Tussle between acidity and fruit makes for a sprightly Pinot; Cabernet’s tannins assertive but not abrasive.
Csaba Szakál of En Garde Winery specializes in swoonworthy Sonoma County Pinot Noir and mountain-grown Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. As I noted in Fodor’s Napa and Sonoma, the Hungarian-born owner-winemaker isn’t afraid with the Cabernets to heavy up on the oak to achieve his goal of creating “aromatic, complex, lush, and juicy” wines, but he consistently maintains elegance as well. Private tastings, some hosted by Szakál himself, take place at a small roadside space in Sonoma Valley’s Kenwood. Below are impressions of two recent favorites.
2018 En Garde Starkey Hill Pinot Noir
Light but insistent notes of herbs and not-quite-forest-floor on the nose hint at the complexity of this red-fruity (cherries and pomegranate) Pinot. Upon tasting, a good-natured tussle between acidity and fruit ensues, tempered by a wisp of oak-induced caramel. At barely two years old the wine’s sprightly now; with aging it’ll impress all the more.
2016 Le Bijou du Roi Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
So much to savor in this dense wine that captivates with its assertive but not abrasive tannins, brambly dark-red, blue, and black fruit flavors, dark-chocolate overtones, and a stunning finish. Asked how he avoids harsh mountain tannins, Szakál mentioned several pre-harvest steps, including tasting the skins. “If it takes more than ten chews to break down the skins,” he said, the grapes aren’t ripe enough despite sugar or other measurements indicating they are, so he keeps the grapes on the vine longer.
Why go: family-owned winery; lush, aromatic Pinots and Cabernets; private tastings.