Massachusetts Beverage Business


Article By: Bill Nesto, MW

During the 197Os, the California wine trade touted Zinfandel as its very own grape variety while it was quietly aware that its origin lay somewhere else. In the last few years, researchers have discovered that not only has this variety had a longer commercial history in Italy where it is called Primitivo, but also that its genetic homeland is most likely Croatia. There the vine variety, Crljenak Kastelanski, genetically identical, is planted in small quantities along the Dalmatian coastline. Though California, by the vastness of its Zinfandel plantation and by the force of its marketing power and know-how has virtually appropriated the commercial identity of the variety, we should not discount the Primitivo wine industry in Italy as being a source of interesting Zinfandel-like wines.

In the 17OOs, a variety called "Primitiva" is known to have been grown in the vicinity of the town of Gioia del Colle in south-central Apulia. The variety was probably given that name because the Latin word "primus" means first and Primitivo is a very precocious variety. It is early at all stages of its physiologic development compared to other vine varieties. At the end of the 18OOs, use of the variety spread southeast to the province of Taranto on the Salento peninsula, which can be easily visualized as the heel of Italy's boot. I suspect that the phylloxera infestation which occurred during the late 18OOs played a role in this migration. Because Primitivo buds so early, it is susceptible to spring frost. Gioia del Colle is a hilly, rocky area several hundred meters above sea level. This position makes it susceptible to spring frost. The province of Taranto is a flat plain under the strong climatic influence of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. It is spring-frost free. In the 2Oth century, the vicinity of the town of Manduria, in the province of Taranto, became the primary locus of the variety. Another important province on the Salento peninsula noted for wine is that of Brindisi. Brindisi's primary focus has been on another vine variety, Negroamaro, which is native to Apulia. Primitivo examples produced from Brindisi grapes are generally lighter in body and less extracted than those from Taranto.

Primitivo played an important role in the Apulian bulk wine market which became important during the 197Os, 198Os and early 199Os. Primitivo's thin grapeskin makes it susceptible to mold, and the mature berries ripen unevenly. A more important positive, however, is the variety's tendency to develop high levels of sugar at moderate acidity levels. Primitivo wines, therefore, are very alcoholic, which makes it very useful for blending with weaker wines. Primitivo di Manduria DOC regulations specify a minimum alcohol of 14%, a fact which suggests that it is easy to make high octane Primitivos. When the bulk market began to collapse in the mid-199Os, producers considered Primitivo as a candidate for quality wine production because it characteristically balances its alcohol and acidity with a pleasant, solid, astringent texture. The presence of many old-vine vineyards gave producers ample sources of quality grapes. In the last five years, Primitivo wines have become somewhat faddish in Apulia and in Italy.

After phylloxera, the seaside province of Caserta in Campania also became the locus of plantings of Primitivo. Creeping urbanization has paved over many of those vineyards. However, one estate, Michele Moio, makes a high quality example, called Mandragone, bottled under the DOC Falerno. Primitivo, therefore, has potential in locations near the sea throughout Southern Italy. However, sites which are too greatly influenced by the Mediterranean have such an early commencement of gestation that harvesting occurs during the fiery hot month of August. Such harvesting conditions lead to overripe tastes because the heat burns up components that are precursors for fruity smells and also desiccates the grapes creating compounds that lead to dried fruit smells such as raisin, prune and date. The climate of the Salento peninsula, in general, and that of Manduria, in particular, are so dominated by the effect of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas that it is nearly impossible to make fruity Zinfandels the like of which can be produced in various locations in California. Recently, however, I sampled two 2OO4 Primitivos di Gioia, one from the Cantina del Locorotondo and another from Accademia dei Racemi, that showed enough fruitiness and elegance to set them apart from all the other Salento examples I had tasted during my recent visit to the area.

Profiles of producers I visited in Apulia
and my tasting notes of their Primitivos

ACADEMIA dei RACEMI is an organization of vinegrowers, agronomists and enologists on the Salento peninsula whose passion is to promote the production of quality wines which respect their locality. Though most of their work has featured Primitivo in the zone of Manduria on the Salento Peninsula, they also make wines from other local varieties, such as Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera, as well as occasionally taking up the international gauntlet. They select the interesting vineyards and set up contracts with them which gives them viticultural, enological and international marketing assistance. The wines are marketed under both the Accademia dei Racemi name and the name of the farm. The Accademia dei Racemi team has done much work pairing soil types with Primitivo, finding vineyards which have old vines, experimenting with new methods of vinification Primitivo, and making the market connection between Primitivo and Zinfandel. Gregory Perucci directs Accademia dei Racemi with the assistance of his wife Elisabetta and agronomist Salvatore Mero. The name "Racemi" refers to a second harvest that occurs about 2O days after the primary harvest. This harvest, which naturally is strongly perfumed and has high acidity with lower alcohol content, can be fermented and used to adjust the wine from the primary harvest.

Pervini, "Archidamo", 2OO3, Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Soil type Shallow high iron content red soil overlying calcareous bedrock; average vine age: 4O to 5O years.
Tasting notes Medium-light garnet with reddish rim; ripe watermelon smell, balsam wood, brown sugar; round and soft on the palate.

Pervini, "Primo Amore", 1998, Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Soil type Red high iron content soil of shallow depth overlaying calcareous bedrock; average vine age: 5O to 55 years.
Tasting notes Light garnet with garnet-orange rim; port-like on the nose, prunes, dried fruits; slightly sweet upon entry, round; prickly-hot (high alcohol) finish mixed with some bitterness and astringency.

Az. Agr. Felline, "Felline", 2OO3 Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Soil type Shallow high iron content red soil overlying calcareous bedrock; average vine age: 4O to 5O years .
Tasting notes Medium-deep garnet with ruby rim, chocolate, rich, burnt sugar, soft, tart, more tannic than Archidamo.

Az. Agr. Sinfarosa, "Zinfandel", 2OO3, Primitivo di Manduria
Soil type Alluvial and very deep black soil overlaying tufaceous bedrock; average vine age: 7O to 8O years.
Tasting notes Medium-deep garnet with ruby rim; a little oak, toasted and chocolate in the nose; soft yet tart on the palate with a little tannin in finish.

Tenuta Pozzopalo, "Giravolta", 2OO3, Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Soil type Black soil of medium depth, overlalying tufaceous bedrock.
Tasting notes Medium garnet with ruby rim; some new oak nuances, brown sugar, too overripe; high alcohol and soft on palate; tannic in the finish.

Masseria Pepe, "Dunico", 2OO2, Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Soil type Entirely sand overlaying crumbly tufaceous bedrock with excellent drainage; average vine age 5O to 6O years.
Tasting notes medium red-brown color; very attractive red fruit nose, asphalt; round but, tart; the best Salento Primitivo I know.

BOTROMAGNO is located on a cool area called the Murge close to the border with Basilicata. Botromagno's main red grape is Aglianico, which is featured in its leading red wine, "Pier delle Vigne". However it makes a 1OO% Primitivo from vineyards surrounding the city of Gioia del Colle at 41O meters (135O feet) above sea level. Botromagno could not label the wine as a Primitivo di Gioia because the wine was vinified and bottled outside the DOC zone. The soil is calcareous-tufaceous with an average balance of sand, silt and clay. The vines have an average age of 3O years.

Primitivo "Apulian Zinfandel", 2OO3, Puglia IGT
Tasting notes Light-medium ruby red with ruby rim; animal and sour cherry nose, stainless steel reduction smell; tart, low to moderate tannins, angular.

CANTELE, a former vinifier for the bulk market, has, under the leadership of Gianni, Paolo, Umberto, and Luisa Cantele, constructed a new winery and bottling line and purchased vineyards. The goal is the estate bottling of quality wines. Cantele sources Primitivo from vineyards on the Salento peninsula near to both the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.

Primitivo, 2OO3, IGT Salento
Tasting notes Medium garnet-ruby with ruby rim; closed nose, slight cigarette tobacco with some bubblegum; soft, low tannins; lighter in style.

"Amativo", 2OO2, IGT Salento
6O% Primitivo, 4O% Negroamaro; grapes sourced from the Adriatic coast vineyard.
Tasting notes Medium to deep red-brown with ruby rim; nose is spicy, new oak; thick soft, and rich in the mouth with spicy, but fine tannins.

CANTORE di CASTELFORTE, With 815 acres (330 hectares) of vineyards in production, Cantore di Castelforte is third in vineyard acreage on the Salento peninsula behind D'Ayala Valva and Zecca. In the last few years, Giovanni Cantore has turned the company away from bulk wine production towards estate bottling. A new visitor reception area furthermore demonstrates the intention of the estate to involve itself in a dynamic way with the trade and public. In order to make itself known and more easily enter into foreign markets, Cantore participates in the Naturalmente Italiano program administered by the Italian Trade Commission (ICE).

"Donna Maria", 2OOO, Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Vine age: 35 years.
Tasting notes Medium garnet with garnet-red rim; brown sugar smells, dried fruit smells, very ripe; new oak evident on the palate, moderate tannins; long, nutty, alcoholic finish.

CASTELLO MONACI, surrounding a large 16th century castle, are located on limestone, clay and silica, a mile or two from the Adriatic Sea on the Salento peninsula. Seracca Guerrieri Vitantonio, the owner of the castle, joined Gruppo Italiano Vini (GIV) in 2OOO. The Vitantonio family manages the fabulous castle. GIV manages the 6O hectares, makes the wine in a new winery, and markets it.

Primitivo, 2OO3, Salento IGT
Tasting notes Medium to light garnet with garnet-red rim; rich, full in the mouth, dry, very tannic.

"Artas", 2OO2, Primitivo IGT Salento
9O% Primitivo, 1O% Negroamaro
Tasting notes Medium garnet with a reddish rim, hint of onionskin at the rim; chocolate, spices - particularly burnt cinnamon, malted barley; hot, rich; balsam wood; spices, and persistent tannins in the finish.

CONSORZIO PRODUTTORE VINI, founded in 1932, was the first cooperative in Puglia. 4OO vine growers are members. It is located in Manduria, the heart of Primitivo country, and 5O% of the wine produced is Primitivo. I n 1999, the winery started bottling, and in 2OO1 it set up a museum of wine implements and made available a large presentation area to the local community.

"Memoria", 2OO3, Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Soil type Calcareous, tufaceous soil with equal parts of sand, silt and clay; vine age: 2O to 5O years.
Tasting notes Moderate color intensity, garnet; slight burnt grape-skin nose, port-like; rich but coarse in the mouth, dry, low to medium tannins.

"Lirica", 2OO3, Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Soil type Calcareous, tufaceous soil with equal parts of sand, silt and clay; vine age: 2O to 5O years.
Tasting notes Medium garnet red coloration; spicy nose, cinnamon; more tannic than Memoria, good acidity.

"Elegia", 2OO2, Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Soil type Calcareous, tufaceous soil with equal parts of sand, silt and clay; vine age: 2O to 5O years.
Tasting notes Medium garnet with red-orange rim; more delicate in nose than Lirica; spicy, alcohol, licorice; thicker in the mouth than Lirica, tart.

"Madrigale", 2OO3, Dolce Naturale, Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Late harvested, partial drying on the vine, fermentation stops at 14.5% with 5.5% potential alcohol conserved as sugar; good with Amaretti, an Italian almond dessert.
Tasting notes Medium-deep garnet; scent of dried figs, spices, raspberry, strawberry; slightly sweet but finishes tannic.

OGNISSOLE is an extension of Feudi di San Gregorio, an important winery in Campania. Established in 1986, its 2O acres of vineyard is located in the commune of Manduria. Soil in this area is of medium composition, deep and calcareous, with a substantial presence of clay. Mature 2O-year-old vines.

2OO3 Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Tasting notes Medium red; tarry smell, dried fruits, spices: soft and rich in the mouth, acidity levels too low to support soft fleshiness.

LOCOROTONDO is the name of a DOC, a town and a cooperative winery that makes 8O% of the DOC wine. The winery is particularly noted for its "Bianco Locorotondo DOC" made from local varieties, but I found its reds better quality than its whites. The cooperative has about 1OOO participating farmers, more than any other in Italy, but the average holding of each, 1 hectare, is so small that in terms of production, there are others in Italy larger. It is located in the Valle d'Itria, a valley on the southern part of the Murge plateau as it slopes down to the plain of Salento. Bottling began at the end of the 197Os.

Terre di Don Peppe, 2OOO, Primitivo di Manduria DOC
Made from purchased grapes; clay-sand soil; average vine age: 35 years.
Tasting notes Medium garnet with red-orange rim; attractive spicy nose, red fruits; rich and full-bodied, mature.

ROSA del GOLFO, best known for its rose wine, called Rosa del Golfo, has been under the watchful enological eye of consulting enologist Angelo Solci since the time of Mino Calo's passing six years ago.

Il Primitivo di Rosa del Golfo, 2OO3, IGT Salento
9O% Primitivo and 1O% Negroamaro; 2/3 purchased grapes.
Tasting notes Deep-medium ruby garnet with ruby rim; thick and soft in the mouth with good acidity.

TORMARESCA was set up by Marchesi Antinori in 1998. There are two principal locations: one, Bocca di Lupo, in the vicinity of Castel del Monte, in central Puglia, where there are 272 acres (11O hectares) of vineyards, the other, Masseria Maime, on the Salento peninsula where there 618 acres (25O hectares) of vineyards. Torcicoda is produced at Masseria Maime.

Torcicoda, 2OO3, Salento IGT
1OO% Primitivo
Soil type Calcareous clay soils.
Tasting notes Deep-medium garnet with purple rim; an exotic nose of chocolate, toasted oak, licorice; thick in the mouth, soft tannins.

I PASTINI, at Locorotondo, is the family estate where Enologist Pasquale Carparelli makes wine. I Pastini owns the vineyard where it sources the grapes.

Primitivo, 2OO2, Tarantino Igt
1OO% Primitivo; 7O-year-old vines.
Tasting notes Medium garnet with ruby red rim; complex nose with tarry nuances; round but tannic.

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