En Garde Winery: A Pinot Noir Gem in Sonoma Valley
En Garde Winery is not your typical California Pinot Noir producer. The proprietor and winemaker is Csaba
Szakál, a former computer programmer and a fourth generation winemaker from Hungary, a country with a rich
history of wine dating back to at least Roman times, but best known here in the states for Tokaji. Many of the
En Garde Winery accolades in the wine press and wine competitions have come from the winery’s Diamond
Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon selections. The tasting room is located in Kenwood and the wines are crafted in
Sonoma Valley, not a hotbed of Pinot Noir compared to other parts of Sonoma County. That said, the wines are
crafted from superb vineyard sources in the Russian River Valley, and represent some of the best Pinot Noirs
that Sonoma County has to offer. Although Csaba looks a bit menacing in the photo below, he is very charming
Csaba ferments in small bins, using gentle punch downs, and the flexibility to experiment with differing yeasts.
After 17 months sur lees maturation, he and his spouse Sandy taste every barrel and choose the favorites for
the reserve program and those wines that best represent the terroir for the single-vineyard bottlings. The final
blends are thus created with both a male and female perspective.
Currently, four Russian River Valley Vineyards are incorporated in the Pinot Noir lineup. Olivet Court Vineyard
is across the street from DeLoach in Santa Rosa and was planted in the early 1980s with two different Martini
selections. Starkey Hill Vineyard and Pleasant Hill Vineyard are just outside the border of Green Valley in
Sebastopol, facing each other on the opposite sides of a hilly area with dramatically different sun exposure.
Starkey Hill is planted to 30+-year-old vines and Pleasant Hill to 25+-year-old vines. The newest vineyard addition is Gold Ridge Vineyard located on Gold Ridge Road in Sebastopol on the western border of Green
Early harvest in 2013 was mid to late September. RC212, RA17 and AMH proprietary yeast strains were used
along with wild yeasts from the vineyards. The wines were aged in three-year Francois Frères oak barrels from
Allier and Bertrange.
I have tasted and reviewed En Garde Pinot Noirs since the 2010 vintage, and each year the wines have shown
an incremental increase in quality with the 2013 vintage wines the best to date. I preferred these wines over
the boisterous 2012 vintage wines because of their approachability, vibrancy and balance.
2013 En Garde Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 200 cases, $45. Martini, Pommard and 23
clones. Aged 17 months in French oak barrels, 25% new. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light cherry red
color in the glass. Bing cherry is the theme in this light to mid weight, forward drinking wine with added flavors
of baking spices, dark chocolate and cola. The tannins are silky and the modest black cherry finish satisfies.
The wine shows Russian River Valley typicality and represents an ideal entry wine.
2013 En Garde Olivet Court Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., 75 cases, $54. Martini clone.
Harvest Brix 25.0º. Aged 17 months in French oak barrels, 33% new. Unfined and unfiltered.
cherry red color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, sarsaparilla and herbs lead to a mid weight styled wine with a
mix of fruity and savory elements including Bing cherry, marzipan, spice, herbs and shitake mushroom. Silky in
the mouth with seamless integration of tannins and acidity.
2013 En Garde Starkey Hill Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
100 cases, $54. Clones are 32, “828,” and
Pommard. Harvest Brix 25º. Aged 17 months in French oak barrels, 75% new. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Shy, but pleasant aromas of an array of dark red berries. The
mid weight blueberry core is inviting, as is the juicy finish. Like all the En Garde wines, the balance is
impressive in this mid weight wine that sports complimentary oak enhancements and a soothing mouthfeel.
2013 En Garde Pleasant Hill Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
100 cases, $54. Clones 115 and 667. Harvest
Brix 25º. Aged 17 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderate reddish purple
color in the glass. Supportive oak embellishes the black raspberry fruit on the nose. Impressive attack of
luscious black raspberry and black cherry fruits that are well spiced and accented with oak. Lively, with
perfectly matched tannins, admirable harmony, and noticeable finishing power and length. The finish is
2013 En Garde Gold Ridge Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
100 cases, $54. Clones 667,
“828,” and 115. Harvest Brix 24º. Aged 17 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. Unfined and unfiltered.
moderately light cherry red colored wine is a cherry bombast. Aromas of fresh cherry and earthy flora lead to a
red cherry, strawberry and spicy array of flavors having noticeable mid palate richness that trails off slowly on
the long finish. There is good cut for vibrancy and silky tannins making this forward drinking wine very
2013 En Garde Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
cases, $60. Clones are Martini, Pommard, 23, 667. Aged 17
months in French oak barrels, 83% new.
purple color in the glass. The nose is somewhat reserved,
opening slowly to reveal lovely aromas of black cherry, spice and
bark. A gorgeous black cherry cola core alerts the taste buds,
offering more pop than any other wine in the 2013 En Garde
lineup. There are more substantial tannins and more oak infusion, but
the composite picture is harmonious. Bold, with serious intentions, yet
seductive and refined. I liked this wine incrementally more over time in
the glass and even more the following day from a previously opened and
The En Garde wines are available online at www.engardewinery.com. The Tasting Lounge at 9077 Sonoma
Highway in Kenwood is open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.. Private tastings are availably by appointment.