A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Duras - Gaillac, France

Last week we took a good, long look at the Fer Servadou grape and the regions of Southwest France where it can be found.  Fer isn't exactly widespread, but it is definitely grown in a wider variety of regions than its running mate Duras.  Duras finds it home almost exclusively in the Gaillac region of Southwest France (just northeast of Toulouse), with only a little grown in the Côtes de Millau just down the Tarn River to the east.  And that's it.  Duras isn't grown anywhere else in France or in the world, as far as I know.

As mentioned in that Fer post, Gaillac is a very old wine region with evidence of vineyards going back to the first century AD, predating planting and production of their illustrious neighbors to the north, Bordeaux, by a few centuries.  Barbarian invasions in the Early Middle Ages pretty much shut production down for awhile, but it was revived here, as in many places in Europe, by the church around the 10th Century.  The wines achieved some degree of fame during this time, and England in particular was a very enthusiastic market.  Gaillac suffered as so many Southwestern French regions did at the hands of the Bordelais who controlled the shipping of wines into and out of the port at Bordeaux.  Stiff taxes made the cost of doing business prohibitively high for many, and the region's reputation the global scene suffered as a result.  Phylloxera and two world wars have also taken a heavy toll in the more recent past.

Which is a shame, because in addition to the wealth of interesting grapes in Gaillac, the region is also blessed with a good climate for grape growing and with many interesting terroirs.  The Tarn River runs through the center of the region and many vineyards are planted along its banks on gravelly, pebbly soil with a high clay content and chalk subsoil.  As you move away from the river, you move into some of the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains.  The slopes get steeper around here and the soil base is mostly sandstone.  The most important climactic feature of the region is the vent d'autan wind that blows up from the southeast.  It's a dry, hot wind that helps to prevent fungal disease for the vines during the ripening season by blowing off the damp, cool conditions that fungi thrive in (which is an especially nice feature, since Duras is particularly susceptible to several of these fungi).

About the Duras grape itself, there isn't much to say.  It's unclear where the name of the grape comes from, except to say that it has no connection with either the Côtes de Duras near Bordeaux or the Durasa grape from the Piedmont region of Italy.  Duras buds early, which can be a problem in Gaillac as Spring frosts are common enough to be an issue.  The only thing known about its family history is that it is one of the parents (along with Petit Verdot) of a nearly extinct Burgundian grape known as Tressot.  It is the most widely planted red grape in Gaillac, covering about 1000 hectares of land in 2000, which is about 10% of all plantings in Gaillac.  Like Fer, there is a planting requirement for Duras in Gaillac, meaning that for growers within the AOC boundaries, at least 10% of their red vine plantings must be devoted to Duras.  Red wine from the Gaillac AOC must contain at least 40% of some combination of Fer and Duras, with Syrah and Gamay generally making up the difference.

I was able to pick up a bottle of the 2008 Genouillac "Burgale Rouge" bottling from my friends at Bin Ends for about $10.  This wine is 70% Duras, 15% Fer and 15% Syrah.  In the glass, the wine had a deep, inky purple-ruby color with a violet rim.  The nose was a little shy with some aromas of black cherry and blackberry fruit, but there was also a meaty, black-pepper character to it as well.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with medium acidity and fairly high tannins.  There were stewed black fruit flavors, charcoal, black cherry, blackberry, smoke and a lot of black pepper.  The fruit character was a little lean and muddled, but the earthy, smoky, peppery characteristics were there in spades.  The whole time I was drinking it I was wishing that I had a nice grilled steak au poivre to eat with it.  As it is, if you're a fan of Rhone-style Syrahs that are heavy on the black pepper, this is going to be right up your alley.  It's also a great value wine at only $10.

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