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Durif

The Durif grape was developed by Dr. Durif, a French nurseryman living in the south of France in the late 1800's. He created this new variety by crossing the Syrah grape with the Peloursin variety. His new variety was resistant to a plant disease called Powdery Mildew. However, the new variety was more likely to suffer from rot due to the very tight bunches that Durif formed. That meant it did not grow well in its native climate of the Rhone Valley of France. The Durif performed much better in the sunnier and less rainy climate of California where the grape was eventually planted. It was mistakenly identified in California for almost a century as Petit Syrah (also variously spelled Petite Syrah, Petit Sirah and Petite Sirah). It was only through DNA testing in the late 20th Century by Dr. Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis that the mistake was discovered. In 2002, the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (notice 941 - April 10, 2002) indicated that they would consider labeling of wines as Durif or Petit Syrah as the same. Although Durif is the true, original name of the grape, the BATF felt that long-term use of the name Petite Sirah as the name within the United States had made that name equally valid.

The Durif make pleasant, full flavored red wines but has never been especially popular with either wineries or consumers. The grape is grown mostly in California (where it is still often labeled as Petite Sirah) and in Australia. It does best in warmer climates where rot is less of a problem. Durif was most used in California in the 1950's through the 1970's as a component of generic red wines labeled as Burgundy. The high productivity of the variety (in the range of 4 to 9 tons of fruit per acre) made it a positive financial component of these jug wines. The Durif produces small berries which means a greater percentage of skin surface in relation to the overall mass of the berry. This means that the wines can be very tannic if the winemaker does not limit the skin contact during fermentation.

The wines made from Durif are usually firm, full flavored wines rich in tannin and often with an unexpected degree of acidity. The wines often have 'black pepper' overtones and sometimes have an 'herbal' or 'green' character. Depending on the style that the winemaker choses, the wines can vary from soft and short lived to very robust (sometimes "over-the-top") and able to age for a decade or longer. Durif wines are almost always better when served with foods such as roast beef, stews and full-flavored, mature cheeses rather than as a cocktail wine.

This wide variation of styles may be a contributing factor to the lack of acceptance by many consumers. A wine drinker that tries a Durif and likes it may be put off when he later purchases another brand and finds a completely different and unacceptable style (at least unacceptable to that consumer). Most wine consumers like wines that are 'reliable' in terms of delivering a fairly consistent style for thier money.