Saturday, February 6, 2010

Zinfandel vs Primitivo?

The long time debate seems to go on. For decades, there has been a discussion about weather Zinfandel and Primitivo is the same grape or not, and depending on who you ask, you will have different answers. The well know Carole Meredith of UC Davis, once and for all (I thought) stated that the two are the same grape, and she told me that Zinfandel and Primitivo shares the same confusion as that of Syrah and Shiraz. More clearly – it is the one grape variety with identical DNA, but different name. However, in California you’ll find several winegrowers and winemakers who refer to Primitivo as one particular clone of Zinfandel, or the opposite.
From their 47 hectares of vines, divided into 50 different blocks at altitudes from 48 to 88 meters above sea level on the land between Carneros and Mount Veeder in south Napa Valley, they make three wines on the theme, two from Zinfandel, and one from Primitivo.

2006 Primitivo Block 24 / 80 p
This wine is made from 100 per cent of Primitivo of the UC Davis clone 3 from a 0.80 hectare block with a well drained rocky soil planted in 1997. The wine has been stored in French oak barrels for more than one year. Compared to the Zinfandel bottling, this wine is sweeter and more ripe, rounder and more silky but still with some tannins. The softness, I guess, more depends on the very high ripeness of the grapes, rather than to the grape (or clone) selection, and the alcohol level reaches the scary level of 16.3 per cent. No wonder the sweetness of the wine, and the overly warm sensation of the alcohol in the second half of the taste. Tannins are, of course, soft. So, is this Primitivo or not? Or is it Zinfandel? To me, the wine is more alike the overripe, sweet scented Californian wines, than the more rustic south Italian version. And to be honest, there is not very much of complexity here – although the wine would be good to a steak of some baby back ribs.
Drink it within the coming year or two.

2006 Zinfandel Blocks 7 & 22 / 78 p
This is a Zinfandel, blended from two single vineyard blocks in the estate vineyard. The Block 7 was planted in 1975 with the Clone 2 of Zinfandel, and the Block 22 was planted in 1995 with the same clone. So, is this a different wine than the Primitivo version just mentioned? And if so, why? Well, the two wines are quite different, but I do believe that this has more to do with the ripeness of the fruit, perhaps also the winemaker’s hand. If the Primitivo wine is lush and sweet, this wine is a bit more restrained, still with the sweet ripeness you often find in Zinfandel wines. Alcohol level is lower, 15.6 per cent (which of course isn’t low, and still gives a sweet taste on the palate, and also the tannins are a bit more obvious, yet not firm. As the Primitivo wine, this one has been kept in French oak barrels, 35 per cent new, for around 15 months. Since the ripeness of the fruit is so high, the sweetness of the oak is completely absorbed by the fruit. I prefer this bottling to the Primitivo one, but none of them are great wines. (The chardonnay of this winery is good though!).
Drink it over the next 1-2 years.

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