Primitivo and Zinfandel: Everything You Need to Know

Primitivo is the same grape as Zinfandel, but we’ll get to that later. What every wine lover needs is a red wine made with this exciting and somewhat “primitive” grape. Pour yourself a glass of Primitivo and set up a wine tasting because it’s wine time.

Primitivo has a distinct aroma of dark forest fruits, cinnamon, black pepper, and cloves. The grape is easy to identify as its grapes don’t ripen evenly. You can find green, unripe grapes alongside ripe and overripe grapes in the same cluster. This means wine made with the grape offers fruit aromas with different ripeness, making it incredibly complex.

Primitivo Characteristics

Every grape variety has unique traits. Syrah is rustic and spicy; Sauvignon Blanc is herbal; Petite Syrah offers bright red fruit scents and Cabernet Sauvignon is structured. We can go on: Sangiovese is earthy and Barbera tangy, Pinot Noir is smooth as silk, and Primitivo, well, that isn’t very easy to say.

Not only does Primitivo has a distinct spicy aroma reminiscent of cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and dark forest fruits, but it also has an impressive deep red to dark color. Berry-sweet aromas such as raspberries, black cherries or blackberries are also typical. Furthermore, it frequently has hints of vanilla and chocolate.

Primitivo, AKA Zinfandel, produces full-bodied red wines with residual sugar. Still dry, these wines are fruity on the nose and palate with medium acidity and high alcoholic warmth. Zinfandel grows best in warm, dry areas, from Central California (like Plymouth, California) and Southern Italy to Croatia.

Zinfandel grows where few other grapes thrive, and, as long as the weather is correct, it makes no distinction — it is one of the most popular Amador County wines and a favorite in Puglia, Italy. Zinfandel is synonymous with California wine, but the grape is not American by any means. You can find hand-crafted wines made with a variety worldwide.

Is Primitivo an Italian grape? Although one of the most famous wines made with the grape, Primitivo di Manduria, comes from Puglia, the grape is native to the other side of the Tyrrhenian sea, in Croatia, where it’s known as Tribidrag and Crljenak Kasteljanski.

Facts about Primitivo/Zinfandel

Zinfandel has been dubbed “America’s grape,” but it originated in Croatia and was likely brought to the United States in the early 1800s.

• Primitivo is derived from the Latin word “primativus” and the old Italian word “Primaticcio,” both of which mean “early ripener” or “first to ripen.”

• White Zinfandel isn’t really white wine; it’s pink! Or rather, vino rosato. This wine is pleasantly sweet.

• The third Wednesday of November is National Zinfandel Day (yes, Zin pairs well with turkey!).

• Zinfandel is known for uneven ripening, so bunches must be left on the vine to ripen fully. This results in high sugar levels in some berries, which leads to high alcohol levels in the wine.

Which dishes does Primitivo/Zinfandel go best with?

Primitivo is ideal for grilled and smoked meat, barbecue, sticky ribs, Asian stir-fries, and any food with subtle sweetness, especially on the savory side. The red grape also shines with lamb, goat, roasted poultry and game.

Key dates in Primitivo and Zinfandel history:

International Zinfandel Day is on November 16th

1870: The term Primitivo is first documented in Italian government publications.

1967: Zinfandel has long been known as “America’s vine and wine,” but when the University of California, Davis (UCD) professor Austin Goheen visited Italy in 1967, he noticed that Primitivo wine tasted like Zinfandel.

1968: Primitivo arrived in California in 1968, and in 1972, ampelographers declared it identical to Zinfandel.

Want to read more? Try out these books!

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References:

  1. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. Jancis Robinson 2012
  2. Wine. Years. People. Events. Massandra Wine Collection 2010
  3. The World Atlas of Wine: 8th Edition. Johnson, H & Robinson, J. 2019

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