One of my early grape loves was Zinfandel with its fruity, often jammy and fairly loud character that pairs great with barbequed foods. As my wine knowledge increased, so did my desire for more nuanced Zinfandel which I found in Northern California. Then the Italian grape Primitivo popped into my world at a tasting of Primitivo wines from the four appellations in Puglia, Italy. Following that just a few years ago I attended a press trip to Puglia where Primitivo from Gioia del Colle was a main star.
And now, Gwendolyn from Wine Predator choosing Primitivo as the Italian Food, Wine and Travel group November theme was a great reason to open four Primitivo bottles.
Primitivo? Zinfandel? Are they the same thing? In fact they do look and taste similar, and thanks to genetic research from a team at UC Davis in California they are the same grape but from different clones.
Primitivo’s home turf in Puglia is Gioia del Colli where the wines are generally fresher with more finesse than those from warmer areas further south showing up fuller and richer. They’re both nice, just slightly different profiles depending on location.
Four From Puglia
From smaller to larger production, each of the families below, located in the heal of Italy, show commitment to leaving the land they farm in better shape for the next generation. They care about the earth, not using chemicals, and incorporate other fauna and flora, and sometimes music (Fatalone)! From vintages 2013 to 2017, each wine is drinkable now yet has the structure to age from three to eight+ years. And despite having higher alcohol, none are jammy.
Disclosure: The wines for this post were provided as samples. No compensation was involved and all opinions are mine.
Located southeast of Bari next to the Murgia limestone plateau, Francesco Dibenedetto and family began l’archetipo in 2010 after years of farming organically and biodynamically. An inquiry about soil, vine, and overall winery health surfaced resulting in a synergistic approach to pursuing viticulture as well as Triple A association. The synergistic approach is about synergy of all organisms on the property. To learn more, my previous article explains the approach. And to learn about Tripe A click here. Simply put, farming here is about the coexistence and nurturing of all life.
Mistico – Salento IGP 2015
100% Primitivo from six hectares of twenty year old vines saw eight months of skin maceration followed by spontaneous fermentation, then 18 months aging in stainless vats after which time the wine was moved to large wooden barrels for 24 months. No fining or filtering.
Deep ruby in color with a mixed berry bowl of rich, ripe and intense fruit scents. The rustic, chewy, and bright palate reminds me of forest spice and wet soil. Given the length of maceration and aging, the wine is incredibly fresh with medium acidity, body and length.
Alcohol: 16.5% Price: from $22 to $40 depending on where you reside in the world.
Oenologist Giovanni Aiello is located in Castellana Grotti in Puglia not far from Bari. He studied in the Veneto, Australia and California before returning to Puglia.
Also producing Primitivo (just 2.5 hectares in Gioia del Colli) but a different style from l’archetipo. He strives for fresh, energetic wines that show “the style of the area in the glass of wine”. Short whole bunch fermentation is completed followed by eight months of aging in multi-use barrels and six months in bottle. No fining or filtering.
Chakra Rosso 2017 – IGT Pulia (100% Primitivo)
Ruby red color with ripe cherry, cinnamon and fennel scents that carry to the bright and round palate. Although full in body with chewy, medium tannins, the medium acidity makes it quite elegant, refined and impeccably balanced on the medium+ finish.
Alcohol: 14.5% Price: 20€.
Located in Gioia del Colli just 40 minutes from Bari, Pasquale Petrera is vine grower and winemaker where eight hectares of Primitivo thrive on limestone and clay soil. At 400 meters (1,300 feet) they’re almost the highest of 15 wineries in the small DOC. Primitivo production is barely 60,000 cases. Pasquale’s family was the first to bottle wine here in the relatively young DOC: 1987.
One of the different things about this DOC is the weather- it’s slightly cooler than the more well-known Manduria and Salento areas at the bottom of the Puglia heal. Pasquale prefers to take advantage of this and preserve acidity. He hand harvests “at the right time to render the most authentic expression of the grape”; for him this is slightly under ripe.
And when it comes to farming, they’ve never used chemicals and prefer harmony and peace on the estate. Farming is organic utilizing various biodynamic techniques. One hundred percent of energy comes from solar panels resulting in zero CO2 emissions.
Fatalone Primitivo Riserva 2015
Petrera does a 36-hour whole berry maceration followed by one year in used oak of varying ages (they keep their barrels on average 15 years).
Less ripe black berry, cherry, and plum scents are prevalent. After fifteen minutes, another layer of scents surface and follow to the palate: balsamic notes, carob, and clove. Petrera achieved a very fresh, structurally balanced and elegant wine with dusty-fine tannins.
Alcohol: 15% Price: from $22 to $43 depending on where you reside.
Oenologist Antonio Coppi worked with an Apuglian wine expert, Antonio Zaccheo in his cellar in the 1960s. Zaccheo moved on founding Carpineto in Tuscany and Coppi establish Vini Coppi at the cellar site in Gioia del Colli. He has since passed Vini Coppi onto his three children yet today it’s still very much a family affair with Coppi involved around the periphery. Coppi also founded the Consorzio di Tutela del Primitivo DOC Gioia del Colle, the first of the Primitivo denominations of origin to be recognized in Puglia.
Grapes, olive and almond trees, and cattle are part of the landscape and they don’t use chemical treatments.
Senatore Primitivo DOC Gioia del Colli 2013
The wine pours a pronounced ruby with violet rim hues. Mixed red fruit aromas (cherry, ripe strawberry, black berry), herbs (juniper, oregano), and dried fruit leather with cinnamon waft from the glass. Then on the rich and fruity palate I also get figs and balsamic flavors. It is well balanced by medium+ acidity and fine tannins. The wine aged in large, multi use Slavonian oak barrels for 12 months.
Alcohol: 14.8%. From $20 to $30 depending on where you reside.
Revisiting Primitivo (and Zinfandel) – Items to note:
- Primitivo most likely originated in Croatia (Dalmatia) where it’s known as Tribidrag. The name comes from the Greek word meaning ‘early ripening’, which links with the etomology- the Latin-Roman word Primitivo also means ‘early ripener’.
- First mention was in 1799 by a priest in Gioia del Colli, Puglia, Italy. (It made it’s way to the United States where it’s called Zinfandel.)
- In the 1970s, Zinfandel was studied by a UC-Davis team, completing DNA profiling, then confirmed in 1994 that Primitivo and Zinfandel are the same, however they grow and express themselves differently on different terroir.
- In Italy where Primitivo is the twelve most planted grape, it’s mostly found in Puglia (11,000h).
- Outside of Italy, the US produces the most Zinfandel (19,000h).
- Croatia produces a small amount of Primitivo.
- Alberello training is common (bush vines) yet guyot popularity is increasing.
- Primitivo is sensitive to location due to having thin skin.
- Being a fairly vigorous early to mid-season ripener, yield and picking time are important and depend on the desired wine style.
- Quite high alcohol content is possible due to rapid and high sugar build up, yet less astringent/bitter tannins are present as the physiological side is not necessarily ripened.
- In Puglia it generally produces full-bodied, ripe styles often with dried fruit and licorice notes. But again, this depends on location, when picked and winemaking decisions.
The Italian Food, Wine and Travel Group talks Primitivo!
Is Primitivo the Godfather or Zinfandel? Join our Twitter chat November 6th at 8:00 am PT, 17:00 CET using hashtag #ItalianFWT to find out. Here are several articles from the group just in time for your weekend reading!
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla: “Pasta Fra Diavolo Topped with Stuffed Squid + Li Veli Orion Primitivo 2018”
Terri from Our Good Life: Pumpkin Sage Alfredo with Scallops and Matanè Primitivo
Linda from My Full Wine Glass: Primitivo: Zin’s Not Quite Identical Twin
Lynn from Savor the Harvest: Pouring Primitivo, Four Wines From Puglia
Susannah from Avvinare: Tasting Primitivo di Manduria
Nicole from Somm’s Table: Two Sides of a Coin: Primitivo and Zinfandel (with Ribs Two Ways)
Katarina at Grapevine Adventures: Challenge Your Belief About Primitivo
Wendy at A Day In The Life on the Farm: Primitivo: Old World vs. New World
Jennifer at Vino Travels: Primitivo: Zinfandel of Southern Italy
Gwendolyn at Wine Predator: Godfather III: Turley Zin vs Barricone Primitivo
Really nice post Lynn. Always enjoy your site. Need to expand my cave with more wines from Italy. Great photos and you really put this together very well
Ah, thank you Mitch! I’m happy to assist you with selecting Italian wines, just let me know. You know how much I love them!
SO interesting about the clone differences and how and where they are grown. I suppose that’s proof positive if there were any doubt about terroir affecting the wines, right? Thanks for sharing.
Yes indeed Camilla! I had to pull myself up out of a rabbit hole when it came to researching the two grapes. In fact I got so much information I might have to write a second article ;-D
I am in awe that you kept all 4 wines separate in your mind during the tastings. I have a helluva time with just two LOL.
It’s not always easy Wendy. My serious side takes over and I really get into it!
A great jumping-off point for a deep dive into Primitivo! Not a wine I see often on the shelves locally but now I’m determined to track down a bottle from Gioia del Colli. Thanks for the push!
Absolutely Lauren, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Primitivo from this area.
Like you I was a fan of Zinfandel early on. I had the opportunity to visit Puglia several years back and was blown away by the primitivo–it was about my 3rd glass in when someone told me it was Zinfandel. Fast forward a few years and we were in El Dorado and one of the winemaker’s gave us a crash course describing the different clones. I imagine you’ve only just started down this rabbit hole and can’t wait to read more!
There are many super nice Zins in El Dorado and Amador County. That’s actually where I started drinking them! I’ll revisit Primitivo for sure. The challenge is having many wine rabbit holes to dive into!
When I started my wine journey, it included quite a bit of Zin. We traveled often to Paso Robles and Tobin James was always a first stop. These were big, jammy Zins that after awhile, as my palate evolved, I found too big. I was looking for nuance. So I drifted away from Zin. Mind you, since then times have changed and those over the top Zins are less prevalent, but somehow I never got back tot he variety. That should change, time to dip back in and expand to Zins older sibling from Italy, Primitivo!
I look forward to your article on these two grapes!
I somewhat drifted away from Zins too. Not because I don’t like them, there’s just a lot out there and now they’re impossible to find in Bordeaux, except those mass marketed. And I look forward to hearing about the Primitivo you try Robin!
I love Zinfandel but haven’t had Primitivo. What a great intro to these wines, just hoping I can find them to try. I’m getting more into wine and always appreciate learning about new types!
Good luck finding Primitivo to taste Eileen. I’m sure you’ll be able to at some of the larger wine stores in your area.
The two Primitivos I tasted were just as you described: a fresh, subtle wine from Gioia del Colli and a fuller, richer one from warmer areas further south. Which do you prefer?
I generally prefer the fresher style from Gioia del Colli, however it’s mood and meal dependent. Thanks Linda!
They sound like four beautiful wines and love reading about all the sustainable practices these winemakers are using.
They are Nicole, hope you’re able to tast… better yet, visit them someday!
I love a balanced primitivo (must be the Libra in me). Nice post! I
Ha, ha! And it must be the Scorpio in me that loves the same!