Primitivo, red wine grape found in Italy, the same as Zinfandel in California and Crljenak Kastelanski/Tribidrag in Croatia (from where it originates.)

Italy | Primitivo is one of Italy’s top ten planted red grape varieties, it increased by 40% in the first decade of the 21st century. However, plantings are still less than they were prior to the EU funded vine removal program which was responsible for a great loss of old vine material. From Latin primativus and Italian primaticcio, the name refers to the fact that Primitivo ripens very early.

Biotypes | Italy: There are two main biotypes in Italy, which carry the same names as the zones they are associated with. Primitivo di Gioia del Colle is thought to be the original. Vines are planted on hillsides at 250-500 metres where a high diurnal swing gives greater aromatic expression. The soil is shallow calcareous and rich in minerals with only a little red clay. In theory, the wines are more nervy, have higher acid, more graceful tannin and less creamy fruit than Primitivo di Manduria which hails from a flatter plain with more red sand and clay over limestone.

Wines: Lazio: sporadic. | Puglia: Primitivo di Manduria DOCG Dolce Naturale. | Primitivo di Manduria DOC. | Gioia del Colle DOC Primitivo. | IGP Puglia. IGP Salento. | Campania: Falerno del Massico DOC Primitivo.

Viticulture | Precocious at all stages, Primitivo (as its name suggests) is one of the first grapes to be picked in Italy, which means August in Puglia. While it ripens unevenly often within the same bunch and is an irregular producer, grapes are usually high quality. Primitivo accumulates sugar easily giving high alcohol (thus explaining its past role as an alcohol booster). Rootstocks rather than clone is key to quality, for if it is too vigorous Primitivo has trouble fruiting after flowering.

Wine style | Good concentration of anthocyanins result in a deeply colored wine but more cyanin and slightly less malvin make it less stable and less dark in the long run. Appealing aromas of ripe red cherry, strawberry jam and plums macerated in alcohol carry through on the creamy rich palate. High heady alcohol, upwards of 16% is common.

Specific styles | Red wines: Usually still and dry. Traditional wines demonstrate tobacco and underbrush and can be herbal and tarry. However, herbal more restrained styles are being over-shadowed by ultra-ripe syrupy Zinfandel lookalikes. Other styles: Some sweet late harvest and even fortified versions (liquoroso secco and liquoroso dolce) exist.

Bibliography

See Ian D’Agata, Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014).

Italian Wine Unplugged (Positive Press, 2017), p.128-9.