Wine Blogging Weds #62: By Any Other Name–Primitivo? Zinfandel?

Sobon Family Wine Primitivo and Old Vine ZinIt started with some tweet I saw on twitter that caught my attention, some conversation about primitivo, a varietal I’d heard of but only tasted in a barrel sample at Old Creek Road Winery which surprised me because it tasted nothing like its clone, zinfandel. Nothing. Really.

So I joined the conversation and next thing I know @sobonwine is asking if I’d like to try it and if so he needed my address to send me a bottle. Sure thing I say! Send it to my cellar at my mom’s house!

“Oh, I keep forgetting to tell you,” says my mom one day. “There’s some wine here for you. A small box. Sawbawn?”

Now if she’d said primitivo I would have known right away.   But she didn’t because 1) she didn’t open the box and 2) she doesn’t drink wine or give a fig about it so I had to flip through the files in my brain and then I had a suspect: could it be the Sobon primitivo had actually arrived?

Not only was it the Sobon Primitivo, but Robert Sobon also sent me a bottle of their Old Vines Zinfandel from Amador County to try. Did he snoop around my blog and see I was a sucker for old vine zins? One of my favorite zins from when I worked at Ridge was Amador County’s Fiddletown, and of course Sobon produces wines from there–they even have a vineyard right next to the one where Ridge sources their wines.

Plus Robert Sobon sent both wines not knowing that the next Wine Blogging Wednesday prompt from host Dale Cruse would be “A Wine by Any Other Name.” We both got lucky!

Since my dear friend Jane was in town from Long Island and going to be joining us for dinner on Tuesday night, I knew I had not one, but three people to join in and lend their opinions. So last night in the rain, we decided to bring the wine with us to Ferraros, our favorite local Italian restaurant since I suspected the primitivo would pair wonderfully with their flavorful spicy red sauce.

Our server opened the wine for a $10 corkage and although I offered a taste to Betty Ferraro a few times, she passed it up leaving more for us (too bad daughter Sarah wasn’t there–I know she would have loved a sample!)

Admittedly, Ferraro’s doesn’t have the fanciest wine glasses, and the lighting is dim, but once we got over the first shock of alcohol (15%), the wine opened up a little and we all kept saying how good it was, and how much it didn’t taste like zinfandel. It was almost like we were surprised by how good and interesting it was. It went great with our salads with blue cheese dressing, with our garlic bread and then with our entrees: Jane and I had manicotti with meat sauce on special and the Big Monkey had rigoletti with broccoli and a side of red sauce. My husband, who often makes fun of my passion for wine, kept refilling his and our glasses until I had to remove the bottle from the table so I could be sure to have some to compare with the zin!

Sobon Family Wines is a “Green Drink” as Sobon Estate is a family-owned winery with a reputation for producing the best possible wines using low-yield viticulture and minimum intervention wine making techniques; the wines are made with their own sustainably-grown grapes which “reflect the unique Shenandoah Valley terroir, resulting in a richness and intensity rarely seen elsewhere” according to their website.

Practicing sustainability is important to me, but the bottom line is whether a wine is any good or not which we established that yes it was verygood and then the next order of business is: what did it taste like? Jane and I agreed we thought the primitivo was earthy, smoky, musky, rich, heavy; the fruit reminded me almost like black cherry cola, the sweetness of root vegetables like beets. These are not any of the descriptors I remember ever having used for a zin. And it was fabulous with the food.

Then we came home, threw the kids in the bath, and I opened the Old Vines Zin. Now this is a zin and it tastes like a zin. My first reaction was “ahhhh” and then there was floral…old vines, the roses and violets of an older graceful woman, old zin, yes, I thought to myself. Lots of stone fruit, Jane and I agreed, and it was clearly red plum for me, none of that typical brambleness I expect to find in the Dry Creek Valley zins I love. Even though this zin is 14.9% alcohol, close to the primitivo, we didn’t experience the alcohol as much, possibly because our house is cooler than the warm restaurant. We were all amazed that this retails in the $10-15 range.

The color is clearly different as well. The primitivo has more of a golden tone to it than the zin which is more purely pinks. The primitivo isn’t the more rusty hue of an older vintage, but more golden in contrast to the pink of the zin. There’s more depth to the color of the primitivo as well.

Sobon suggest pairing the primitivo wine with lamb, and I’d be tempted to try it with lamb cooked on the grill. I could also see it with mushrooms. Possibly the best pairing would be a pizza with mushrooms and lamb…

Definitely going to have to have this primitivo again and see!

BTW, the Primitivo, which has won two gold medals, retails between $20 and $25, and as I mentioned at the beginning, Robert Sobon was generous enough to send me the bottles so I could try them.

Thanks to Dale Cruse for the great  “Wine Blogging Wednesday” prompt! In a few days, he’ll offer a round up of all the wines reviewed by participants so go check it out!

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