Primitivo vs Zinfandel: Tasting Notes

Over the last few months, I worked on an academic paper for my university studies in which I focused on comparing Apulia’s signature grape, Primitivo, with California’s iconic Zinfandel. 

Drinking wine for an academic purpose is great and I loved working on this project for which I tasted seven wines on multiple occasions. The seven wines were divided into three flights. Some of the tastings were conducted blind; others were non-blind.

Why compare Primitivo with Zinfandel? Zinfandel is a synonym for Primitivo and both originally derive from the Croatian grape Crljenak Kaštelanski. Given that I study American Studies at the Munich University, I thought it would fit well to compare this Californian signature grape with its Italian counterpart.

Flight 1
  • 2010 Tenuta Viglione – Marpione Primitivo – Gioa del Colle Riserva DOC
  • 2011 Bonterra – Zinfandel – Medocino County
  • 2010 Fatalone – Primitivo – Gioa del Colle DOC
Flight 2
  • 2011 Renwood – Old Vine Zinfandel – Amador County
  • 2013 Accademia dei Racemi – Feline – Primitivo di Manduria DOP
Flight 3
  • 2012 Ridge Vineyards – Lytton Springs – Dry Creek Valley
  • 2010 Tenuta Viglione – Pri Mit Ivo – Giola del Colle DOC

Without further due, let’s get to the reviews:

2010 Tenuta Viglione – Marpione Primitivo – Gioa del Colle Riserva DOC

Marpione is a varietal Primitivo Riserva from Puglia’s Gioa del Colle viticulture area. After an extended fermentation in steel, it matured for 24 months in large oak casks, followed by 4 months in barrique. The wine has an incredibly complex and intense nose. It all starts with cherry jam and blackcurrant, followed by blackberries, grass, vanilla and dried plums.

Very full-bodied and well-structured. Pleasing, mellow tannins. On the palate, there is lots of forest fruit like blueberries but also quite spicy with some vanilla among others. Harmonious, round and overall very well-made wine. Spectacular, never-ending finale.

4 stars


2011 Bonterra – Zinfandel – Mendocino County

Tenuta Viglione Marpione - Bonterra Zin - Fatalone PrimitivoThis Zinfandel is sourced from grapes grown in Mendocino County and comes from a large winery. It aged for one year in used and new French and American oak barrels. The wine has fruit-driven nose with a slightly alcoholic touch: Black cherries, vanilla, a bit of dark chocolate and some plums.

In the mouth, dry with a present but balanced acidity which gives the wine a fresh, juicy taste. This Zinfandel has a medium-full body and notes of red berries. It has a warm, alcoholic aftertaste of medium length.

3 stars


2010 FatalonePrimitivo – Gioa del Colle DOC

This is varietal Primitivo aged for six months in Slavonian oak casks. On the nose, it has aromas of roasted almonds, plums, dark chocolate, freshly ground espresso beans and viola. Good balance between oak and fruit aromas and good intensity. On the palate, dry and fruity with notes of woodland strawberries. It has a medium body and mellow, pleasing tannins. Elegant, very quaffable Primitivo, Good length.

3.5 stars


2011 Renwood – Old Vine Zinfandel – Amador County

This Zinfandel is sourced from some of winery’s oldest vines in Amador County. The wines are up to 80 years old. In the glass, it shows a ruby red color with garnet nuances. The nose has a great intensity and opens with blackcurrant, raspberries and vanilla aromas. As the wine evolves further in the glass, black cherries and toffee as well other spices become more present.

Medium-bodied, dry Zinfandel which is slightly mineral. Moderate acidity and very elegant. Nice balance between oaky and fruity flavors: Vanilla and coconut but also red fruit. Highly elegant and harmonious wine. Persistent aftertaste. 15% ABV.

4 stars


2013 Accademia dei Racemi – Feline – Primitivo di Manduria DOP

Feline Primitivo - Renwood ZinfandelThis varietal Primitivo hails from the heart of Manduria. It has a deep ruby red color. The wine has a rather closed nose which showed mostly fruit aromas, especially blueberries, blackcurrant but also hints of black pepper.

On the palate it was dry and warm with a low acidity. Medium-bodied with notes of mulberries and lots of dark chocolate. The wine has a slightly alcoholic touch. Overall, a boring, flat Primitivo. The finale is of medium length.

2.5 stars


2012 Ridge Vineyards – Lytton Springs– Dry Creek Valley

The Lytton Springs is composed of 70% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane and 3% Mataro. After the fermentation process, the wine aged for 14 months in American oak. The wine has a complex nose with lots of layers of aromas, starting with dominant vanilla, some coconut, olives and followed by ripe cherries.

In the mouth, the wine is medium-bodied and has extremely smooth and mellow tannins. Dry, warm and mineral with a refreshing acidity. Flavors of vanilla and pepper are most notable but there are also notes of cherry liquor as well as red and black fruit which recalled some of the aromas. Persistent aftertaste.

4 stars


2010 Tenuta Viglione – Pri Mit Ivo– Gioa del Colle DOC

Ridge Lytton Springs - Tentua Viglione Pri Mit IvoThis is a varietal Primitivo sourced from vines planted in the Gioa del Colle wine growing region. 70% of the wine aged for 12 months in stainless steel vats, 30% in oak. On the nose there is a mix of spice and fruit aromas: Red cherries, cinnamon, plums, raspberries and even hints of nutmeg.

On the palate, Pri Mit Ivo has powerful yet pleasing tannins. The wine has a medium body and mostly flavors of dark fruit and a little bit of licorice. Medium length.

3.5 stars


Parting Words

Friends, colleges from work and fellow students participated at the various tastings but of course the above ratings are my own.

The most-liked wine was the Ridge Vineyards’ Lytton Springs Zinfandel, closely followed by Tenuta Viglione’s Marpione Primitivo Riserva. The least liked wine was the Feline Primitivo which most considered a flop.

The most controversial ratings received the Bonterra Zinfandel. About half of the participants liked this wine and half disliked it. For me it was an ‘ok’ wine with a rather poor quality price ratio given that it retails for €19 in Germany.

This sums up my Primitivo vs Zinfandel tasting notes. The academic paper is still being graded but I might be allowed to upload (parts of) it afterwards.

Update: As pointed out by Anatoli of Talk-A-Vino, the Lytton Springs does technically not qualify was Zinfandel because US AVA requires at least 75% of the grapes to be varietal for varietal labelling. In this case it is only 70%.

Would love to read your thoughts on these wines and whether you enjoy drinking a glass or two of Primitivo/Zinfandel or not.


4 comments on “Primitivo vs Zinfandel: Tasting Notes”

  1. Michelle Williams Reply

    I did not realize you were doing this for an academic paper. What are you studying in college that allows you to drink and compare wines? I need that degree!!!

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      Thanks for stopping by, Michelle!

      My bachelor’s degree is called ‘American Studies’ – I convinced my professor that writing about Zinfandel is a suitable topic and since it is related to the U.S. she accepted my proposal. Usually, the curriculum focuses on non-wine related things like American history, politics, terrorism, literature and so on.
      Once I completed my Bachelor I’m considering to move to the wine sector but I haven’t decided yet. Maybe a master’s degree in wine marketing or so. Will see what the future brings 🙂


  2. talkavino Reply

    Interesting work, Julian – I didn’t know you studying wine in the university, I will need to be more careful now with my statements 🙂
    Lytton Springs technically can’t be called Zinfandel – US AVA requires at least 75% of the grapes to be of the varietal if varietal is listed as part of the name, so it is a Zinfandel-based blend – still a good wine though.
    I know it is difficult in Europe to find in Europe, but be on look out for Turley, Carlisle, Robert Biale, St. Francis, Wine Guerilla. And if you will ever be in New York area, will make sure you will taste at least some of those 🙂

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      Thank you, Anatoli!
      I don’t technically study wine at the University (yet) but in my program I had to choose a research topic on anything US related and for the obvious choice was wine. However, I might do a Master in wine marketing in Austria but that’s still undecided. Decisions over decisions 😛

      Also thanks for correcting me about the Lytton Springs red wine. I’ll correct the information tonight when I get home in the blog post. The importer from which I bought it sold it as Lytton Springs Zinfandel but of course you are right that it cannot be labeled Zinfandel.
      I will definitely take you up on that offer of tasting some of these wines when I’ll visit NCY! In a few years I’ll be there 😉

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