Apulia,  Puglia

Feel the Heel with these 10 Primitivos

Ten Must-Try Bottles of Primitivo di Manduria

Manduria, Puglia c/o Consorzio di Tutela Primitivo di Manduria

An early ripening grape variety known as Primitivo, or Primitivus in Latin, produces a beautiful wine that every winelover should experience. It is genetically identical to Zinfandel, as well as the Croatian grape, Crljenak Kastelanski. So, you like the flavor profiles in these grapes, you’re in the right place.  There is no secret, though, if you want good, authentic Primitivo, you go to Puglia.  Puglia, located in the Southeastern part of Italy, forming the heel of the Italian boot, is major producer of Primitivo and it is considered one of their most distinguished red varieties.  Although historically widely planted for the production of vino da tavola, Primitivo is produced mainly in two areas of Puglia.

Photo c/o Consorzio di Tutela Primitivo di Manduria

Gioia del Collie

Although Primitivo spread throughout Puglia, Gioia del Collie is the grapes historic home. The Gioia del Collie DOC terroir is characterized by shallow, calcareous, red, iron-rich soils, atop limestone.  They vineyards sit atop the Murge Plateau on hills with elevations between 200-450 meters above sea level. Primitivo wines produced here must be made entirely from Primitivo grapes. Gioia del Colli Primitivo tends to be a tad lighter, more elegant and higher in acidity. Then, there’s Primitivo wines produced in Manduria.
Primitivo di Manduria
Primitivo di Manduria DOC represents Puglia’s most important appellation for the production of Primitivo and the oldest DOC (1974) producing this wine. The surrounding land of this DOC is undulating and feature the terra rossa, or iron-rich, reddish soils, composed of sands and clay atop limestone. The appellation extends from the Ionian coast to the Adriatic sea and, therefore, the vineyards sit in lower elevation than those of Gioia del Collie DOC. Primitivo di Manduria DOC specifies that the wines must contain a minimum of 85% Primitivo grapes and a minimum alcohol level of 13.5%.  However, most wines in Manduria contain 100% primitivo and much higher levels of alcohol. Given the contrasting terroirs, wines from Primitivo di Manduria tend to be more powerful, richer and fuller.

I tasted some fantastic wine in Manduria , but these 10 bottles stood out.

The Wining Hour’s 10 Primitivo di Manduria recommendations:

Agricola Erario L’Unico Primitivo di Manduria DOP Riserva 2011

Cantina Erario or Agricola Erario, located in the plain of Manduria, has been dedicated to wine and oil production from three generations. The dedication and passion to the land of Primitivo is evident, as Roberto Erario also serves as the President of the Consorzio di Tutela Primitivio di Manduria. L’Unico is just one of the wines produced by Cantina Erario.  Made with grapes harvested from 50 year old vines, L’Unico is garnet red with purple hues with an awesome and intoxicating nose. Complex and intense with red, fleshy fruit. quite unique. Full-bodied with good tannins. 16% ABV.
Note: Agricola Erario Diavolo Rosso Primitivo di Manduria DOC 2014 is another good Primitivo. Juicy blackberry, currants and cherry. 17% ABV smooth.

Cantina San Marzano Anniversario 62 Primitivo di Manduria DOP Riserva 2015

In short, this Primitivo will blow you away.
Cantina San Marzano located in Salento on a small strip of land between the Ionian and Adriatic seas, has been around since 1962. Anniversario 62 Primitivo di Manduria Riserva is an ode to that and its old vineyards. After a manual harvesting from 60 year old vines in their terra rossa soil, rich in iron-oxides, maceration occurs for 18 days on 80% of the grapes and for 25 days on 20%, with native yeasts. Fermentation follows and then the wine is aged in French and American oak barriques for 18 months. Anniversario 62, the finished product, is magnifico! Intense ruby red color with a beautiful fragrance of cherry, vanilla, prune and tobacco. This wine has a big, fleshy palate of chocolate, cherry, and plum with excellent spice and structure. Fruity, full-bodied, luscious and smooth with velvety tannins. 14.5% ABV. I would be remiss if I did not mention that the winemaker is a woman, Caterina Bellanova. Anniversario 62 Riserva is a primitivo that should be in every wine cellar. Great aging capability.
There is no question that “Each of San Marzano’s wines holds a secret: Passion, beauty, sharing.” I experience that and tasted that with each wine featured by San Marzano.  Every wine by Cantina San Marzano was memorable.

Cantina Tinazzi Diodoro Primitivo di Manduria DOP 2017

Oh mio Dio! Diodoro Primitivo di Manduria is a heavenly sip. Produced by Cantine San Giorgio, which has been around since 1962, Diodoro is made with grapes in the Taranto and Brindisi area.  Ruby red color, rich aromas of spicy cherry, plum, cinnamon and black pepper. A palate of cherries, plum, chocolate and wood.  Smooth and medium intensity with a lingering finish. 14.5% ABV. Diodoro is a delightful Primitivo. Young, but with great aging potential.

Cantina Tinazzi Imperio LXXIV Primitivo di Manduria DOP 2013

Imperio is produced by Feudo Croce in Salento.  Imperio Primitivo di Manduria LXXIV is the jewel of Feudo Croce and Tinazzi, as it was named one the 100 best wines in the world by Wine Spectator, two years in a row (2014 and 2015). Imperio LXXIV is smooth like velvet. To the eye, it is a deep ruby with garnet specks. The nose is complex with intense plum, cassis, vanilla and dark chocolate, along with balsamic notes. The 2013 Imperio shows mature fruit, cacao, chocolate, tobacco, dried fruit and leather.  It is full-bodied and hot in the mouth, with fresh, dry acidity.  14.5% ABV with low residual sugar. Although delicious now, this wine will be even more expressive after 5 years.
Note: I also tasted the 2016 Imperio Primitivo di Manduria LXXIV, which is rich, with blackberry, jam, and plum on the palate. Soft and silky tannins with a long finish. 14.5% ABV

Erminio Campa Viticoltore Li Cameli Primitivo di Manduria DOP 2016

This organic wine is made using primitivo from 40 year old vines in Torricella in contrada “Cameli.”  Li Cameli has a deep red, garnet appearance and draws you in with intense, ripe aromas of jam, blackberry, prune with earthy notes. The palate also manifests that same earthiness, blackberry and plum, along with spicy cherry and tobacco. Li Cameli is 15% ABV, but very smooth and balanced with velvet tannins. Moreover, mineral notes from the terra rosso shine through and give it a certain freshness. Combined with the minerality and fruit, the thick, powerful and round mouth-feel of this wine makes it an awesome expression of Primitivo.

Read more about this wine and winery at Erminio Campa: Pure, Primitive and Palate-pleasing

Masca del Tacco Piano Chiuso Primitivo di Manduria Riserva DOP

Masca del Tacco is located in the little town of Erchie,  in the Brindisi area, at 68 meters above the sea level, bordering the cities of Brindisi, Taranto and Lecce. The city’s origins date back to around the 6th and 5th centuries. The strategic position, the climate, the proximity to the Ionian Sea and the quality of the land and soil have made Erchie conducive for the production of top-quality wines.  Masca del Tacco Piano Chiuso Primitivo di Manduria Riserva is a prime example. Despite the fact that I did not have a lot of time with this wine, it is truly unforgettable.
Piano Chiuso Riserva comes from 100% very old bush vines of  Primitivo. Bright ruby red with shades of garnet, this wine is a delight to the senses.  Full of wild berry fruit, cherries and violet on the nose and a full palate take-over of red and black fruit, coco and spices. Pure sapidity. The proximity to the sea is manifested by underlying minerality. Piano Chiuso delivers a powerful expression of Primitivo with subtle tannins, 16% ABV and a persistent finish. I enjoyed it with delicious orecchiette.
Produttori di Manduria is the oldest active wine cooperation in Puglia, as it was first established in 1928 as “Federazione Vini di Manduria” and then converted into a cooperative in 1932 as “Consorzio Vini e Mosti di Manduria.” All of the wines produced there are made with Puglia’s own Primitivo di Manduria. I had a the pleasure of visiting the wine museum, The Museum of Primitivo Wine, located inside the Cantina Produttori Vini Manduria, on a press visit to Manduria, Puglia.
Primitivo Wine Museum
Primitivo Wine Museum

I also tasted some delicious wines. The following collection has a special place to my heart as a Literature Professor, because they are all named after a type of poetry. As we know…wine is poetry. Each of these wines is a “sip of harmonic poetry” in the glass.

Produttori Vini Manduria Lirica Primitivo di Manduria DOC 2016

Lirica, or lyric, is a type of poetry that expresses personal feelings and/or emotions. Lirica communicates the feeling of Primitivo di Manduria with ease. A lovely medium ruby color, with ripe cherry and baking spices on the nose. Excellent display of fruit on the palate of cherry, raspberry and blackberry with soft tannins. Lirica is young, fresh and well-balanced with a great spicy finish. This Primitivo has has won many awards, and rightfully so. Lirica is perfect for everyday primitivo drinking and is very versatile. 14.5% Vol.

Produttori Vini Manduria Elegia Primitivo di Manduria Riserva DOC 2014

Another example of poetry in the bottle, figuratively and literally.  Elegia, or an elergy, is a mournful, melancholic or plaintive poem. While this wine does make you think and ponder life, there is no sadness here.  Elegia is a nice, fruit-forward wine with 15% ABV. Good berry fruit, blackberry, cherry and vanilla. Good complexity, with gentle tannins.  Would pair great with lamb.

Produttori Vini Manduria Sonneto Primitivo di Manduria Riserva DOC 2013

Sonneto, or sonnet, is a a poem of fourteen lines that follows a strict rhyme scheme and specific structure. This sonneto comes from 50-90 year old vineyards and is aged for 24 months in French oak barriques. 2013 yielded a vintage that is absolutely warm and structured. This big, beautiful wine exudes ripe blackberry and smoky plum with leather. The wine dances down your palate with blackberry, fig, chocolate, vanilla and wood. Sonneto is as beautiful and graceful as a sonnet should be, yet it also full-bodied, intense and rich.  16% ABV with a persistent finish.

Produttori Vini Manduria Madrigale Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale DOCG 2015

Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale is the very first DOCG in Puglia (2011).  This is a sweet wine made with primitivo and covers the same winegrowing area of the DOC. Madrigale has an intense and complex bouquet of dried dark berry fruits like plum, raspberry and blackberry, along with vanilla and aromatic herbs.  The palate tastes of cherry, plum and chocolate. Soft, warm and round with 15% Vol. As I am not a lover of vini dolce, this wine was a pleasant surprise. A madrigal is a vocal music composition of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras that typically includes 3-5 voices to produce the music. The music definitely comes together in this Madrigale Dolce Naturale. Highly recommended.
By means of my visit to Primitivo di Manduria and several Master Tasting classes, I had the opportunity to discover some fantastic wines and producers, as listed above.  I wholeheartedly recommend you try them as well. For more information on the wine and the region, visit the Consorzio di Tutela Primitivo di Manduria.

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Planted, harvested and aged in NY. I have a background in education and marketing, with a love and passion for travel...and all things wine. In addition to writing about wine, I also maintain an online wine boutique (thewininghour.com) that caters to the winelover, as well as the weekly vinous winechat (#WiningHourChat) on Twitter (see page for more info).

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