Behind the Cork™ - Alexander Valley Vineyards Primitivo


2013 Alexander Valley Vineyards Primitivo ($45)

This week’s Behind the Cork™ feature is a special one. During my last visit to Alexander Valley Vineyards I had the pleasure of spending time in the tasting room with Denise Gill, their Tasting Room Manager. And, I got to taste a bunch of really great wines.

This Alexander School Reserve Primitivo was one of several that I brought home.

The grapes are from their Wetzel Family Estate, located on the property settled in the 1840’s by Alexander Valley’s namesake, Cyrus Alexander. And, the Alexander School Reserve wines focus on some of the best and most unique lots of grapes that they harvest each year.

If you know Primitivo, you know that its DNA analysis proved that Zinfandel and Primitivo are the same variety. But, at the Wetzel Family Estate, they grow both side by side in a tiny hillside vineyard planted high above the winery, and they claim that flavors of each are dramatically different.

They state that the Primitivo has “loads of black fruit with great acidity, while the Zinfandel has jammy raspberry flavors and lots of spice.” I have to strongly agree!

This is a special one. Next time you are in Alexander Valley, you must stop at Alexander Valley Vineyards. In addition to a great bunch of wines offered in their tasting room, they have extensive wine caves that can be toured upon special request.

This Primitivo was a real pleasure. Look for it. Cheers!

Do You Know Primitivo?

It's always fun to find and try new and different wines. And, when it comes to exploring "Old World Wines" it can be even more of an adventure. That's what happened to me when studying the shelves of Italian wines. I came across a completely unknown wine called Primitivo (Prim-ah-TEE-voh).  Excited by this new find, I bought a bottle and tried it.  It was nice. It had a good bold fruity flavor with a bit of tannin and nice finish. I thought I'd discovered yet another great wine.  But as soon as I did a little research into this newly found wine I discovered that I'd actually met an old friend.

Primitivo, meaning "early one" due to its relative early ripening, does have heritage from Italy. It is a well-known wine from the Puglia region that is located in the far southeastern corner of the 'boot' of Italy. But it is believed that it arrived in Italy via Croatia, just across the Adriatic Sea.  And, it is a naturally cloned version of the Croatian grape Crljenak Kastelanski.

It wasn't until DNA testing in the 1990's that it was revealed that not only was Primitivo a clone of Crljenak Kastelanski, but American Zinfandel was also a naturally cloned relative. So, Primitivo and Zinfandel are actually the direct clones of the Croatian grape and essentially the same.

Interesting enough, in Europe, where wine restrictions are seemly very strict, Primitivo and Zinfandel may legally be used interchangeably. But, in the U.S., labeling laws don't allow interchangeability. So, it's possible that a U.S. made wine could be labeled as a Primitivo-Zinfandel blend.

But, for all intents and purposes, Primitivo and Zinfandel are the same grape. Though the Italian Primitivo is often somewhat different than the California Zinfandel.  This is usually attributed to the growing conditions such as the soil and the weather (terrior) and the winemaking process, not the grape.

So, if you are a Zinfandel lover, be sure and pick up a bottle of Primitivo. The Italian Primitivo wines likely to be lighter in style than California Zinfandel, but still have the great depth of flavors just like Zinfandel. And, you'll typically find great values on these wines from Italy.  Cheers!

Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Layer Cake Primitivo ($13)

This wine from Puglia Italy is a Primitivo, but as stated in the blog, is also allowed to be labeled as a Zinfandel by European laws. This is a very accessible Italian Primitivo that is made very much in the style of California Zinfandels.  It has nice bright fruit and a smooth finish, with just a hint of earthiness and minerals from the ancient seabeds of Puglia Italy.