Primitivo wine is a regional specialty of Puglia in Italy, though it has a much wider reach throughout the wine world. The grape that Primitivo wine comes from is grown in various regions throughout the world, and often under different names. What the Italians call “Primitivo” is “Zinfandel” to the Americans, and the tongue-twisting “Crljenak Kaštelanski” and “Tribidrag” in Croatia. If it sounds complicated, don’t fret: Primitivo wine is really pretty simple, and our guide will tell you everything you need to know.
Primitivo wine 101
Primitivo wine comes from the Primitivo grape, grown in various parts of the world but most notably in Italy, California and Croatia – albeit under different names. The grape is black-skinned, high in sugar, and is sometimes known to ripen unevenly. This can lead to raisined grapes at harvest time, sometimes imparting a raisin flavour or quality to the wine itself.
Italian Primitivo wine
Italian Primitivo wine is best known in the Puglia region. If Italy is a “boot”, Puglia is its “heel”. Perhaps unfortunately, Puglia wines have something of an image problem too. A majority of the wine produced in this region is made at the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) quality level. These wines are not necessarily bad, though rules and regulations are less stringent at this level than for wines designated as Denominazione d’Origine Controllata (DOC). Puglia’s best Primitivo wine comes from the Primitivo di Manduria DOC, so this is the one to watch out for.
What does Primitivo wine taste like?
At its best, Italian Primitivo wine from Puglia comes from old vines and thus has a very high concentration of fruit, alcohol and acidity. The top examples will have delicious, jammy fruit flavours, and will be show good balance between its flavours, alcohol and acidity. Lower quality Primitivo wine may lack this balance, and a poor example may strike you as being way too alcoholic, or taste flabby, or be too acidic. Striking a balance is key when it comes to making quality Primitivo wine, be that in Italy or elsewhere.
What other regions produce Primitivo wine?
As we mentioned in the introduction, this grape is cultivated in a number of interesting and diverse regions, but outside of Italy you’re unlikely to find it labelled as “Primitivo wine”. If you like this style but are not looking for an Italian example, your best bet is to look out for a wine that mentions “Zinfandel” on the label, and this is most likely to come from California.
Californians will never say that they make Primitivo wine, but they sure grow this grape. They just call it Zinfandel. Californian Zinfandel is best as a dry red wine, and ageworthy examples can last for half a decade or more, and age gracefully like a fine Bordeaux. A lot of Zinfandel produced here is made in a style intended for early drinking, and will show very expressive lively fruit very early on. This is a very fun style of wine, and is often recommended to be enjoyed on a hot summer’s day with BBQ food. Quite far from the Italian Primitivo wine style, there is also white Zinfandel – an inexpensive, rosé wine best known from large California-based wine brands!
Do you like Primitivo wine? Tell us about your favourites in the comments below!