Primitivo: Wine Expressions From Puglia

Posted on Posted in Learn, Puglia

Primitivo is an ancient red wine grape, native to Puglia. It is Puglia’s most popular native varietal. While the grape is produced in virtually all of Puglia’s wine zones, there are different expressions that come from the biodiversity of terroir. So a Primitivo from the Castel del Monte appellation will taste different from a Primitivo in Manduria. Same region but different appellation or sub-region. (See the appellation map of Puglia below). 

Primitivo comes from the latin word “primativus” which means “first.” We’re talking about the fact that Primitivo is the first grape to ripen and harvest. Usually mid-August. Generally grapes harvest in October. 

Primitivo wines are generally hot and jam packed with savory red fruits. Most commercial Primitivos contain 14% alcohol, but this grape is capable of producing much higher alcohol levels. This is due to the fact that the sugar levels augment very quickly and early in the season. The high sugar and alcohol present another dimension to the vast array of Primitivos coming form one region. 

Generally, it is thought that the best areas for Primitivo wines come from the Manduria appellation of Puglia. Although, there are always exceptions and I love finding them. But it’s the Manduria appelation where the only DOCG exists. It’s called Primitivo Dolce Naturale which is the sweet version of the wine. The grapes are dried while still on the vine and harvested in September which is a late harvest for the grape. By drying the grapes on the vine, the higher sugar levels convert into higher alcohol levels all while leaving a ton of residual sugar. If done well, the residual sugar and alcohol balance each other brilliantly and create and incredibly complex wine. 

There are also fortified versions which make very powerful wines which also tend to give a semi-sweet impression with richness and complexity. 

But if you’re looking for a traditional dry red Italian wine, Primivito is a great direction to go into. Most wines from all the zones on the map below make dry versions at 14% alcohol. The dry versions usually pack a nice bite on the finish with some great jammy red fruits. 

The dry Primitivo is one of the quintessential wines of everyday South Italy. Just like the people, the wine is warm and inviting. 

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