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Red Wine Varieties
ORIGIN OF DURIF
Durif is a red grape variety, released in 1880 by Dr Francois Durif, a grape nurseryman with an experimental vineyard in southern France, who named the variety after himself. It grew from a seed he extracted from fruit of the old French variety Peloursin. Durif didn’t know the pollen source at the time, in fact it remained a mystery until 1998 when DNA paternity analysis methods similar to those used with humans confirmed it was Syrah (aka Shiraz). So Durif is the unintended offspring of a cross-pollination between Peloursin and Syrah, which means it received half of its genes from each of these varieties.
Peloursin is a very old French variety from the Isere region of France, on the east side of the Rhône River. Syrah is the ancient noble variety from which the great Northern Rhône wines of Côte Rôtie and Hermitage are made.
The variety was introduced to California in 1884 where some growers referred to this low yielding type of Syrah as ‘Petite Syrah’, the other name commonly used for Durif in some parts of France. By 1900 this had morphed into ‘Petite Sirah’, a name used for several varieties in California at the time, but most of it was probably Durif. It was introduced into Australia by pioneering Viticulturalist Francois de Castella in 1908.
Australia and California have the largest known plantings of Durif/Petite Sirah. The variety never gained prominence in France.
The "petite" in the name of this grape refers to the size of its berries and not the vine, which is particularly vigorous. The leaves are large, with a bright green upper surface and paler green lower surface. The grape forms tightly packed clusters that can be susceptible to rotting in rainy environments. The small berries create a high skin to juice ratio, which can produce very tannic wines if the juice goes through an extended maceration period. In the presence of new oak barrels, the wine can develop an aroma of melted chocolate.
A typical Durif can be characterised as having a deep, almost impenetrable, colour, with earthy, peppery aromas, a full palate displaying ripe berry fruit flavours and a firm tannin finish. In short, the Durif shows immense power and richness – a red wine with attitude!
No wonder the wine is renowned for its ageing potential, with examples that are 10 or even 15 years old still showing astonishing verve and freshness.