At his Cordi Winery in Live Oak, Reece Cordi monitors a barrel of Primitivo, a red varietal that is similar to Zinfandel.

If it smells and tastes like zinfandel, it could be ... primitivo

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013 - 12:25 am

The wine is inky red-black, hearty and smooth, sturdy but not too tannic, redolent of black raspberries, chocolate and spice. It would be great with your rich and multiflavored Thanksgiving dinner.

It’s called primitivo. It’s made in California now, and slowly is growing in popularity.

Such a nice wine. Why isn’t it soaring? The public doesn’t understand it. And experts have been arguing over it for years.

It reminds most tasters of zinfandel. For good reason.

DNA testing now says primitivo and zinfandel are different clones of the same grape. (A grape clone is created when a grapevine undergoes a slight, natural genetic variation, and cuttings are made from that vine to create more vines with the same flavor and other characteristics.)

The problem is that the differences between primitivo and zinfandel are very small. I asked Antoine Favero, winemaker at Soda Rock Winery in Sonoma County, how he would tell the two apart in a blind tasting.

“Oh, it’s so hard. I don’t think you can tell.”

Then why go to the trouble of making primitivo?

Favero works for Diane and Ken Wilson, who own eight vineyards in and around Sonoma County. Years ago they grew only zinfandel.

“Then we decided to diversify a bit among the wineries. In (Sonoma’s) Dry Creek area we focus on zin. We thought, what can we do that’s different from Dry Creek? We thought about our vineyards in (Sonoma’s) Alexander Valley. Well, let’s try primitivo.”

Part of Favero’s job now is to educate people about primitivo. He’s optimistic.

“Not too many people know about it. But we’re going to hang our hat on it.”

Highly recommended:

• 2011 Soda Rock Winery Reserve Primitivo, Alexander Valley: rich and creamy, black plums and bitter chocolate; $48.

• 2011 Mayo Family Winery Primitivo, “Rossi Ranch,” Sonoma Valley: black raspberry jam and bittersweet chocolate, powerful tannins; $35.

• 2011 DeLorimier Winery Primitivo, “Osborn Ranches,” Alexander Valley: hearty black raspberry jam, very rich, concentrated, bitter chocolate finish; $36.


• 2011 Mutt Lynch Winery Primitivo, Knight’s Valley:black raspberries and bitter chocolate, hearty, full-bodied; $25.

• 2011 Wilson Winery Estate Primitivo, “McClain,” Alexander Valley: sweet black cherry and milk chocolate flavors, soft, rich; $36.

• 2011 Soda Rock Winery Primitivo, Alexander Valley: raspberry and bittersweet chocolate, quite dry; $34.

• 2011 Soda Rock Winery Primitivo “Los Amigos,” Chalk Hill: bright red raspberry and pure bittersweet chocolate, hearty; $36.

• 2011 DeLorimier Winery Primitivo, “The Station,” Alexander Valley: cherry and bittersweet chocolate flavors, medium body; $30.

• 2011 DeLorimier Winery Reserve Primitivo, “The Station,” Alexander Valley: black cherry and chocolate aromas and flavors; $44.

• 2011 DeLorimier Winery, “River Lane,” Alexander Valley: intense black cherry and bitter chocolate, medium body, long finish; $36.

• 2011 Matrix Winery Primitivo, Los Amigos Vineyard, Russian River Valley: red raspberries and milk chocolate, sweet and smooth; $32.

Read more articles by Fred Tasker

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