Tag Archives: Croatia

Variety Show: Spotlight on Primitivo… Or Zinfandel?… Or Tribidrag?

StefanoToday’s grape in the limelight of our Variety Show is Primitivo, a black-berried grape variety that has sparked a long-lasting controversy as to whether it is the same variety as Zinfandel or a different one.

With the help of the precious and up-to-date scientific data from the brilliant tome Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012, this post intends to shed some light on this debate and provide an overview of the scientific evidence that settled it.

1. A Brief History of Primitivo

The earliest documented mention of Primitivo in Italy dates back to 1799 and can be found in a note of an amateur botanist from Puglia who called “Primativo” (from the Latin “primativus“, meaning “first to ripen”) a particularly early ripening grapevine that he found in his own vineyard.

2. How Zinfandel Made It To The USA

The introduction of Zinfandel to the United States has recently been proven to take place in the 1820’s when Long Island grape grower George Gibbs brought this variety to his nursery from the Schönbrunn imperial collection in Vienna, Austria. At the time of its introduction to the United States, it was an unnamed grape variety, but by 1829 it appeared in the catalog of another Long Island nursery under the name “Zinfardel” and was later referred to under several variations of that original name until 1860, when it was agreed that the variety should be officially called “Zinfandel”.

3. In Search of Truth: Are Primitivo and Zinfandel One and The Same?

In 1967 a plant pathologist from the US Department of Agriculture visited Bari, in Italy’s Puglia region, and he was struck by the similarities between Zinfandel and Italy’s Primitivo wines and grapevines, so much so that he brought Primitivo cuttings to the University of California at Davis for them to be analyzed and compared to Zinfandel. In 1975 Wade Wolfe, a PhD candidate at Davis, established that Primitivo and Zinfandel were one and the same variety.

This immediately prompted the “battle over Zinfandel“, with several Primitivo producers from Puglia who started selling their wines in the United States labeling them “Zinfandel”. This practice triggered a reaction by most Californian Zinfandel producers to defend their investment in the variety and resulted in a 1985 ruling by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (“BATF”) that Zinfandel could not be used as a synonym of Primitivo.

Nonetheless, the identity between Zinfandel and Primitivo was later confirmed, in 1994, by DNA profiling conducted by Carole Meredith at UC Davis. As a result, in 1999 the European Union granted Italian Primitivo producers the right to use the name Zinfandel. BATF filed a complaint with the European Union against such ruling, but it proved unsuccessful. To date, no agreement between the US and the EU on this matter has been reached despite the scientific evidence.

4. The “Zinquest”: Where Did The Primitivo/Zinfandel Originate From?

Soon after proving the identity between Primitivo and Zinfandel, Carole Meredith at UC Davis connected in 1998 with Croatian scholars at the University of Zagreb (Croatia) to start what was referred to as the “Zinquest“, that is the quest to determine the origins of Primitivo/Zinfandel. After much research, the quest finally came to a successful end in 2001 when DNA profiling established that Zinfandel was identical to a Dalmatian grape variety locally known as Crljenak Kaštelanski (meaning “the red from Kaštela”).

Later on (in 2011), DNA analysis proved that Crljenak Kaštelanski was the same variety as a very old Croatian variety indigenous to the Dalmatia region and known as Tribidrag, whose first documented mentions date back to the XV century. As an interesting side note, the Croatian word Tribidrag has Greek origins and means “early ripening”, which perfectly matches the etymology of the word “Primitivo” in Puglia.

According to the rule of anteriority (whereby the oldest name used for a same grape variety takes precedence), Tribidrag should be considered as the prime name for the Crljenak Kaštelanski/Primitivo/Zinfandel variety.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

5. Geographical Distribution of the Tribidrag/Crljenak Kaštelanski/Primitivo/Zinfandel Grape Variety

In terms of geographical distribution, Primitivo plantings in Italy in 2000 amounted to 7,951 HA, mostly in the Puglia region and particularly in its Salento district. Wines are generally fruity, structured and high in ABV. Notable appellations for Primitivo wines in the Puglia region include:

  • Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale DOCG (an appellation reserved to sweet, raisin wines made from 100% Primitivo grapes grown in a territory adjacent to the towns of Taranto and Brindisi)
  • Gioia del Colle Primitivo DOC (an appellation reserved to wines made from 100% Primitivo grapes grown in a territory adjacent to the town of Bari)
  • Primitivo di Manduria DOC (an appellation reserved to wines made from 85% or more Primitivo grapes grown in a territory adjacent to the towns of Taranto and Brindisi)

Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag are fairly popular, respectively, in Croatia and Montenegro.

California is by far the place with the most Tribidrag/Zinfandel plantings, with 20,377 HA in 2008 (making it the second most planted red variety in California, after Cabernet Sauvignon). Zinfandel quality in California is uneven, although recently there has been an effort on the part of several producers to make quality wines, which tend to be big, bold and fruity.

Tribidrag/Zinfandel has also gained some popularity in Australia.

6. Recommended Primitivo/Zinfandel Producers

(1) Recommended producers of outstanding Italian Primitivo wines include, among others of course:

Feudi di San Marzano, Primitivo di Manduria “Sessantanni” DOC ($50)

Feudi di San Marzano, Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale “11 Filari” DOCG (€15 for a 500 ml bottle – not yet available in the US)

Gianfranco Fino, Primitivo di Manduria “Es” DOC ($90)

Masseria Li Veli, “Montecoco” Puglia IGT ($21)

Pietraventosa, Gioia del Colle Primitivo Riserva DOC (€25 – not yet available in the US)

(2) Recommended producers of outstanding US Zinfandel wines include, among others of course:

Carlisle, Zinfandel Russian River Valley “Papera Ranch” ($46)

Ravenswood, Zinfandel Napa Valley “Dickerson” Single Vineyard ($37)

Robert Biale, Zinfandel Napa Valley “Stagecoach Vineyards – Biale Block” ($50)

Seghesio, Zinfandel Alexander Valley “Home Ranch” ($58)

Turley, Zinfandel Paso Robles “Dusi Vineyard” ($42)

European Wine Wars: after Tocai, it is the time of Prosek… and Teran

StefanoThe international press, Dr Vino and several other sources all recently reported that, as a result of Croatia’s imminent accession to the European Union at the end of a 10-year long process, Croatian wineries will be required to stop using the name “Prosek” to identify a traditional local sweet raisin wine that has been made for centuries mainly in the Dalmatia region from local grape varieties such as Bogdanuša, Maraština, Plavac mali and Pošip.

The reason for the requirement is that, according to EU officials, the name of the Croatian wine is too similar to Italy’s Prosecco and therefore it might be confusing to consumers. And this in spite of Prosek and Prosecco being two very different wines, made out of different grapes (Glera for Prosecco and the Croatian grape varieties mentioned above for Prosek) and in different styles (Prosecco is mostly sparkling and is not a sweet wine, while Prosek is a still, sweet raisin wine).

Unsurprisingly, the EU requirement has caused considerable commotion in the Croatian wine world and some producers indicated that the Croatian authorities are even considering initiating a legal dispute to challenge the EU requirement.

However, the chances that Croatia be allowed to retain its right to use the name “Prosek” for their wine after joining the EU are very slim, as the case is virtually identical to the one that a few years ago prevented Italian winemakers (mostly in Veneto and Friuli) from using the word “Tocai” to identify a local dry wine that had been made for centuries from the homonymous grape variety because the name was too similar to Hungary’s Tokaji, a famous local sweet raisin wine made from Furmint grapes (for more information about the Tokaji/Tocai dispute, please refer to my previous post that dealt with it).

But, as the saying goes, bad news never comes alone, at least for Croatia, that is. Beside the Prosek debacle, Croatia has to face a claim made by neighboring Slovenia that Croatia should also be prevented from using the word “Teran” to identify a red wine that is made in Italy’s region of Friuli, in Slovenia and in Croatia from the grape variety known as Terrano or Teran in Croatia. Slovenia’s claim is based on the fact that the EU granted Slovenia a protected designation of origin for Terrano grapes grown in the Slovenian region of Kras. The European Commission very recently decided the Teran dispute in favor of Slovenia, with a decision that will likely also negatively affect Italian Terrano producers.

Even in this case, the decision gives rise to many doubts, as Terrano is a very ancient variety (the oldest references date back to 1340 in Slovenia) which originated from the Karst plateau, an area that is shared among Italy (Friuli), Slovenia and Croatia (Istria). DNA profiling has also proved that Terrano is identical to Refosco d’Istria (a Croatian variety) and Refosk in Slovenia (information on the Terrano grape variety, cit. Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, HarperCollins 2012).

Given the above, which side of the fray are you on?