From the tasting team

Jeni Port on durif

By Jeni Port

19 Apr, 2022

Durif has a reputation for producing intense, full-bodied wines high in alcohol and tannin. But a cohort of North-East Victorian winemakers are set on exploring the grape's softer side.  

Alpine Valleys winemaker, Jo Marsh, labels her durif - controversially I’d suggest - as The Dapper Durif. 

She even goes as far as to describe her wine under the Billy Button Wines label, grown on the cool slopes of Mt. Buffalo as “perfumed and vibrant.”

Is this ringing a bell? Durif? Dapper? Perfumed?

If it doesn’t, it means you probably tuned out and turned off from durif some years back. If so, it’s time to tune back in.

Times have changed for the grape as new generations of winemakers – mostly in North-East Victoria, its long-time spiritual home – seek its hidden beauty. There’s a lot to get excited about.

A man's hand holding a bunch of overripe grapes on the vineDurif grapes on the vine.

What is durif? 

It’s a grape, originally from the northern Rhône Valley, with two parents. One is shiraz/syrah, the other is believed to be peloursin, a grape which has all but disappeared. 

Combine big, bold, generous black fruits (shiraz) with equally impressive levels of tannin (peloursin) and you have the style of durif – full-bodied, high in alcohol, richness and wrapped in formidable tannins – that established its name in Australia in the 1970s and '80s. 

It’s still a popular style and often referred to as the quintessential, no-holds-barred Aussie red.

It can also be scary.

a male winemaker smells a glass of wine in a barrel roomScion winemaker Rowly Milhinch.

Who is making durif well? 

One of the first makers I met to explore a less “scary” side to durif was Dan Crane, winemaker at All Saints Estate in the early Noughties. He brought the grape’s lovely violet-led aromatics alive, sought less alcohol and thrust the grape’s red fruits to the fore. “It was never my intention to tame it, just to let it sing more,” he once told me. Nick Brown, who worked with Crane and succeeded him as winemaker at All Saints Estate keeps true to that philosophy, pursuing a style that brings forth blueberry, plums and dark chocolate with subtle spice against an elegant backdrop.

A winemaker and a basket pressEldorado Road's Paul Dahlenburg.

Down the road at Eldorado Road, winemaker Paul Dahlenburg planted durif in 2008 using the original Rutherglen clone provided by Stanton & Killeen. He planted it on a cooler site, thus bringing a natural restraint and elevating the grape’s under-estimated aromatics. Sourced from three different vineyards, his Onyx durif captures the inner beauty and soul of the grape. Each vineyard brings its strong points: elegance and florals, backbone and weight, structure and power. It’s a very impressive wine.
Rowly Milhinch at Scion in Rutherglen chooses not to put the grape’s name on his Fortrose red, such is its reputation. He wants the drinker to keep an open mind. Rowly is another winemaker looking to the grape’s medium-bodied side, where its spices, herbs and florals join with dark fruits. Tannins are firm but far from intimidating.

A woman stands in front of some grape vinesJo Marsh, winemaker at Billy Button Wines.

At Billy Button Wines, winemaker Jo Marsh acknowledges that her part of the world – the Alpine Valleys – naturally offers a different interpretation of the grape. Sourcing from such a cooler climate is a most welcome addition to the grape’s repertoire. Once again, the aromatics sing, blueberries and red fruits star, the wine’s weight is more medium in body not blockbuster, the tannins are noted but not dominant.
Jo Marsh labels the grape The Dapper Durif.

More apt might be The Dogged Durif, as the grape keeps re-inventing itself for a different wine drinking audience/generation, refusing to give in to stereotypes.

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