The push for quality driven PRIMITIVO
Thanks to its generally 'easy drinking' character, Primitivo wines from the south of Italy have always been in high demand. This led to a bigger production and eventually damaged the reputation of Apulia's most important wine.
Recently there has been a significant push for higher quality Primitivo out of Apulia, especially those special zones like Manduria and Gioia del Colle.
Yes, Primitivo is still generally a plush and smooth wine (usually a lower tannic structure, allowing the fruit notes to shine up front) .... but everything from the vineyard elevation and soil to the micro-climate, or the winemaker's decisions in the cellar (and of course the blending varieties) can impact the final wine.
In the right 'hands' it can offer a range of styles from elegant and complex, to boisterous and bold.
So, what are you waiting for? Let's explore PRIMITIVO.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The Primitivo grape is planted along the 'heel' of Italy' - the Apulia region - and its name derives from its tendency to ripen earlier than other grapes.
Its origins are really interesting:
It was an early grape for winemaking in Croatia (where it's known as Crljenak Kastelanski or Tribidrag) at least as far back as the 15th century. In the 18th century a clone was taken to southern Italy, where it became a popular rustic table wine. In the late 1960s this vigorous vine travelled to the US, where it became known as Zinfandel and thrived in the heat of California.
Grape geneticist Carole Meredith, who studied the variety in great detail both at UC Davies and in her own vineyards, refers to it as ZPC - Zinfandel / Primitivo / Crljenak Kastelanski.
IN THE VINEYARD
Primitivo is not as challenging a vine as others, like Pinot Nero, but it does tend to ripen unevenly - meaning patches of fruit within one bunch can be close to raisins while others are under ripe.
Some winemakers separate the bunches (or even individual grapes) which can add to the cost of production and increase wine pricing, while others prefer to experiment and create wine from fruit with mixed levels of ripeness.
IN THE GLASS
Primitivo vines produce fruit with a high sugar content, which tends to result in wines with high levels of alcohol.
Cooler climates can produce Primitivo wines with red berry aromas or flavours, but the Primitivos of southern Italy tend to hint at blackberry and liquorice plus some peppery notes.
Good news for spice lovers... Primitivo can make an excellent choice for those who like a glass of red with their curry! The 'seeming' sweetness of the wine, thanks to its fruity character, helps balance the heat in spicy dishes.
A handy rhyme to remember = "beat heat with sweet". This could mean pairing an aromatic, off-dry, white wine like Gewurz or spatlese Riesling with a curry, but Primitivo can often work well too, especially for beef or lamb curries.
A great food pairing for most Primitivo is Moroccan tagine, and other aromatic dishes. Here in Asia, something like a beef rendang would be lovely.
You can also try smokey dishes to bring out the smokey notes in the wine. Experiment with different bbq meats.
FURTHER STUDIES ...
Here are some of our favourite resources for studying wine or grapes, from reading materials to YouTube links:
* Read up on the grape and its most famous wine styles at WINE FOLLY.
* Geek out on the grape with Jancis Robinson.
* Watch a 7 minute video by Wine with Jimmy here.
* Subscribe to the SOMM.tv channel (packed full of info with movies, shorts, vineyard visits, blind tastings and so much more) and checkout the article about Primitivo (and its future) at this link.
100% varietal Primitivo.
Try a few of the 100% Primitivo we import, from different parts of Apulia, to decide which style works best for your palate ... or to suit your food pairings.
ALCHYMIA 2020 (UP $49)
Gold medal Mundus; 98/99 Luca Maroni. Vivino Community Awards 2021.
This cute bottle (turn it sideways to see the 2 faces) has been one of our best sellers since back in 2015. We've enjoyed each and every vintage!! :)
The style is accessible, so will be a great starting point for wine lovers who are new to the grape.
Deep, rich red with concentrated notes of plum jam, blackberry and brambles, plus pastry or pie crust and some sweet spices (cinnamon, clove, vanilla). Soft and smooth tannins, with a long finish.
Buy a bottle of ALCHYMIA 2020 here.
ELE 2018 (UP $55)
Silver medal Decanter.
Aromatic nose (spicy, fruity, floral), rich palate, velvety tannins! Expect notes of black cherry, dark plum, sweet spice (liquorice), violets, cacao, vanilla … some candied fruit, some sense of chocolate-covered berries; great structure; balance of lively acidity with rich, dark, ripe fruit. In summary, it's ‘black forest gateau’ in a glass :)
The winery offers a 'soundtrack' suggestion: "Mon Manege A Moi" by Edith Piaf.
Buy a bottle of ELE 2018 here.
TATOR 2020 (UP $49)
Gold medal Berlin; 98/99 Luca Maroni.
Tator grapes come from old vines and are hand-picked. “Metodo Passule” as shown on the label means the wine was produced using an Appassimento method (leaving fully-ripened grapes to dry on the vine so the water evaporates, increasing sugar content and acidity, concentrating flavours).
From the winery: “The hands on the label are there to thank all the people who still pick by hand in our vineyard. The name Tator is the name of a god venerated by the Messapians, a tribe who long ago lived in the area where we now grow the Primitivo vines used to produce this wine.”
Bold red, perfect for a rich dish. Expect notes of dried fruit and dried flowers, with subtle notes of pastry or pie crust. Smooth tannins.
Buy a bottle of TATOR 2020 here.
Flagship labels you must try.
MURO SANT'ANGELO Barbatto 2017 (UP $99)
3/3 Glasses Gambero Rosso; 4-star Vini Buoni d'Italia; 4/5 AIS.
This is the premium wine from Nicola Chiaromonte* (winemaker for ELE mentioned earlier). His focus is on Primitivo and making high quality examples from his stunning vineyards in Gioia del Colle.
* The farm "Tenute Chiaromonte" dates back to the 1820s, immediately after the official recognition of the Primitivo vine. This small family estate is now led by Nicola (4th generation winemaker since the estate became a winery in late 1990s). His wine is highly-awarded every year.
His 2017 vintage is drinking beautifully, but don't miss the chance to try one of his older vintages (2013 and 2015) or why not make it a 'vertical tasting' with our 3-vintage presentation box.
The winery offers a 'soundtrack' suggestion: "Piano Concerto No. 2" by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Get your bottle of MURO SANT'ANGELO Barbatto 2017 here.
ES 2019 (UP $149)
3/3 Gambero Rosso; 5/5 AIS; 3 Gold Stars Veronelli; 98/99 Luca Maroni; 92/100 James Suckling; "Winemaker of the year 2010" Gambero Rosso.
Gianfranco Fino is well and truly a cult winemaker with a loyal following. We've been enjoying his wines since first sampling ES and (his 100% Negroamaro JO) back in 2014 but we were only able to arrange an allocation for Singapore last year. Stock is still quite limited, for all his fabulous labels, especially the very limited production ES "Red" Riserva 2016.
ES is a rich, complex red with classic Primitivo notes (dark cherry, dark plum, blackberries, violets, chocolate, tobacco, leather, cloves, cinnamon) that requires a decent time decanting to open up. This is a big wine, that will pair with rich meat dishes, or suit the end of an evening as a beautiful meditation wine.
What's behind the name? In the winemaker's own words, "Es according to Freud: It is instinct and unbridled passion (the same with which this wine was produced) without conditions, without rules, beyond space and time, logic and morality. He knows neither good nor evil. The Id is subject to a single principle: PLEASURE.".
Get your bottle of ES 2019 here
There are currently 14 wines in the Primitivo collection, so check this link for more options.
If you need helping deciding where to start, please do contact me for personal recommendations and advice.