The Durif grape is named after Dr. Francois Durif, a botanist at the University of Montpellier, France in the late 1800's. He created this new variety by crossing the Syrah grape with the Peloursin variety in the 1870's. His new variety was resistant to a disease called 'Powdery Mildew'. However, the new variety was likely to suffer from rot due to the very tight bunches Durif formed, that meant it did not grow well in its native climate of the Rhone Valley.
Durif is primarily grown in California, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Israel and today only a small amount is planted in France. On some occasions, Peloursin and Syrah vines may be called Petite Sirah, usually because the varieties are extremely difficult to distinguish in old age.
The grape's high resistance to powdery mildew encouraged its cultivation in the early 20th century in areas like Isere and Ardeche, although the relative low quality of the resulting wine caused the grape to fall out of favour with local wineries.
Durif arrived in Australia by way of enigmatic viticulturist Francois de Castella (son of a Swiss-born vigneron), while looking for new vines after phylloxera ravaged most of Australia. He returned in 1908 with Durif, grafted to phylloxera-resistant vines. These were propagated at the Rutherglen Viticultural Research Station and then spread around the region when replanting took place as affected vines were removed.
Durif is known to produce: dark, inky coloured wines with a bright acidity, with firm texture and mouth feel; the bouquet has herbal, black pepper and spice, and typically offers flavours of dark berries and fruits. Compared to Syrah, the wine is noticeably darker and purple in colour, and typically rounder and fuller in the mouth.
The wines are very tannic, with aging ability that can exceed 20 years. Durif can sometimes be rather 'short', that is, the flavour does not linger in the mouth, hence the benefit of blending with another grape which may lack mid-palate depth, but add length and elegance.