Primitivo or Zinfandel?
As I mentioned in Monday's discussion of the warm and hearty wines of Southern Italy, wine scholars were surprised to learn recently that the Italian Primitivo grape, long thought to be a "cousin" of Zinfandel, is actually identical.
DNA research by Dr. Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis made that clear, along with conclusively nailing down the long-mysterious progenitor of Zinfandel as the Croatian grape Crljenik Kasteljanski.
The variety was introduced to the U.S. in the early 1800s - not in California but in New England, where it was grown as a table grape called by various names along the lines of "Zierfandler." It came to California during Gold Rush days, and grape historians believe it was probably exported back to Southern Italy's Puglia region (Apulia) later in the century.
It didn't take long for some wine-marketing genius to realize that this discovery opened the door to labeling Primitivo as Zinfandel, a move that could go a long way to boost sales of a wine that might otherwise languish on American retailers' shelves. Regulatory authorities agreed, and now Italian Primitivo Zinfandels are showing up in the marketplace.
Today's tasting features two affordable and devilishly fruity Primitivos, one sold under the Italian varietal name, the other adding the Z-word to the label, albeit in smaller type than "Primitivo."
Here are my tasting reports:
Botromagno 1999 Primitivo "Apulian Zinfandel" ($10.99)
The wine's inky dark-ruby color shows reddish glints against the light. Its kinship with Zin shows in big berry aromas, warm and full, blackberries dancing over a distinct counterpoint of menthol. Full-bodied and ripe berry flavors fill the mouth, balanced by appropriate if not overwhelming fresh-fruit acidity. The wine sees no oak, but a spicy back note adds an element that seems more Italian than New World, so you might call it a "mid-Atlantic" Zinfantivo-Primindel. U.S. importer: Winebow Inc., NYC; Leonardo Locascio Selections. (July 10, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: A great match with medium-rare burgers (in this case, a simple ethnic variation, Yugoslavian-style pleskavica ground-lamb patties with lots of garlic and onion).
VALUE: Compared with the rising toll for Zinfandel, the $10 range qualifies this one as a bargain.
WHEN TO DRINK: I like Zins young and fresh, and this '99 has already been around for a while; but there's no need to panic, as it's showing no serious signs of age.
WEB LINK: The winery Website is online in Italian and English. For the English version, see
You'll find the importer's fact sheet on Botromagno Primitivo at
Terrale 2001 Puglia Primitivo ($6.99)
This very dark garnet wine shows simple, plummy fruit at first, but it opens up with swirling in the glass to reveal ripe blackberry aromas. Full, juicy and fresh, it shows mixed berries and lemon-squirt acidity in a flavor profile that seems more "Zin-like" than some Primitivos. The color and contrast knobs seem turned down a bit in comparison with big, flashy Zins, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. U.S. importer: Palm Bay Imports Inc., Boca Raton, Fla. (July 1, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: It might seem like a cliche, but this snappy, fruity red made a great match with lasagna.
VALUE: Fine value, exceeds expectations at this low-end price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Drink up in the next year or so, while it's young, fruity and fresh.
WEB LINK: For importer info on Terrale Primitivo, click to:
My typing fingers got to flying faster than my brain on Monday, when I erroneously listed Aglianico as the primary grape in Southern Italy's bargain red wine Salice Salentino. It's actually Negroamaro, as several of you were kind enough to remind me; plus a bit of Malvasia Nera in the blend.
Some days I really need an editor ...
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Friday, July 11, 2003