Primitivo Wine Guide: History, Regions, Taste, Food Pairing

You probably already know that Primitivo wine is a popular choice if you enjoy Zinfandel and have been looking for a wine with a similar flavor profile. But what is Primitivo wine? And how does it relates to Zinfandel? You are going to find out right here!

What is Primitivo wine?


Primitivo wine is a type of red wine made in the Puglia region of Italy. Primitivo grapes are abundant in Puglia, making for an easy-drinking, affordable red wine that pairs well with food.

Due to its well-known “jammy” flavor, it pairs well with red meats like lamb and steak and is excellent for long-term aging. Industry experts would describe them as inky and tannic.

When you’re tired of the same old Pinot noirs and cabernet sauvignons, it’s a good idea to try Primitivo wine because of its unique characteristics.

Speaking of its characteristics, most Puglian experts will say that Primitivo is a “Mirr test” or “hard wine.” The ABV of the fortified wine variety usually reaches 18% and is reduced to 14% in table wines.

Primitivo frequently requires a few years in either a bottle or a barrel because of the certain amount of bitterness that it usually contains and its mouth-drying tannins.

Success with Primitivo wine is not something that comes easily. The suitability of the soil and the climate will influence a lot. Primitivo produces unattractive results when grown in fertile soils at lower altitudes.

But if the conditions are right, Primitivo can make extraordinary wine. The trick is to find cooler places in warm climates, especially terroirs where the temperature changes a lot from day to night.

And with that said, the best Primitivo wine varieties come from the many regions of Italy. These are the following:

  • Primitivo di Manduria
  • Primitivo Gioia del Colle
  • Primitivo del Salento
  • Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale

History of Primitivo wine


Although Primitivo originated in Croatia, where it is known as Tribidrag and Crljenak Katelanski, Southern Italy is where it is most recognized. Historians say it was carried from Dalmatia across the Adriatic Sea in the 18th century. Gioia del Colle in Puglia, still a DOC today, was the site of the first Italian plantings.

Primitivo was also introduced to America and named Zinfandel a century later. It gained popularity in California.  Soon, Zinfandel was regarded as the best red grape produced in the USA.

In 1994, DNA testing proved that Zinfandel was the same species as Primitivo from Italy and Tribidrag from Croatia. And since 1999, Italian winemakers have legally labeled their Primitivo wines as Zinfandel. It made them more popular on the export market as varietal wines.

What are the regions in Italy that grow Primitivo grapes?


The home of the Primitivo grapes is Puglia in Italy. However, it is also grown in Abruzzo, Basilicata, Sardinia, and Campania.

The unique terrain of the area has an impact on the ways winemakers produce wine. Farmers in other parts of Italy plant their premium vines on the sides of hills where mountains and hills dominate the landscape. The grapes are cooled down at high altitudes to maintain acidity and provide rich aromas.

But now, four main regions primarily grow Primitivo grapes. These are the following:

1. The Hills of Gioia Del Colle

The Gioia Del Colle is where the Primitivo grape originated. The Gioia del Colle wine region is situated at an elevation of roughly 320 meters on the Murgia plateau.

High-altitude fermentation of the grapes results in concentrated tannins and greater sunlight. Perhaps this explains why the wines made from this grape are the best in the region and draw a lot of attention.

2. Primitivo Di Manduria (Red Soils of Taranto)

This area produces the most well-known bottle of Primitivo Puglia wine. The region also used to produce the “Primitivo di Manduria” DOC and “Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale” DOCG. The grapes from the red soils of Taranto have a sharp and acidic flavor that makes them excellent for trade.

3. Salento Peninsula

The Salento Peninsula lies on the backside of Italy’s “boot” heel and stretches into the sea. The winemakers in this area use unique vinification and fermentation techniques. Salento is a region in south Puglia with a hot, dry season. Yet, the rich culture and traditions of Brindisi and Lecce make it fascinating for Primitivos.

4. Altopiano Delle Murge

The enormous plateau known as the Altopiano delle Murge covers much of central Puglia. Similar to Gioia del Colle, high elevations in this area are perfect for growing full-bodied Primitivo wine.

The methods used in production and the area where the Primitivo grapes are planted, the wines can differ in their flavors and aroma. But one thing is for sure when it comes to Primitivo wine. It is a bottle of elegance and perfection in taste.

What does Primitivo wine taste like?


When you taste Primitivo wine, you might be surprised that it tastes familiar, like the California favorite Zinfandel. Primitivo and Zinfandel come from the same grape. Primitivo wine is bold and full-bodied, with a lot of alcohol and medium tannin and acidity levels.

It has a strong flavor that is often the same as ripe dark berries, such as blueberries and blackberries, licorice, and black pepper. With an alcohol content of 14–18% ABV, it has a strong aroma of sweet vanilla, blue flowers, sour, and black cherry.

This Puglian grape produces wine that pairs well with a wide variety of dishes. But we’ll get to that later!

Primitivo is similar to Zinfandel, as was previously stated. Full-bodied zinfandel has a medium to high tannin content, bright acidity, and high alcohol, along with similar flavors of raspberry, blackberry, cherry, plum, and spicy hints of pepper. It also contains similar flavors of red and black fruit.

Primitivo and Zinfandel have extremely similar profiles. However, Primitivo does not attain the same levels as Californian wine. Climate, soil, vinification, and vine age are only a few possible causes of this.

Is Zinfandel And Primitivo wines the same?

Primitivo is almost genetically the same as Zinfandel, considered California’s best and most well-known variety. They are like twins!

The same grape goes by both Zinfandel and Primitivo. The majority of Zinfandel grapes are grown in California. Primitivo is a type of grape that is grown mostly in Italy.

But Primitivo and Zinfandel were not the grape’s first names. The grapes come from Croatia, where they are known as “Tribidrag” or “Crljenak Katelanski.”

Primitivo and Zinfandel are probably more different because of the soil, climate, and the way the winemakers make the wine. Primitivo is a dark and tannic wine that smells and tastes of flowers, fruit, pepper, and blackberries.

Zinfandel contains flavors of berry, cherry, blackberry, anise, and black pepper. California winemakers let Zinfandel grapes ripen until they have a lot of sugar, which gives the wine more alcohol. This extra ripening makes the wine smoother because as grapes ripen, they lose acidity.

Primitivo’s characteristics can differ, partly because of the methods employed by winemakers in Italy. The name “Primitivo” comes from how quickly it ripens, and it doesn’t usually hang for as long as Zinfandel does.

What food goes well with Primitivo wine?


To fully appreciate a great Primitivo’s distinctive taste, you need matching food. Primitivo is food-friendly with rich and earthy cuisine, including tomato-based dishes, thanks to its low tannin and mild acidity. Next time you’ll pop a bottle of Primitivo, try pairing it with these foods!

Vegetable and Vegetarian Dishes

Many vegetarian and vegetable-based recipes pair nicely with various Primitivo styles. Black olives, risotto with mushrooms, grilled vegetables including eggplant, red peppers, mushrooms, and zucchini, and pasta of all kinds topped with rich cheese and tomato sauces.

Rustic Pizza

This match will make anyone feel like they are enjoying a meal seated on the southern coast of Italy. It is more about the aesthetics of the food and wine. And again, the earthy flavors of the Primitivo wine will match nicely with the rustic pizza flavors of tomatoes, onions, and garlic.

Braised Lamb

Primitive wine pairs perfectly with hearty stews made to keep you warm during the winter. Since a Primitivo has moderate acidity, chefs usually add the wine to the gravy they use to braise meats to give them a smooth, rich flavor.


There are a number of reasons why hamburgers and Primitivo wine go well together. In contrast to the heavy flavor of hamburgers, the wine’s balanced acidity and juicy flavor are refreshing. The Primitivo’s sweet tannins bring out the beef protein’s best taste.

The Best Primitivo Wines


So, if you are now thinking of giving Primitivo wine a shot, you should have a guide to the best Primitivo wines that you can get!


Italian Primitivo wines are a unique breed known for their delicate complexions, bright crimson tones, and high alcohol content. Beware because it may cause you to lose track of how many glasses you’ve had. It is a wine you can enjoy with friends and family that will complement different foods!

Primitivo Wine Guide

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