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Flavor-packed Primitivo

Northside Staff
Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, Jason Wentworth

The past decade has seen a greater variety of southern Italian wines exported to the U.S. than in years past. Grape varieties unknown to most American wine drinkers little over a decade ago are now standard fare in both wine shops and restaurants. Sicily’s Nero d’Avola comes to mind, as does Primitivo, grown primarily in Apulia, the “heel of Italy’s boot.”

The potential appeal of Primitivo is easy to grasp, as it is genetically related to California’s popular Zinfandel variety. European Union law, in fact, recognizes Zinfandel as a synonym of Primitivo; either name may be used on the label. Good examples of Primitivo, like Zinfandel, are bursting with fruit reminiscent of raspberry and ripe cherry frequently accompanied by hints of black pepper and exotic spices. When things go wrong, the early ripening Primitivo produces overly alcoholic wines with an unappealing raisin-like character.

The staff at Northside Wine & Spirits recently blind-tasted a selection of 13 Primitivo wines from Apulia. Many of the wines were simple and straightforward, full of lip-smacking, tasty fruit. Poorer examples were rather rustic with unbalanced alcohol and overripe fruit. Some wines had their lovely fruit overwhelmed by the taste of new oak barrels, perhaps used to give the wines in question more of a “New World” appeal.

The staff’s unanimous first-place pick, the Perrini 2010 Primitivo ($19.99 per bottle) was aged in stainless steel tanks, which allows its pure, vibrant fruit to take center stage. Made from certified organically grown grapes, the Perrini is a bit of a “wow” wine. Its rather exotic aroma, showing hints of raspberry, blueberry, menthol, and brown spice, really jumps out of the glass. The wine is intensely flavorful, yet not at all heavy.

The Perrini family, responsible for this beauty, began growing grapes in the early 19th century, selling them to local wine producers. In 1993, the vineyards were converted to organic viticulture, an underground cellar was built, and the family began to bottle their own wine. Enjoy their beautiful Primitivo with meaty casseroles, a nice juicy steak, ratatouille, stuffed bell peppers, or almost any full flavored dish with a Mediterranean accent.

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