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La Fiera Primitivo Salento 2012
Named “Oenotria” by the ancient Greeks for its abundance of grapevines, Italy has always had a culture that is virtually inextricable from wine. Wine grapes are grown just about everywhere throughout the country—a long and narrow boot-shaped peninsula extending into the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas. The defining geographical feature of the country is the Apennine Mountain range, extending from Liguria in the north to Calabria in the south. The island of Sicily nearly grazes the toe of Italy’s boot, while Sardinia lies to the country’s west. Climate varies significantly throughout the country, with temperature being somewhat more dependent on elevation than latitude, though it is safe to generalize that the south is warmer. Much of the highest quality viticulture takes place on gently rolling, picturesque hillsides.
Italy boasts more indigenous varieties than any other country—between 500 and 800, depending on whom you ask—and most wine production relies upon these native grapes. In some regions, international varieties have worked their way in, but their use is declining in popularity, especially as younger growers begun to take interest in rediscovering forgotten local specialties. Sangiovese is the most widely planted variety in the country, reaching its greatest potential in parts of Tuscany. Nebbiolo is the prized grape of Piedmont in the northwest, producing singular, complex and age-worthy wines. Other important varieties include Montepulciano, Trebbiano, Barbera, Nero d’Avola, and of course, Pinot Grigio.
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.