Zinfandel and Primitivo

Zinfandel is becoming an increasingly popular grape in North America. Primarily known for its fruitier and sweet styles, it is difficult to imagine its relation to the big and structured Primitivo of Italy. With several recent Zinfandel/Primitivo features on WineCollective, we’ve decided to bring you some wine education on the grape and it’s Italian twin.


Zinfandel was first introduced to the Apulia region (the ‘heel’ of Italy’s boot) in the 18th century. However then, it was known as the Croatian varietal, Crljenak Kaštelanski or Tribidrag, and developed the name Primitivo from the term ‘primativus’ as it can typically be one of the first red varietals to mature in the season. Black and thin-skinned, Primitivo holds high sugar levels allowing for vast alcohol content dependant on fermentation. Overall, Zinfandel and/or Primitivo can range from 14% to 17% ABV.

In Italy, Primitivo was first used to plump thin red wines produced in Tuscany and Piedmont. After the grape arrived in California in 1968, ampelographers declared Zinfandel and Primitivo identical in 1972 after noticing many similarities. Soon after, Apulia began constructing single varietal wines of Primitivo, which resulted in rustic, juicy, structured and high alcohol wines.

Meanwhile, back in California, White Zinfandel began to emerge and soared in popularity. Stripped of its skins prior to fermentation, White Zinfandel does not hold big alcohol, or tannins and body as the grape normally would produce. Instead, producers are able to play off the sweet flavours of Zinfandel and today, the rosé wine makes of for 85% of Zin production in the United States and six times the sales of regular Zinfandel wines.

The name, Zinfandel was created along with its introduction and production in America. Overall, the grape is the third-leading wine variety grown in the state with more then 48,000 acres in 2013.


While we do love sweet rosé wines, we are very grateful that California began to make wonderful bold reds from Zinfandel. In the 1990’s a few wineries including Ravenswood and Turley proved that hearty world-class reds could also be produced from the grape. Today you can find delicious examples from Sonoma, Napa and Lodi.

Zinfandel & Primitivo Characteristics

Fruit: Blueberry, cherry, plum, jam, cranberry. coconut

Earth: Spice, tobacco, black berry, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, coffee

Other: Smoke, burnt sugar, sawdust, candied fruit

Because of Zinfandel and Primitivo’s fruity sweetness, the wine is a great match for curry spices, and sweet and hot BBQ dishes. In Italy the wine is typically paired with rustic tomato dishes or chilis and meatballs.

Interested in trying the difference between the grape brothers? We have had several recent Zinfandel and Primitivo features on WineCollective, from Lodi and Apulia, all available on the online store! Use the coupon code GRAPERELATE for $10 off your order.


Rampage 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel 

Lodi, California

Mouth: Ripe red fruit, cherries and strawberries are concentrated and deep. There is enough wild-berry and secondary notes to balance the richness of fruit. Aged in both French and American oak, adding vanilla and spice to the wine. The Zinfandel is blended with Petite Sirah and Petite Verdot, which add to the structure and tannins of the wine.


Pirro Varone 2009 Casa Vecchia Primitivo 

Puglia, Italy

Mouth: Similar fruits from the nose of plum, currants and dried cherries. Combined with some chocolate notes, reminiscent of Black Forest cake. We are most impressed with the lusciousness of the wine, that supports rounded tannins, moderate acidity and a juicy finish. A very well-balanced wine!


Cameron Hughes 2012 Lot 464 Old Vine Zinfandel

Lodi, California

Mouth: Dark fruit with more chocolate and spice. The oak is clearly apparent, however well integrated, creating a luscious and warm palate. Tannins are present and pleasant, not overly drying. Dense and concentrated, the finish trails on and on.

All in all Zinfandel and Primitivo are genetic twins. Whether you are enjoying a bright White Zin, a big and bold Primitivo, or both, take a minute to appreciate the differences in history, cultivation and wine production which have all lead to a variety of delicious styles that any wine lover can enjoy today.