard is owned by Csaba’s spouse’s best friend. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The nose opens slowly in the glass to reveal scents of dusty cherry and strawberry. A plentiful black cherry attack is augmented with notes of spice, cola and tea. Nicely crafted with supple tannins, a good acid underbelly and a lip-smacking, cherry-driven finish. Score: 91-92

2012 En Garde Olivet Court Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 100 cases, $48. Release spring 2015. Martini clone. 40-year-old vines planted in gravelly, clay loam soil located across from De Loach Winery. Aged 18 months in 50% new Francois Fréres oak barrels. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Very shy aromas of cherry and raspberry. Very tasty core of black cherry and black raspberry with a hint of dark chocolate and spice. Modest in weight with muscular tannins and a very lengthy finish. The least showy wine in the lineup, but should blossom with more time in bottle. Score: 90-91

2012 En Garde Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 150 cases, $60. Release summer 2015. Clones “828,” 23, Pommard and Martini. Aged 18 months in 80% new Francois Fréres oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Extroverted nose featuring scents of Bing cherry, spice, tea and sous-bois. Delicious flavors of fresh, perfectly ripened strawberry, cherry and cranberry with harmoniously integrated oak. Very juicy and charming with plenty of grace, tannins so fine as to be imperceptible, and a long, powerfully scented finish. Still hitting on all cylinders the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 93-94

En Garde wines, which including a number of award-winning red varietals other than Pinot Noir, are sold through a mailing list, the website at, and the tasting room. The tasting room is open daily from 11:00 to 6:00. Reservations are recommended for a complete tasting experience, especially enjoyable if the charismatic Casaba presides over the tasting.

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