Zinfandel and Primitivo

Zinfandel and Primitivo

Is there a difference between Zinfandel and Primitivo? This question has been asked a lot over the years and here’s a brief answer to this question. Primitivo is from Italy while Zinfandel is from California. Some say the grapes are one and the same and others disagree, so which is true?

Both wine varietals are clones of an indigenous Croatian varietal, Tribidrag. This is also known as Crljenak Kastelanski. This grape has been dated back to the 15th century and fell victim to a disease called phylloxera, almost wiping out the majority of Europe’s wine vines in the 19th century. It is on a comeback and we are learning the intricacies of this grape. Its high yields and love for a warm, temperate climate like that of the Dalmatia coast, make it a prime grape to grow in Italy. Here it got the name Primitivo because the grapes ripened earlier than other varietals planted. Primitivo wines are rich and concentrated with good structure. Lighter variations tend to have floral and fruity aromas with notes of pepper and blackberry, similar to a Tribidrag grape.

After making a name for itself in Italy, it traveled to the United States and garnered the name Zinfandel. The vines were planted on the East coast initially but found their home in California after the Gold Rush. California Zinfandels are characterized by robust berry fruit flavor and notes of anise and pepper.

Primitivo and Zinfandel are very similar genetically and are “siblings”, deriving from the Croatian Tribidrag varietal. The wine styles of each range quite a bit and many of the wines can be very similar. This is why they were considered to be the same for many years. While many people will say they are too similar to definitively distinguish, wineries who produce both will usually fiercely defend each of their unique characteristics.


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