Primitivo - a spicy Italian red wine from Piglia

Another good Italian wine reviewed in 500 words or less…

A red from Puglia in Italy’s south this time around. Primitivo di Manduria, from the area roughly between Taranto and Lecce, deep in the heel of Italy’s ‘boot’.

Primitivo could be a wine/grape variety you haven’t come across before – but in fact, you might know it quite well, because it’s genetically identical to that much-loved California staple, Zinfandel.

So if you know and like one – you’ll know and like the other. You’ll know too that this is a big, chunky wine; strong, spicy and earthy. No great airs and graces, but capable of quite long ageing – which softens and rounds-off the rougher edges.

Primitivo’s an ancient grape variety, widely-grown throughout the Puglia region, (mainly for blending with other less robust varieties grown elsewhere in Italy, to give them a bit of oomph), but the best unadulterated wines, made with 100% Primitivo grapes, come from Manduria.

This example was extraordinarily good-natured. Humble, co-op origins. Dark red in the glass, with a first scent almost like mulled wine, with distinct hints of cinnamon, cloves and freshly-baked gingerbread. That warmth evident too in the taste, rich and mouth-filling, overlaid with distinct tannins which lengthened the finish and added structure and depth.

I’ve seen Primitivo described as ‘rustic’ and ‘heavy’, which I don’t personally take as negative comments. Yes – it is a weighty wine, (maybe a bit old-fashioned in some of today’s tastes for lighter wines), and it certainly doesn’t have the depth and subtleties of some other reds.

But is that necessarily a bad thing ? Don’t think so.

For me, Primitivo doesn’t claim to be anything other than it is – as good a winter red as you’ll find, and there are few better partners to big, robust red meat and game dishes. As an off-the-wall suggestion, it’d probably drink really nicely too with mince-pies at Christmas, or especially with a slice of really rich, dark fruit-cake.

And for mulled wine ? Definitely ! (But a bit of a waste…)

At 14% – top-end of the scale for this wine – this bottle packed a pleasing punch too.

It drinks well when still young – this bottle was from the 2015 vintage, and one of the benefits of coming from Puglia – where the sun shines pretty much endlessly – is that the standard is consistently good. You might find vintages that offer more of the all-round spiciness and scents than others; but you’ll very rarely come across an outright bad one.

Ideal would be a 3-4 year-old example. But that would probably cost more than the €5.75 I invested in this bottle.