Are you a fan of rich Primitivo wines from Puglia or do you enjoy the off-dry and powerful Zinfandel wines of California? Surprisingly, these wines are crafted from the same grape variety. Just like how Pinot Gris goes by different names worldwide, this versatile grape variety has acquired various identities, with Grenache being known as Garnacha to some.
But what does this mean for your wine preferences? Should you avoid one if you enjoy the other, or do they share common characteristics? Let’s delve into the world of this grape variety and explore the wine regions it calls home. By the end of our exploration, you’ll be eager to uncork a bottle of something delightful, whether it’s labeled as Primitivo (except when specifically referring to California) or Zinfandel. Remember, despite the different names, they are essentially one and the same.
While we’ll stick to calling the grape Primitivo, it’s interesting to note that its original name is ‘Tribidrag,’ originating in Croatia. Regardless of the name tag, Primitivo grapes are renowned for yielding bold and robust red wines. Typically boasting a high alcohol content, winemakers meticulously manage this aspect, fine-tuning it through the unique terroir of their vineyards and winemaking techniques. Expect full-bodied wines with rich tannins, while maintaining a relatively low acidity. Often described as “jammy,” these creations are decadent and perfect for warming up chilly evenings.
Fruit enthusiasts will revel in the enticing flavors of blackberry, strawberry, blackcurrant, raspberry, cherry, and plum found in Primitivo wines. Furthermore, Primitivo handles oak aging admirably, introducing delightful tasting notes and enhancing the natural spicy character of the grapes. Brace yourself for hints of bramble, baking spice, cinnamon, coffee, dark chocolate, tobacco, cedar, vanilla, and, almost always, a peppery kick (both black and white).
If this wine style resonates with you, exploring other renowned Italian grape varieties like Dolcetto from Piedmont and Nero d’Avola from Sicily is well worth your time. Now, let’s dive into the fascinating worlds of the two major production centers for this exceptional grape variety: Puglia and Primitivo vs. California & Zinfandel.
Starting with Puglia, often referred to as Apulia, it is situated at the back of Italy’s boot outline, akin to Veneto. Puglia boasts some truly exceptional wines, gaining recognition in recent years, with Jancis Robinson h
ailing it as ‘Italy’s New World Wine Region.’ In addition to Primitivo, Puglia is home to noteworthy grapes such as Negroamaro, Nero di Troia, and Montepulciano. The Italian style of Primitivo distinguishes itself from its Californian counterpart by being lower in alcohol and slightly fresher, featuring more defined peppery qualities due to Puglia’s cooler climate.
Now, let’s traverse the Atlantic to the expansive Californian wine region. Zinfandel has firmly established itself as a key player alongside Bordeaux-style blends. Explore not only Napa Valley but also lesser-known gems in the vast Californian wine region, such as Alexander Valley in Sonoma, Paso Robles, and Lodi, credited with producing 40% of Californian’s premium Zinfandel.
Californian Zinfandel embraces a jammy and fruit-forward nature, similar to its Italian counterpart. However, it stands out with
notably higher alcohol content and carries concentrated sugars, lending it an off-dry character. This distinctive trait is attributed to the Californian phenomenon known as ‘hang-time’ and the
uneven ripening of Zinfandel grapes. Winemakers counter this by allowing extended ‘hang-time,’ resulting in some grapesraisining and intensifying sugar concentration, producing nuanced flavors of raisins and dried figs.