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Boeger Primitivo 2014
Blend: 81% Primitivo, 9% Barbera, 7% Petite Sirah, 2% Zinfandel, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon
As home to California’s highest altitude vineyards, El Dorado is also one of its oldest wine growing regions. When gold miners settled here in the late 1800s, many also planted vineyards and made wine to quench its local demand.
By 1870, El Dorado County, as part of the greater Sierra Foothills growing area, was among the largest wine producers in the state, behind only Los Angeles and Sonoma counties. The local wine industry enjoyed great success until just after the turn of the century when fortune-seekers moved elsewhere and its population diminished. With Prohibition, winemaking was totally abandoned, along with its vineyards. Some of these vines still exist today and are the treasure chest of the Sierra Foothills as we know them.
El Dorado has a diverse terrain with elevations ranging from 1,200 to 3,500 feet, creating countless mesoclimates for its vineyards. This diversity allows success with a wide range of grapes including whites like Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as for reds, Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo, Barbera and especially, Zinfandel.
Soils tend to be fine-grained volcanic rock, shale and decomposed granite. Summer days are hot but nights are cool and the area typically gets ample precipitation in the form or rain, or snow in the winter.
Responsible for inky, brambly, and ripe-fruited wines, Primitivo bears more than a passing resemblance to Zinfandel—and there’s a very good reason for this. Depending on whom you ask, the two varieties are either one and the same, or extremely similar clones of a third variety—the Croatian Tribidrag. Primitivo was brought to Italy from Croatia in the late 1800s and became an important variety in the hot, dry region of Puglia in the country’s south. Primitivo is sometimes labeled as Zinfandel for export.
In the Glass
The flavors of Primitivo are, naturally, very similar to those of Zinfandel, but often it is somewhat earthier, leaner, and more structured, with lower alcohol. 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, or anything barbecued. Alcohol levels tend to be lower than those of Zinfandel, which means it can pair with slightly spicy cuisine like Indian curries, meatballs with Moroccan seasonings, or beef fajitas.
The link between Primitivo and Zinfandel is quite a recent discovery. The two were believed to be siblings until 2001, when grape geneticists at UC Davis identified them as identical. While European producers are allowed to use the two names interchangeably, the US does not yet permit this.