There should be more Napa Valley rosé. We live in a Mediterranean climate and eat Mediterranean cuisine. Most of us live outdoors on our decks and patios in the summer and nothing is more appealing on a hot summer day than a chilled glass of rosé. Even better? A dry, ethereal rosé made in the Provencal style of southern France. France is the world’s largest producer of rosé with 28% of global production and Provence represents 40% of that. Americans love these wines apparently, with retail sales of Provence wines rising 28% for the year ending September 19, 2009 vs. 4% growth for the table wine category overall (Nielsen). Provencal rosés are made with minimal skin contact to yield the palest of hues and the most mouthwatering berry fruit without the residual sugar. These wines pair with a truly broad range of food.
Azur Wines, owned by Julien and Elan Fayard, is one of a handful of Napa Valley producers that make predominantly rosé wines. Julien crafts the wines in the manner of his family’s estate, Chateau Sainte Margerite, in the Cotes de Provence appellation which represents 75% of rosé production in the greater Provence region. Ch. Sainte Margerite has the distinction of being one of only 18 estates of about 355 in Cotes de Provence that are ranked as a high quality Cru Classe. Fayard made the wines at the estate before coming to the Napa Valley and it shows in the finesse of the Azur wines.
The 2009 Azur Rose ($26, 500 cases) has cherry and red berry flavors with a hint of citrus, balanced acidity, richness and depth, and a lingering finish. This is an elegant style of rosé reflecting California fruit and Fayard’s winemaking philosophy. The blend is 90% syrah and 10% semillon, whereas in Provence, the wines would also include grenache and cinsault. Fayard says that when grenache is not exactly ripe, it loses some of its flavor, whereas syrah is more consistent. He adds white semillon (a small amount of certain white grapes like semillon also being allowed in Provence) for richness and mouthfeel. Sixty percent of the fruit is from Napa Valley and 40% from the Sierra Foothills, where Fayard says the diurnal temperature swings are greater resulting in balanced fruit.
One notices right away that his rosé has balanced acidity versus high acidity and that’s stylistic. Julien and his wife Elan who is the marketing director, believe in enjoying rosé with food and restaurants are their best customers. Fayard says that the wine should “sit in the mouth, not jump in the mouth” so as not to overwhelm the palate, and food. Making a more elegant style of rose also makes it suitable for enjoyment year-round according to Fayard.
Fayard also makes a about 250 cases of sauvignon blanc and even smaller number of a proprietary red. The 2009 Azur Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc ($26, 250 cases) has pronounced tropical passion fruit aromas and ripe lingering citrus flavors, with fresh but not assertive acidity. Fayard retains the acidity in this warmer region by growing a larger canopy which shades fruit and delays ripening, and then de-leafs late.