Attanasio Primitivo

If you told me a month ago I’d be proudly offering a 16% alcohol Zinfandel from southern Italy, I would never have believed you. But a month ago I hadn’t tasted Alessandro Attanasio’s powerful, wild, deeply profound Primitivo di Manduria.  To put it simply, when we got together and tasted it a few weeks ago, we all freaked. We were at a loss for comparisons: its darkfruited richness called to mind none other than the Veneto’s Quintarelli; the earthy, animal savor and long, velvety tannins that screamed of traditionional, long skin macerations was akin to Paolo Bea’s top Sagrantinos. But the commingling of these elements with a seaspray minerality and mediterranean coastline was totally its own. Puglia – the heel of Italy’s boot – doesn’t get much attention from wine cognoscenti, but Attanasio’s Primitivo proves that in the right hands, something truly magical is possible here. 

As mentioned above, Primitivo is genetically identical to Zinfandel. Most likely the variety was originally cultivated in Croatia before traveling down Italy’s Adriatic coast to Puglia and taking on the name Primitivo (meaning “early one,” a reference to its early-ripening nature). Zinfandel’s presence in some of California’s oldest vineyards, dating back to the mid-19th century, is most likely thanks to Southern Italian immigrants who brought cuttings with them. Genetics aside, the California and Italian strains of the grape are distinctly different. This zone’s reddish clay soils over limestone yield wines of intensely rich red and purple fruit buttressed by a cleansing minerality, all framed by a savory salinity that speaks of the nearby Ionian.

Giuseppe Attanasio’s name graces the label, but his grandson Alessandro now heads the estate. Alessandro farms seven hectares of old Primitivo vines, all bush trained and producing tiny quantities of super concentrated juice. The winery is tiny, putting out around 1500 cases a year, and Alessandro treats his Primitivo much like any great producer in more famous Barolo or Montalcino might. Fermentations are spontaneous, and the wines age for 16 months in stainless steel followed by a year in barrel and however long in bottle Alessandro feels they need before being released. Which is to say the current release is 2014! But this is just entering its prime drinking window, with a long life ahead of it still, so don't hesitate to stash some in the cellar.

Leave any preconceived notions you have of Zinfandel, or really Italy for that matter, at the door. This pours a deep, dark purple, almnost black, with garnet hints at the edges. The nose is a panoply of dark fruits – dried plums, blackberry jam, sappy raisined grapes, figs, dried rose petals. There’s a cedary, spice to the nose beneath all the dark fruits, and a persistent almost sanguine saltiness. The palate is rich and intense, led the dark, extracted, almost Amarone type fruit, balanced by the most beautiful, velvety, ripe, tannins that play with a hint of salty acidity before the finish, that seems to last minutes, fades. Yes, it’s high in alcohol, but much like Paolo Bea’s wines, that alcoholic power is seamlessly integrated and you immediately crave another sip. This is one of the most mind bending wines we’ve had in ages, and we can’t recommend it enough to any lover of Italian reds, from Amarone to Barolo to Aglianico. 

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