Agate Ridge Vineyard Primitivo 2011
As the the largest region in the greater Southern Oregon AVA, bordering California, the Rogue Valley AVA grows the most diverse array of grape varieties compared to any other Oregon appellation.
The Rogue Valley AVA is actually made up of three adjacent river valleys—not just one as its name suggests—Bear Creek, Applegate and Illinois. These valleys extend from the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains, a coastal sub range of the Klamath Mountains. Most Rogue Valley vineyards are planted on hillsides at elevations of 1,200 to 2,000 feet where soils are metamorphic, sedimentary and volcanic.
On one end Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tempranillo, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc benefit from a warm and dry climate. To the west end of the Rogue Valley, cool-climate grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Muscat and Gewürztraminer do best. Dolcetto, Grenache and Zinfandel also grow in the Rogue Valley AVA.
Early European settlers first started growing grapes here in the 1840s, the most famous of whom was a pioneer named, Peter Britt. He also opened Oregon’s first official winery (which later closed in 1907). Today, besides its great wines, the region is known for the Britt Music & Arts festival, which inhabits Peter Britt’s former hillside estate, and the Ashland, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Responsible for inky, brambly, and ripe fruit driven wines, Primitivo bears more than a passing resemblance to Zinfandel—and there’s a very good reason for this. The two varieties are actually one and the same and have a Croatian origin. Primitivo was brought to Italy from Croatia in the late 1800s and became an important variety in the hot, dry, southern region of Puglia. Here it was named from the Latin word, primativus, meaning "first to ripen."
In the Glass
The flavors of Primitivo are, naturally, very similar to those of Zinfandel, but often it is somewhat leaner, and more structured and earthy. Typical characteristics include ripe berry fruit, plum, black pepper, fresh earth and sweet baking spice.
Primitivo pairs best with full-flavored, hearty meat dishes like roasted lamb, beef brisket, hamburgers, meatballs with Moroccan seasonings, beef fajitas or anything barbecued.
The link between Primitivo and Zinfandel is quite a recent discovery. While there was some speculation that they were related, it wasn't until 1994 when grape geneticists at UC Davis identified them as identical. The grape goes by the name of Tribidrag in Croatia and is a parent of the modern Croatian variety, Plavac Mali.