Judging wines isn’t a linear job. It’s not really about grading all wines as a spectrum of quality. We don’t judge a Red Zinfandel from Russian River next to a bottle of Lafite Rothschild. They may get the same 90-point rating, but that doesn’t mean they are the same. We judge wines against there peers.
I mention this because I am rating this $15 dollar bottle of wine from Southern Italy as high as I have rated some much more expensive wines. This is a remarkable bottle of Primitivo, one of the best in the past few years. Perhaps only the Tormaresca Torcicoda has risen to this level of quality.
Full bodied, the wine offers up aromas of lavender and vanilla, along with with Amarone-like notes of black tar and raisin. On the palate, it starts of with fruit cake and fresh figs, leading into black cherry and a port-like note of smokey plum. The finish goes to anise and chocolate and then lifting into fresh fruit and an edge of rustic charm. This is a fun and rich bottle of wine that offers a lot of pleasure.
One of the reasons for the high quality and balance of this wine stems from the unique way in which it is grown. Primitivo ripens very early in Puglia, often as early as August. The winemaker does what is called “il giro del picciolo” which roughly translates to “strangle the leaf”. Instead of harvesting, the stem leading to the grape bunches is twisted, which effectively starves the fruit of water and nutrients. The grapes then start dry on the vine: this is a unique method that creates wine very similar to an old-school Amarone. Ironically, the method also allows the wine to retain a fresh quality, despite being harvested as raisins.
ABOUT APULIA (PUGLIA) and PRIMITIVO
Apulia’s exceptionally fertile plains make it one of Italy’s largest wine-producing regions, but until the 1970s most of its wines were seen as fit only for blending or for making Vermouth. Because of this, most Apulian producers chose to try to rid themselves of this lowly reputation, bringing about a radical transformation of their industry. A great number of very ordinary wines are still produced, but various changes have greatly improved the situation. Irrigation programs, the introduction of lower-yielding, higher-quality grape varieties (including many classic French ones), and a move away from the single-bush cultivation, known as alberello, to modern wire-trained systems, have led to both new wines gaining favor and some traditional ones showing renewed promise. The most important grape variety is now the Primitivo, which has been identified as the Zinfandel of California and is the earliest ripening grape grown in Italy.