Sunday, March 12, 2006

Primitivo Instincts

I came away from one of my favorite local wine shops yesterday delightfully surprised by a varietal I had previously dismissed. The primitivo served up as part of the tasting Saturday was a last-minute substitute for another wine that failed to arrive. It proved to be good fortune for me.

I typically would not search out a primitivo, since the last time I tried one (about 7 or 8 years ago) I was unimpressed. But after trying the Torre Salento Primitivo 2002 at just $11, I have added this southern Italian red to my list of terrific value wines.

I should not have been surprised. Recent research shows primitivo is a kissin' cousin of zinfandel, and we all know what a terrific varietal zin is. In fact, we've learned in the last decade that zinfandel and primitivo are both clones of the same Croatian grape, crljenak. They're probably more like brothers than cousins, so one might expect the same flavors from primitivo that one associates with great zins. It's something I doubt many zin producers celebrate, since primitivo historically has been unexciting and cheap. But much better versions are now being made, and it's still inexpensive.

The Torre primitivo I tasted showed lots of plum and black cherry with a hint of cocoa and spice. Similar to a zin in primary flavors but with stylistic differences. It's not quite so fruit forward as many California zins, but that's not a knock. I like its slightly earthy character and dry, dusty tannins. No doubt about it. This is a terrific $11 wine that offers proof of why many Americans are increasingly turning to imports for their value wines.


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