It's Time to Revisit Primitivo, Puglia's Premiere Grape | Wine Enthusiast
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It’s Time to Revisit Primitivo, Puglia’s Premiere Grape

Stretching more than 200 miles from tip to tip, Puglia is a land of exciting diversity. Many wine lovers are familiar with this southern Italian region’s stalwart grape, Primitivo, but a revisit might be in order to understand the variety’s true range.

The most famous is Primitivo di Manduria Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), a region in the province of Taranto that sits alongside the Ionian Sea. This warm flatland environment has clay and sandy soils that produce rich wines. Flavors of liquor-soaked berries, figs and orange rind are typically bolstered by heavy-handed oak, and it is not uncommon for the alcohol to soar up to 16% abv. However, despite all that power, balance can still be found in examples that maintain plenty of fresh acidity to counteract the lush fruit and oak tones.

There is no singular voice for Primitivo, and each regional expression is unique. 

For Primitivo with a bit of elegance, look for options from the Gioia del Colle DOC. Located in the province of Bari, this inland, hilly region is known for its gravelly terra rossa soils. With elevations between 650 and 1,400 feet, the expression of Primitivo in this region leans fresh and vibrant. Crisp, crunchy cherry and blackberry flavors are highlighted by peppery spices, with oak influence typically playing ­second fiddle.

Primitivo is also well represented in the Salento Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), a rather large area that encompasses the entire province of the same name on the southern tip of Puglia. With warm temperatures tempered by a constant breeze coming off the Adriatic Sea, the expression in this region strikes a fine balance between lush, ripe fruit and savory spice tones. These wines play on the more straightforward, fruity nature of the grape but the best examples maintain good balance and structure, often at a good value.

In Puglia, there is no singular voice for Primitivo, and each regional expression is unique. From rich and heady to racy and savory, this grape is able to deliver a range of styles that many will undoubtedly enjoy.

Primitivo wines to look for

Pietraventosa 2013 Riserva Primitivo (Gioia del Colle); $42, 91 points. This wine spent 18 months in 50% new French oak. Aromas of anise, game and pepper ride over a concentrated dark cherry core on the nose. The palate is creamy in feel, with ripe berry and savory spice flavors that are supported by integrated tannins and bright acidity. RWK Imports.

Tommasi 2015 Masseria Surani Dionysos Riserva (Primitivo di Manduria); $42, 91 points. A heady mix of tilled earth, anise and tar ride over a dense blackberry and plum jam core. While densely packed on the palate, there’s an impressive line of acidity pushing through to draw out the jammy fruit and spice flavors. Firm tannins lend ample support and clench up the finish. Drink from 2023. Vintus LLC.

Coppi 2015 Senatore Primitvo (Gioia del Colle); $29, 90 points. Showing the more elegant side of the grape, this is floral and delicate on the nose, with a core of red plum and forest berry aromas. While the palate is light in profile, there’s wonderful tension to the acidity and structure to the tannins, building a frame for the crushed cherry and plum flavors. Pressed violet and delicate, peppery spice linger on the finish. Wine 4 All.

Produttori di Manduria 2015 Elegia Riserva (Primitivo di Manduria); $33, 90 points. Aromas of baked cherry and blackberry meld with dried hay, anise and orange on the nose. The medium-bodied palate is all about jammy fruit, with accents of spice, orange and earth that add complexity. Bright acidity and drying tannins push through to tighten up the close. Massanois Imports.

Rivera 2016 Triusco (Primitivo di Manduria); $26, 90 points. This is a vibrant Primitivo that sees time in glass-lined cement tanks, highlighting the delightfully fresh profile of the grape. Bright red berries, mentholated herbs, violets and spice frame the nose and palate, while zesty acidity and a firm grip of fine-grained tannins give it support. Montcalm Wine Importers.

San Marzano 2017 Talò (Primitivo di Manduria); $17, 90 points. A pleasing depth of bramble berry jam melds with lifted tones of violet, pepper and tilled earth in this delightful Primitivo. There’s richness to the fruit on the palate, but it all feels quite fresh and crunchy due to the bright acidity and firm tannins. Winebow. Editors’ Choice.

Tormaresca 2017 Torcicoda Primitivo (Salento); $20, 90 points. Dense dark-berry aromas are lifted by plenty of violet, graphite and potpourri spice on the nose. There’s a creaminess to the dark fruit on the palate, with warm baking spice tones and firm tannins giving grip and bright acidity lifting it up. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Editors’ Choice.

Vespa 2017 Il Rosso dei Vespa (Primitivo di Manduria); $35, 90 points. Aromas of mixed berry preserves and fig are lifted by accents of pepper, violet and tar on the nose. There’s a pleasing vibrancy to the palate, with lively acidity brightening flavors of jammy berries and orange rind. The tannins are fine yet copious, giving a structured frame to this immensely food-friendly wine. Ethica Wines.

Masseria Li Veli 2017 Orion Primitivo (Salento); $14, 89 points. Ripe cherry and blackberry aromas are lifted by orange and potpourri spices. Rounded in feel, the palate pops in bright, bouncy red-fruit flavors, with spicy tannins riding underneath. Accents of violet and graphite arise on the midpalate and extend through the finish. Dalla Terra Winery Direct. Best Buy.

Leone de Castris 2018 Il Medaglione Primitivo (Salento); $15, 88 points. Aromas of blood orange, baked plum and cherry are lifted by potpourri spice on the nose. Rounded and juicy on the palate, a succulent red fruit jam flavor is honed by racy acidity and fine-grained tannins. Vias Imports.