Primitivo / Zinfandel wine grape

Primitivo / Zinfandel
One of the main black grapes of Puglia in southern Italy, Primitivo has now been shown to be the same variety as California’s Zinfandel.  Its name comes from the Latin primativus, meaning “first to ripen”.
 
An earlier name for it was Zagarese, hinting that its origins might lie near Zagreb, across the Adriatic Sea in Croatia.  After a long quest in search of the “Original Zin”, ampelographers discovered rare vines in several Croatian locations that were genetically identical to Primitivo.
 
These had a variety of local names, but by far the oldest was a ninety-years-dead sample of Tribidrag, a variety mentioned as early as the 15th century but no longer grown anywhere.  Botanical rules say the oldest name has priority, so Tribidrag is now the variety’s official title even though no-one has any living vines called that.  Rather gratifyingly, Tribidrag(a) also means “early ripening” – only in Greek rather than Latin.
 
Ironically, Primitivo is, in absolute terms, a mid ripener.  It’s only early by comparison to the really late ripening varieties favoured in the baking Mediterranean heat of Puglia and southern Croatia.  Being early-ripening (for the climate) means its wine is often very high in alcohol but it retains good acidity which, combined with its firm tannins, allows it to age well.
 
A naturally (over)productive variety, it works best in dry areas and poor soils which limit its yields.  Its Italian heartland is on the west of the Salento peninsula (Italy’s “heel”), especially in Manduria where old bushvines on red soils over limestone produce the most concentrated and complex examples.
 
Primitivo produces dense, spicy wine with rich red and black berry flavours, especially raspberry and blackberry, shading into dried fruit on riper examples.  Excessive alcohol and tannin can be a problem, however, requiring careful management in the vineyard.

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