The weird and wonderful world of Primitivo

Posted by Joelle Thomson on

Primitivo is southern Italy’s big red wine success story so it might come as a bit of a surprise to find this grape originally comes from Croatia where it’s called Tribidrag. Hardly the sexiest of names but this grape and the wines it makes are definitely seductive.

Full bodied, fleshy and fruit driven, they tick all the big, cuddly, smooth red taste boxes you can imagine.

It's also known as Zinfandel in California but because one of our upcoming wines of the week is from Italy and is labelled Primitivo, let's stick with that for this blog.

The earliest mention of Primitivo is in Puglia in 1799 when Francesco Filippo Indellicati, a priest, botanist and agronomist, made a note that he had found an early ripening grape in his vineyard. He called it Primativo.

The name came from the Latin word Primativus, which means 'first to ripen'. 

The grape then spread to other areas in Puglia and the spelling morphed over time to become Primitivo, which appeared in writing in 1860. 

While many North Americans have suggested that ZInfandel is a native North American grape variety, it has been genetically identified as a member of the European grape family known as Vitis vinifera. This family is not native to the American continent, which has many native vine varieties of its own, such as Vitis Labrusca, among others.

It seems that George Gibbs introduced Zinfandel to North America via his vine nursery in the 1820s and, by 1829, the name Zinfandel had appeared on the catalogue of other vine nurseries in the States. 

In 1967, a North American plant pathologist called Austin Goheen visited Bari in Puglia, Italy, discovering that wines made from Primitivo reminded him strongly of Zinfandel. He was then surprised to see how similar the vines looked to Zinfandel and he took cuttings to the University of California at Davis to plant it next to Zinfandel.

The battle was on. Which one was the original?

It has since been discovered that the original actually comes from another place altogether - Croatia. And that's another story in itself.


We have both Primitivo and Zinfandel in store at Regional Wines, so pop in any time to try these big fleshy reds. You'll soon see why two countries both wanted to own the origins of the delicious drops that this one grape can make.

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