Wine is many different things to individuals. To some, it’s a social lubricant while to others it’s a digestive served with a meal or even just an end of the week anaesthetic!
But whatever it is, there’s no doubt that is used accompanies a conversation or a story – and sometimes the wine can be the story itself. I’m still fascinated by the fable of Carmenere, the European grape that was thought to have been made extinct due to the phylloxera epidemic that wiped out the continent’s vines in the 1860’ – but in 1994 it was discovered in Chile where the locals thought they were growing merlot! But an equally fascinating tale of that of a wine regarded as an Italian classic, Primativo.
An good novel has a twist or two throughout the chapters and so it is with Primitivo. For hundreds of years Americans celebrated and loved a wine they knew as Zinfandel – a vine that proliferated in Californian vineyards and made exceptional wines of poise and balance. As you can imagine, having claimed this great wine as their own and developed a range of consumer friendly styles, the consternation was palpable when ampelographers recently proved that it in fact had the DNA of Primitivo. But the discovery did little to excite the Italians who had made Primitivo one of their national favourites as the grape wasn’t even a native of the country. It turns out that the tightly bunched deep purple grapes in fact originated on the coasts of Croatia – a country just a short boat ride across the Adriatic Sea.
When made in the traditional style, Primitivo wines are highly alcoholic and very tannic and as a result, tend to show their best side when allowed to rest in the cellar for a number of years before being opened. But patience is expensive for the winery and as a result we usually see a lot of lighter styles these days that have less alcohol, medium tannins and are designed to be ready to drink shortly after purchase. But to me, that’s just not cricket! The best thing about a classic Primitivo is the inky ( if not impervious) colour of the wine in the bottle and the intensity of flavours and firm tannins that will take time to subside over the years.
While I enjoy most styles of the vinified grape ( even those from California), the undeniable spiritual home of the varietal is in Puglia on the south-eastern coast of “the boot”. In the district, Primitivo accounts for over 11 000 hectares under vine and that number is still increasing. The grape gets its name from that latin “primativus” – a reference to the fact that the grape is the first to ripen. There are any number of fine examples of the style, but one of the better ones is the Tenute Emera Anima Di Primitivo di Manduria. As you’d expect, the depth of colour is remarkable but once the glass approaches your nose you’ll remark at the bouquet of bright red fruits and liquorice. Through the middle there unctuous candied raspberries, plums and cherries that cavort across a silky, tannin-laced conclusion.
You’ll find it online and at specialty retailers at the $35 – $40 price point and I reckon that to get this quality, it’s worth the few extra sheckles that you’ll have to part with. Primitivo; it’s a wine with a great story, for those of us that like a story about great wine.