This is the first in a 3-part post about Primitivo at home and abroad, and its relationship with Zinfandel.
To some, they are twins, to others, merely siblings. But regardless of which side of the divide on which a given proponent of Zinfandel or Primitivo stands, one thing is certain. The connection of Primitivo with its sibling (some might say favored-child of a chilly Croatian parent) grape Zinfandel, can only serve to burnish the reputations of both grapes. The region (and its associated cuisine) from which Primitivo hails– Puglia, Italy—has a culinary tradition ripe for pairing with both of these varietals. The history of the grapes themselves unfolds like a good mystery. The similarities and differences between the two grapes, and wines produced from them, may be played up to the delight of any wine aficionado. And either of these grapes pairs beautifully with the foods of Puglia, Italy.
The story of how Primitivo arrived in Italy, and Zinfandel in California, is a good one, all the more so because few are aware of the most up-to-date grape DNA forensics on the matter. The tale of Primitivo and Zinfandel is wrought with twists and turns. UC Davis confirmed in 2003 via genetic comparison that the two grapes share the same DNA profile. Later researchers traced the parent grape back to Croatia, and posited that in the 1800’s, the grape traveled to the US, (via a side trip to Austria, where it was acquired by an American horticulturist), and became Zinfandel, (likely derived from a Hungarian name for the grape—Hungary was at this time part of the Austrian empire, which also comprised modern-day Croatia.) It is suspected the grape travelled simultaneously to Puglia, in Italy, where it was named Primitivo (meaning “first” because it ripens earlier than many other wine grapes). However, despite the identical DNA profiles, one would think at both a glance and a taste that these are in fact different grapes.
To be continued.