Durif; power and presence
As the mercury drops, the days shorten and the winter westerlies begin to bite, it’s time to push the white wines aside and reach for the big brooding reds that match the cold season cuisine and warm you on the inside. And typically, at least in my house, the go-to drop is normally either Cabernet or Shiraz on these chilly early winter nights – though occasionally an Italian varietal finds its cork being pulled when I’m feeling a little adventurous. It may be a case of auto-pilot engaged, but a chill in the air innately results in a hankering for a big, fruit driven red with equal parts jubiness and tannin. While the mainstream go-to varietals usually do all the heavy lifting, if you’re of the boldness persuasion, there may be another lesser known varietal that hits the robust red bullseye – Durif.
Also known as Petite Syrah the varietal that was birthed in the Rhone Valley in France but has made more of a mark in the USA and Israel. The varietal was named after French botanist, Dr Francois Durif who observed the cross pollination of Shiraz and the little known grape, Peloursin. The style has become popular in California where it is often blended with Cabernet and Zinfandel to add body. In Portugal, it is sometimes used to make port, while in it’s birth country, it is largely ignored.
In Australia, the Durif varietal is muscular and powerful and typically shows dark cherries, stewed plums and lashings of chocolate across the palate. In warmer regions, there will often be ample blueberries and even blackcurrant characters as well. Being so high in tannin the Durif style has 2 to 3 times the antioxidants of light reds; perhaps it could be marketed as the healthier alternative to Pinot Noir?
If you’re looking for a Durif to wash down a hearty stew or slow cooked lamb shanks, you’ll most likely find something suitable from either the Riverina in New South Wales or Rutherglen region in Victoria. In Rutherglen, Durif has been a staple of winemakers for over 100 years. The naturally high levels of sugar and tannin meant that it was well-suited for production of fortified wines; at least when they were popular through the mid 1900’s. Their waning popularity has meant that many local winemakers are now producing single varietal Durif wines and some of them are really very good. I’d suggest looking for the Campbells Barkly Durif that sells at around $50 a bottle but if you’re looking for a cheaper version, there’s always Baileys of Glenrowan Durif which will set you back around $25 a bottle.
Over in the New South Wales Riverina district, the 2019 Calabria Three Bridges Durif is an affordable and perfectly palatable option. The depth of crimson colour in the glass is striking to the eye while the ripeness of the candied blackberry fruit smacks you in the nostrils as you swirl the glass and take that first whiff. Plums, cassis and toasty American oak grace the mid-palate while there’s ample tannins to add a grippiness to the finish. Not a bad drop at the $25 ask and if you ask me, it’s the perfect time of year to sample the savoury and meaty undercurrents that babble alongside luscious fruit eddies of chocolate and licorice in this full bodied petite syrah. Yum.