How do Zinfandel and rose wines differ?

Primitivo & Zinfandel: what's the difference?


Primitivo wines from the Italian Apulia are currently very trendy. They stand for intense fruit aromas, a full body and a beautiful, slightly sweet melt on the palate. What very few people know: Primitivo is known as Zinfandel in California and has also earned a good reputation here. Our wine friend Daniel Münster has taken on the supposed equality of character.

One is from Italy, the other is a typical Californian. One has a history that goes back thousands of years, the other has only been known for 200 years. A DNA test says they're both one and the same. Another test only establishes a relationship between the two grape varieties. What now? The answers are as different as the wines themselves. But one thing is certain: Both Primitivo and Zinfandel create incredibly good wines.

Primitivo and Zinfandel: the same or the same?

But back to the original question. Whether Zinfandel and Primitivo are actually identical is difficult to answer, because it depends a little on who you ask about it. It seems absolutely clear, however, that both grape varieties come from the rare Croatian grape variety "Crljenak". Zinfandel is said to be absolutely identical to this one. Rather, Primitivo is a clone of the grape variety, i.e. a very similar copy. It is interesting that if you plant both vines next to each other, you will get grapes that differ significantly in terms of size and color. So, after all, your own grape varieties? Apparently not, because the result is extremely similar wines, which are also official either Primitivo or Zinfandel may be mentioned. But in order to understand the wines and what they have in common, you first have to deal with the grape varieties separately.

Today Primitivo is especially successful when it comes from its original homeland Apulia.

Primitivo: Not primitive, but ripening early

Primitivo goes back to the ancient Phoenicians who settled in what is now Apulia. Here - in the heel of Italy's boots - Primitivo, according to legend, was even used to make the wine for the Last Supper. It is also sometimes claimed that the name comes from the fact that the grape variety is "primi", ie "the first" in the sense of "the best". Rather, it is now clear that the name goes back to the early ripening of the grapes compared to other grape varieties.

Primitivo is particularly successful today when it comes from its original homeland, Puglia. Not only in terms of quality, but also in terms of the amount harvested. It's hard to believe, but it's true: the small region of Apulia produces more wine than all of Australia. So it is not surprising that mass-produced goods with low quality standards are also produced here, but meanwhile many passionate winemakers are convincing with excellent wines who are able to portray the Primitivo grape variety in the most positive way. Thanks to modern cellar technology, small harvest volumes and careful handling of the vineyards, today some of the best wines in southern Italy come from Puglia.

You can feel the region's sun in the wines, because they are usually very concentrated and rich. Due to their beautiful fruit aroma and good structure, good specimens of a Primitivo are extremely popular among wine lovers. Not least because the wines set completely new standards in terms of price-enjoyment ratio.

In the Weinfreunde shop you will find a few selected examples of this grape variety:

Fruity and spicy and soft and silky
Miluna Primitivo Salento 2019

There is also a separate article about the production process of the “Doppio Passo”: What does Doppio Passo actually mean?

Zinfandel came to the USA from Austria around 1820 and, thanks to its high yield, the grape variety quickly enjoyed great popularity among winemakers.

Zinfandel: a Californian powerhouse

The name Zinfandel should be familiar to most wine lovers. However, this grape variety has more than just positive connotations. In the 1980s, a trend from the USA spilled over to us, which was bottled as “White Zinfandel” and ultimately did not have a particularly image-enhancing effect. This supposedly white Zinfandel was actually a rosé (!) And mostly a sweet, rather expressionless affair, made for the mass market.

But first something about the history of its origins: Zinfandel was first brought from Austria to the USA in 1820 and, due to the high yield, the grape variety quickly became popular among winemakers. During the gold rush of the late 19th century, miners and immigrants enjoyed Zinfandel as it reminded them of the wines of their homeland. Prohibition then slowed down viticulture in California as a whole. Even in the 1950s, Zinfandel wines were trimmed for quantity and not for class.

It was only after the "aftermath" of White Zinfandel had subsided that some producers began to produce really serious wines from the grape variety in the 1990s. The best specimens are bursting with aromas of black berries and impress with their massive power. The enormous ripeness of the berries in sun-drenched California results in wines that often have 15 or more percent alcohol content, but ideally this does not come to the fore, but is perfectly balanced by the intense fruit.

In terms of style and taste, there are many similarities between Zinfandel and Primitivo. Discovering them is a delightful pleasure.

Zinfandel and Primitivo: long live the difference!

There are many similarities between the wines on this side and this side of the Atlantic, both in terms of style and taste. Even so, winemakers in Italy, like winemakers in California, would always call their Primitivo or Zinfandel the better.

And even if it will be finally clarified at some point whether the grape varieties are actually identical or not: For wine lovers, this observation makes it clear that not only the grape variety characterizes a wine, but also the soil, the climate and, last but not least, people. So it remains exciting. A direct comparison of both forms is an instructive experience as part of a wine evening with like-minded people.

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