Italy can boast more grape varietals than any other country, with more than 350. However, one of its lesser known black varietals, Primitivo, is globally famous, but by a different name and from a different country – Californian Zinfandel.
Almost identical to its Californian cousin, Primitivo has an opulent, jammy ripe blackberry and plummy fruity character, with the potential for very high alcohol. The Italian accent also has a slightly bitter olive food-friendly tone.
Based in Puglia, the heel of southern Italy, its early-ripening nature accounts for its name, derived from 'primo', meaning the early one. Because the grapes ripen unevenly on the bunch, there are contrasting flavours in the wine of rich raisin and date, complemented by fresh crisp vegetal notes.
Traditionally, before its known relation with Zinfandel in the 1990s, Primitivo was used to blend with lighter red table wines from northern Italy to boost both body and flavour.
Today, within the Puglia region, particularly regarded is the Primitivo planted in the terra rosso, red earth soil around the town of Manduria, giving added concentration to the wines. Whereas the Salento peninsula has cooling Mediterranean sea breezes at night to preserve freshness in the wines. Salute!
WINE OF THE WEEK
1) Primitivo 2010
"Punto Aquila" by Tenute Rubino, Salento 14.5pc [O'Brien's]
Subdued earthy aromas don't prepare you for the intensity of the flavours of ripe black fruits combined with deep earthy tones. This is rich and ripe with a cocoa- powder finish. Serve with blackened Cajun-style chicken.
€18.99 at O'Brien's 32 off-licences nationwide and online at wine.ie
2) Primitivo 2012
"Il Medaglione" by Leone de Castris, Salento 13.5pc [Mackenway]
A more unusual feminine style, lighter in body with fresh cranberry fruitiness, gentle tannins and an earthy finish. Enjoy with hard cheeses with a slightly sweet note, such as French Comte or our own equivalent, Glebe Brethan from Louth.
€10.99-€11.99 at Next Door Off-licences nationwide; Holland's Bray; Morton's, Galway and Ranelagh and D-Six Wines, Harold's Cross, Dublin
3) Primitivo 2010
"Piluna" by Castello Monaci, Salento 14pc [Gilbey's]
Muted aromas contrast with rich plummy flavours in a more serious contemplative style. Firm, dark meat- loving tannins to match with a Chinese beef in a black bean sauce.
€15.00 in Dublin at Donnybrook Fair, Morehampton Road, Baggot Street, Stillorgan, Grand Canal Square and Greystones, Co Wicklow
4) Primitivo di Manduria 2011
"Sud" by Feudi di San Marzano 14pc [Honest2Goodness]
Lush and lavish with blackberries skin-bursting with ripeness. Full-bodied and a warming and earthy finish. Try with duck accompanied by a black cherry sauce.
€22.95 in Dublin at Red Island Wines, Skerries and the Corkscrew, Chatham Street; and online at thecorkscrew.ie and honest2goodness.ie
In response to readers' requests, I will regularly feature a wine under €12 that has scored over 80pc.
Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Swingbridge, Margaret River,
Australia 12.5pc [Tesco]
Fragrant with lemon fruit and zest aromas. This classic very dry Bordeaux Blanc duo delivers grassy and grapefruit-fresh flavours. Serve with fish and chips.
€7.00 from €16.69 until February 25 at Tesco nationwide