The Primitivo grape

Today’s article is about a wonderful fruity grape varietal Primitivo (pronounced “Pree-mih-TEE-voe”), again from Italy.  Primitivo is a dark red wine with bold fruity flavors.  Primitivo has been genetically linked to the better known grape varietal Zinfandel.

In this article we will discuss another one of these newly emerging Italian varietals in Temecula Valley Wine Country.  The earliest knowledge of this varietal is that it originated in Greece or Albania. It is not known exactly how or when this plant was transported into Italy, but the history of this grape in Italy dates back many centuries. In the 17th century, it is known that the Benedictine monks named the varietal “Primitivo” because of its precociousness (early maturity of the grape) in this zone.

Primitivo has been called many things such as the father of the Zinfandel grape, now so popular in California. In recent years, DNA studies at the University of California at Davis show that the Zinfandel grape is the same as the Primitivo grape grown in southeastern Italy’s Puglia region.  Other tests by University of California at Davis have shown that Zinfandel is a clone of the Croatian variety Crlienak.  Interestingly enough, Primitivo also originally mutated from Crlienak.  This explains why the two grapes, Zinfandel and Primitivo, make similar tasting wines and beautiful port-style dessert wines.

Wines made from Primitivo tend to be deeply colored, rich, and concentrated with flavors of zesty cherry, clove, wild blackberry, raspberry and spice.  Sometimes Primitivo wines have a jammy characteristic.  Primitivo not only makes a nice table wine but a beautiful, raisin-ey and pruney port-style dessert wine.

Primitivo pairs well with a common dish in Italy of grilled lamb.  The wine also pairs well with outdoor grilled steaks or chops or meat that has been stewed with or stuffed with fruit.

In 2002, the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) began considering ruling Zinfandel and Primitivo synonymous for use of wine labels.  This means that if the ruling is decided upon that you may find Italian Primitivo wine labeled as a Zinfandel.

In Temecula Valley, Primitivo is available in limited quantities as a red table wine and Port-style dessert wine at Cougar Vineyard & Winery located at 39870 De Portola Road.  Cougar chose to keep the wine labeled as Primitivo keeping to their Italian varietal-centric tasting menu.  This winery resides on the De Portola Wine Trail of Temecula Wine Country.

Cougar Vineyard & Winery also manages an acre of 9 year old vines in Fallbrook and has planted 3 year old vines planted on the winery property in Temecula Wine Country.  Europa Village vineyards has three year old Primitivo vines planted.  Europa Village is located between Callaway Winery and Baily Winery on Rancho California Road in Temecula Wine Country.

Cougar Vineyard & Winery is planted in entirely Italian varietals with two thousand of the eighty five hundred vines planted being Primitivo.  We will be discussing all of these other varietals being grown by Cougar in upcoming articles about the Italian grape varietals planted in Temecula Wine Country of Southern California.