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WT101: Zin and Primitivo
Is Zinfandel Primitivo or Primitivo Zin? Even with DNA evidence having confirmed that California's Zin and the Primitivo of Puglia in Southern Italy are genetically identical, there still seems to be much confusion among wine lovers about this luscious variety that was long called a "mystery grape" because its origins seemed shrouded behind history's veil.
The colorful promoter and wine-industry pioneer, the Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy, popularized Zinfandel in California during Gold Rush days, claiming that he had personally brought the grape from his native Hungary. In fact, the historical record makes it clear that Zinfandel - under a bewildering variety of names - had been grown as a table grape in New England, of all places, for a generation before that.
Primitivo, meanwhile, has been popular in Italy's "boot heel" for well over a century, making a similarly big, fruit-forward wine that experts have assumed was a cousin or even a brother to Zinfandel.
It was only since the turn of the millennium that University of California grape scientist Dr. Carole Meredith, working with Croatian colleagues, proved beyond question that Zinfandel traces its origin to a native wild vine called Crljenik Kasteljanski (pronounced "kurlyenik kastelyansky") that grows on the Adriatic coast in Croatia in the former Yugoslavia. (Another Croatian red grape that had been tentatively identified as the parent of Zinfandel - Plavac Mali - proved to be a cousin instead.)
Similar analysis confirmed that Zinfandel and Primitivo are identical twins, not just siblings, although Primitivo's exact route to Southern Italy remains under debate. There's historical evidence suggesting that it actually came back to Puglia from California in the 1890s, but the simple reality that Croatia is just a short hop across the Adriatic from Italy makes it difficult to sustain the hypothesis that it didn't arrive by this more direct route.
You're invited to join our online communities in taking a closer look at Zinfandel and Primitivo as the subject varieties for our monthly Wine Tasting 101, a free program that helps you learn to taste wine and report your conclusions by joining peers in a casual online discussion of the topic of the month.
I've chosen two specific wines as "benchmarks," selected on the basis of similar vintage, alcohol level and price - Renwood 2002 "Sierra Series" Sierra Foothills Zinfandel ($10.99), and A-Mano 2002 Puglia Primitivo ($10.59) - and recommend, if you're willing, that you try these wines in a side-by-side comparison. But you're welcome to participate by posting tasting notes and asking questions about any Zinfandel or Primitivo of your choice. If you can find one, it might be interesting to try an Australian or even a rare French Zinfandel.
For more information about Wine Tasting 101 and to begin participating in the online conversations, click to
If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at email@example.com. I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.
Remarkable wines at unbeatable prices!
Complete 16-page list at our web site:
9965 GROSS POINT ROAD SKOKIE, IL 60076
For today's tasting report, let's follow up on last Monday's topic with another crisp, bone-dry rosé wine - this one from France - that offers a different perspective on pink wines than "blushing" White Zinfandel.Ninet de Pena 2003 Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes Rosé ($8.99)
This wine is a ruby-shaded pink with a hint of orange, rather light in color even for a rosé. Typical of pink wines from the South of France (Cotes Catalanes is in the eastern Pyrenees, where France meets Spain at the Mediterranean), it breathes distinct herbal aromas that surround subtle berry scents. More forward on the palate than the nose, bone-dry and tart red-cherry fruit adds a distinct bitter quality in the finish. A blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache. U.S. importer: Hand Picked Selections, Warrenton, Va. (Sept. 19, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Dry and crisp, it makes an easy match with a variety of fare, going well at dinner with earthy Italian Taleggio cheese, a hearty, slightly sweet eggplant caponata, and grilled skewers of fresh salmon, swordfish and tuna.
VALUE: No complaints at this under-$10 price.
WHEN TO DRINK: The fresher, the better, is the rule for rosé, and even this year-old bottle, although in fine shape, may have shed a bit of its fruit since its release last spring.
WEB LINK: The U.S. importer has information about Chateau de Pena's wines, including a link to an online Word document about the rosé, here:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Research Ninet de Pena on Wine-Searcher.com, click
California Wine Club:
During The California Wine Club's September Wine Sale you can save up to 58 percent off normal retail! Stock up for the holidays with award-winning wines from California's best boutique wineries. Click here to view the full list of wines on sale:
Super Savers just $5.50 per bottle! Past Member Favorites just $99 per case. Call 1-800-777-4443 to order or visit the Wine Store at
As always, The California Wine Club makes a fun and unique gift! Just $32.95 per month plus shipping and includes a beautiful 12-page, full color magazine.
This full, ripe and amiable California Merlot is one of the many offerings on California Wine Club's September Wine Sale. At just over $10 for a bottle, it's a hard buy to resist.Eagle & Rose 1999 Napa Valley Merlot ($10.50)
This is a very dark reddish-purple wine is full, ripe and "meaty," with characteristic Merlot aromas, black cherry with back notes of dark chocolate and oaky spice. Mouth-filling and round, big tart-cherry fruit is built on a muscular frame of fresh-fruit acidity and soft tannins. This is a serious Merlot, showing significant aging potential at five years after the vintage. (Sept. 14, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: A wine made for red meat, it worked nicely with an Italian-accented dinner, rigatoni pasta with a quick Bolognese-style sauce fashioned from pork and veal.
VALUE: Outstanding value at California Wine Club's $10.50 sale price; the winery suggested retail was $18.
WHEN TO DRINK: Drinking well now, but its body, structure and tannins suggest that it will easily keep for up to five years under good storage conditions.
WEB LINK: The Eagle & Rose Website offers information about the winery, its wines and wine club offerings.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Available in California Wine Club's September Wine Sale,
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Randy's World of Wine: Zinfandel is Autumn Under Glass
Bucko's Wine Reports: Match your palate to the judges
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Exceptional Pinot Gris (Sept. 17, 2004)
"A Good Year" (Sept. 15, 2004)
The last rosé of summer (Sept. 13, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Shrimp and grits (Sept. 16, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Monday, Sept. 20, 2004