New in the tasting room this month–and my current favorite on the tasting list–is the 2009 Primitivo. The name Primitivo is Italian for Zinfandel, an ancient grape that originates in Croatia under the name Crljenak Kastelanski. In Italy, Primitivo is the pride of Puglia (the “boot heel” region of southern Italy) where it was brought from Croatia in the mid 1700’s.

A priest there gave the variety the Latin name Primativus when he noticed it was the first in his vineyard to ripen. For several hundred years Primitivo was used primarily as a blending grape providing body, color and flavor to red table wines of the Puglia region. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 1900’s that it truly made a name for itself as a varietal wine.

In fact, finding a bottle of Primitivo on an enoteca shelf anywhere north of Rome prior to the 1980’s was a rarity indeed. Today Primitivo is exceptionally popular and can be found in wine shops and fine restaurants around the globe.

Exactly how our Zinfandel got its name remains unknown. The grape was first imported to the US in 1829 through Long Island from the imperial nursery of Austria in Vienna without any record of its name. By 1830 New England growers were already referring it as Zenfendel and Zinfindal.

In 1852 the grape was shipped to California at the request of former gold rushers who had become farmers. By 1859 Zinfandel was a predominant vine of both the Napa and Sonoma growing regions. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s when California growers started importing Primitivo vines from Italy, thinking they had something new to experiment with, that geneticists at UC Davis noticed the two were identical.

Primitivo is typically high in alcohol, full-bodied and fruit forward with deep red hues and rich, full flavors. Our 2009 vintage is precisely that, which makes it the perfect wine to accompany many holiday dishes, especially rich, fatty poultry slathered in gravy and cranberry sauce.

This wine also pairs beautifully with gourmet Mexican dishes such as chicken in spicy chocolate Mole Poblano (pictured), a combination I recently devoured with much gusto at Dos Carlitos Restaurant in the heart of downtown Santa Ynez. The staff was friendly and professional, the ambience majestic, the food delicious, and the Primitivo first-class.
Click image to enlarge:

Carlos Mascherin, Santa Barbara Winery

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