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Varietal > Primitivo
Wine Grape Varietals 101


What is Primitivo

A grape with a skin so deeply pigmented that it almost appears black, Primitivo is the native name for Zinfandel. Although the grape rose to fame in the United States, Primitivo’s original home was actually Croatia, though it has traditional roots in the Apulia region of Italy, where it was introduced in the 18th century. It arrived in the United States a full century later.

Primitivo thrives in warm, dry climates. With thin-skinned grapes that grow in large and tight bunches, the grape is prone to rot. Fruit ripens early and has high sugar content, but it also has a tendency to ripen unevenly, with some bunches containing under ripe, raisinated, and green grapes. This means that some winemakers are forced to blend together grapes that are not properly ripened, while others may have to hand-harvest, at tremendous cost.

Primitvo is known for its red fruit and spice, with red raspberry, cherry, and black pepper on the palate. American-style Zinfandel (it is never referred to as Primitivo in the United States) tends to be higher in alcohol, and is often described as having a “chewy” quality to it, while Primitivo in other areas relies largely on a backbone of spice. In cooler climates, Primitivo can also present some black and blue fruits, like blueberry, blackberry, and black currant.

Primitivo continues to be most popular in both Apulia and California, and is also grown in Croatia. In Italy, it is also vinified into dessert wines, since its naturally occurring sugars make it a good candidate for this type of winemaking practice.

Primitivo Synonyms

include Crljenak Kaštelanski, Gioia Del Colle, Locale, Morellone, Plavac Veliki, Primaticcio, Primativo, Primitivo, Primitivo Di Gioia, Primitivo Nero, Uva Della Pergola, Uva Di Corato, ZPC, Black St. Peters, Zenfendal, Zinfardel, Zinfindal, Taranto, Zeinfandall, Zinfardell, Zinfindel, and Zinfandal. 

Primitivo grapes are found in red, rose, and dessert wines.

Structural Characteristics

Low Medium High
Alcohol levels
Low Medium High
Low Medium High
Tannin Structure
Low Medium High

Examples of Primitivo to Try

Handling Tips

60-68°F / 16-20°C
5-7 years