Primitivo a.k.a. Zinfandel

Zinfandel, Primitivo


  • Italy: Puglia
  • USA: California
  • Croatia


  • Goes with a wide range of food and people. If bored, bring out your Primitivo = Zinfandel fact. It could help.


  • Decant for half an hour
  • 17 °C (62 °F)
  • Universal wine glass


  • Charcuterie, lamb, pizza, pasta, lasagna, tuna
  • Medium aged cheese, Parmesan, aged Cheddar, aged Gouda

Primitivo is the same thing as Zinfandel. It is a grape that originally comes from Croatia where it was called Tribidrag and Crljenak Kasteljanski. From Croatia it traveled to Puglia in Italy where it’s known under the name of Primitivo. In the 19th century, the Italian immigrants brought Primitivo to the United States, especially California where it’s called Zinfandel. In the United States Zinfandel has been so popular that it became a sort of national grape.

The grape itself is early ripening, hence the name Primitivo with high sugar and alcohol content. It loves dry and hot climates and the vines are low yielding. The resulting wine is full bodied, robust with flavors of blueberries. The alcohol levels in Primitivo are usually 14% or higher and can benefit from aging in oak or in the bottle.

Many old vines still have bush-vines, also known as alberello, bush-trained or gobelet vines which is a technique that allows the vines to grow in the shape of a bush, close to the ground and shielded from wind. In the case of Manduria, these method protects the grapes from the cooling winds of the nearby Adriatic and Ionian sea. Bush-vines are suitable for dry and hot climates like Greece (where it originated), south of Italy, France, Portugal, California (old vines in Lodi), Spain.

The challenges with bush vines are that they are very low yielding and require manual harvesting which makes it more labour intensive but also means that due to the low yields, the berries are very concentrated producing aromatic and rich wines.

Old world versus New world

Primitivo, Zinfandel, Puglia, Italy, wine, red wine

Old world Primitivo is more rustic, earthy, drier and has an acidic finish while new world Zinfandel is more fruity and a bit sweeter. In Italy it is often blended with Negroamaro which gives the wine more bitterness. In the United States Zinfandel is often lighter than the Italian wine with less alcohol content.

Zinfandel in the United States

In the United States it is California that produces most of the Zinfandel in regions like Napa Valley, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lodi and Sierra Foothills.

Napa Valley and Sonoma

Both Napa and Sonoma have old vines and produce full bodied wines although Napa produces some of the best Zinfandels with great ageing potential, Sonoma Zinfandels are slightly less tannic and acidic. This is mainly caused by variations in temperatures and climate.


Wines here have a deep dark colour, are full bodied with medium to high tannin and carry notes of cherry, raspberry, plums, raisin.


Lodi has some of the oldest vines in USA which have survived Prohibition. It is an area that is divided into 7 sub-regions, each with a different type of soil and terroir, which is reflected on the wines as well. Because of the old vines, Lodi wines are rich, juicy and full bodied.

Sierra Foothills

Characterised by high alcohol levels which makes these wines good for ageing as they can be too intense consumed young.

In the United states there is also something called White Zinfandel which is in fact a rosé. It is produced in the same way as a rosé only it is sweet and rather cheap which is what makes it such a ‘love to hate’ wine. The creation of the sweet White Zinfandel came as a result of a stuck fermentation which is when the yeast in the must dies before it converts all the sugar into alcohol, leaving residual unfermented sugar in the wine.

Primitivo in Italy

Primitivo di Manduria

The DOC requirements state that the Rosso wines must contain a minimum of 85% Primitivo grapes with an alcohol level of at least 13.5% and must be aged for at least 5 months. Riserva wines must be aged for a minimum of 24 months of which 9 in wooden barrels and must have an abv of at least 14% . The wines produced here are intense, tannic and spicy with notes of red fruit. There is also a sweet version called Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale which is the first DOCG in Puglia.

Gioia del Colle

The DOC requirements are a minimum of 50% Primitivo for Rosso and 100% for the ones labeled Primitivo, with a minimum of 13% abv for the latter ones. Riserva Primitivo have a minimum ageing requirement of 2 years and an alcohol level of minimum 14%. The style of these wines is known to be lighter and softer than the Manduria wines.

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Old vine Zinfandel 2017

  • Producer: Girard
  • Region: USA, California, Napa Valley
  • Blend: 100% Zinfandel
  • Alcohol content: 15%
  • Tasting notes: punching floral aromas, juicy, fruity, plum, raspberry, vanilla, American and Hungarian oak. Full bodied, medium to high tannin with a medium finish, ageing will soften the high alcohol and acidity levels and make it more rounded.