#301 Strange Kompanjie Wandering Beeste Petite Sirah 2021
Wine of Origin Coastal Region. The fruit is harvested from vineyards in both Paarl and Agter-Paarl. The grapes were divided in half, with 50% being fermented as whole berries, while the other 50% was fermented as whole bunches. This slightly more gentle approach would have dialled back the sometimes overwhelming tannic elements to the cultivar. Once again it is the bright acidity and fine tannins in the stems that lift the ripe Syrah fruit to a freshness and vitality seldom found in Swartland. Slatey soils.
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The tale of Durif and Uncle Banana
The wine industry seems to be a breeding ground for bad science and romance-over-reality notions on a whole range of topics; from the way soil affects wine flavour through to the manner in which sulphites cause headaches; rendering natural wine the perfect hangover-free indulgence (yeah, that narrative is a thing). But we’d argue that no single cultivar is so full of bumph as the history of the cultivar of Durif.
For starters, the grape was definitely created by accident. In the 1860’s, botanist Francois Durif had a garden on the commune of Tullins in the south of France, within which he kept a range of grape vines. One day, he discovered a completely new, distinct, cultivar in his garden, which he had not planted. He deduced correctly that the red cultivar of Peloursin had been pollenated by one of the other vines, but had no idea which one of his other vines was the randy culprit. It was only in 1999, roughly 135 years later that Californian scientist Carol Meredith from UC Davis used DNA fingerprinting to prove not only that Durif was genetically identical to Petite Sirah, but also that Durif was in fact the child of Syrah.
Now, many will tell you that Monsieur Durif hubristically named the vine after himself, but the reality is that the cultivar was actually named by ampelographer Victor Pulliat in 1868; a good few years after the first vine had been discovered.
There is also the legend out there that says that French Vignerons gave Durif the nickname of “Petite Syrah”, due to the fact that it looked like Syrah, but had much smaller, thicker-skinned berries. The truth, however, is that Durif never really took off in France; certainly not enough to earn it a cutesy nickname. Even today, it is virtually extinct in its homeland.
The truth of the name is that is was given to the Durif grape when it arrived in California. It was first imported by winemaker and landowner, Charles McIver. McIver is reputed to have re-named the cultivar as a marketing ploy; apparently referencing the more famous “Syrah” cultivar. But as Syrah only arrived in the United States in 1878, and remained rather obscure for another 120 years, this seems unlikely.
But while the “why” of it all may be lost to eternal speculation, the relative success of the grape, and its new name was undeniable; especially in the AVAs of Lodi and Paso Robles. Today roughly 80% of all the Durif in the world is to be found in the United States.
But as it turns out, there are other warm new world regions who love themselves a bit of Durif; including Australia, Israel (old world?), and South Africa! If you have yet to sign up for your Monthly HanDrinksSolo Wine Subscription then you won’t be able to sip along as we discuss this guy, but I have left you some tasting notes and a few technical specs:
👃🏼 A huge, extroverted brooding notes of rich black plum, blueberries, leather, and cinnamon.
👄 The palate has a really lovely soft entry of black plum fruit and ripe blackcurrants and black cherry, followd by not so soft staunch, dense tannins. What’s quite impressive is that the wine is in no way jammy, despite having 14.5% alcohol. A smart expression of the cultivar.
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