Primitivo: Godfather of Zin? Part 1: Di Arie and An Invitation #ItalianFWT

First celebrated in 1989, Italian American Heritage Month each October honors and recognizes the centuries of achievements and contributions of the Italian immigrants and Italian Americans. Between 1820 and 2000, over five million Italians immigrated to the United States between 1820 and 2000 bringing with them a rich cuisine, and a tradition of growing grapes and making wine.

Today 26 million Americans of Italian descent live in the United States making Italian-Americans the fifth largest ethnic group in our nation, according to the Order of the Sons and Daughters of Italy and they will be celebrating all month. Here‘s a list of festivals.

Of course my favorite Italian American is my writing partner and US Wine Tasting Team mate Sue Hill!

For many people when they think about Italian Americans, Italy, and specifically, Sicily, they think about The Godfather — the book by Mario Puzo and the cinematic trilogy which starred Marlon Brando. Check out the opening scene below, and the passionate music below.

Last year when we were generating ideas for the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel group that we participate in each month, Sue suggested we host “Primitivo: The Godfather of Zinfandel” for November because we both feel that Zinfandel is a great wine for Thanksgiving meals, and what is Thanksgiving and The Godfather about but family?

This invite is Godfather 1, where we consider how Zinfandel is related to Primitivo — or not– and we pique our interest in the topic with a pair of wines from California’s El Dorado County, comparing a Zinfandel with a Primitivo.

For the preview which I will publish in the first week of November, which will list the participating bloggers’ titles and links to their sites (details below on how YOU can join!), we will once again compare California Zinfandel with Primitivo  AND bring in a Primitivo from Italy to evaluate, again considering the relationship between these two grapes.

Finally, for our post the first Saturday of November, we will once again focus on Zinfandel and Primitivo, hopefully comparing two from Italy (and maybe with two more from California!)

So how are these grapes the same — and different? Wikipedia conflates the two and even redirects Primitivo to Zinfandel, and states that DNA anaylsis of this black skinned grape shows “it is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grapes Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag, as well as to the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in Apulia (the “heel” of Italy), where it was introduced in the 18th century. The grape found its way to the United States in the mid-19th century, where it became known by variations of a name applied to a different grape, likely “Zierfandler” from Austria.”

In 1967, UC Davis professor Austin Goheenis visited Italy where Primitivo reminded him of Zinfandel. In 1968, Primitivo came to California, and in 1972, ampelographers found it identical to Zinfandel. Wine made in California from the Italian Primitivo grapes in 1975 seemed identical to Zinfandel, and indeed,  PhD student Wade Wolfe saw the same isozyme fingerprints.

It’s easy to find Zinfandel from California; 10% of California vineyards are planted in this grape. And it’s easy to find Primitivo from Italy. Harder to find Primitivo in the US, and Zinfandel from Italy, but both exist.

We’ve found pockets of both Zinfandel and Primitivo thriving in El Dorado County and, likewise, there are patches of Primitivo growing near Zinfandel in Italy.

For the November event, participants can go in a number of directions:

  • write about Primitivo from Italy,
  • compare and contrast Primitivo from Italy with Primitivo from the US,
  • or compare and contrast Primitivo with Zinfandel.

Have fun! More details below.


Di Arie Primitivo and Zinfandel paired with pizzas and Caprese Salad:

  • Margarite
  • Sausage and Mushroom

Founded by Chaim and Elisheva Gur-Arieh in 2000 on 209 acres located  between the south and middle forks of the Cosumnes River in the Shenandoah Valley of the Sierra Foothills, Di Arie’s 1700′ elevation vineyards has hot days, temperate nights, cool moderating breezes, and loam soils. They built a 12,000 sq.ft facility with views of the nearby vineyards and the Sierra Foothills that takes advantage of the terrain to use a gravity feed as part of the winemaking process. They have 40 acres in vines with plans to add 30 more.

“I like to make wines that are elegant and have good balance,” says winemaker and proprietor Chaim Gur-Arieh. With a PhD in food science and a long career in the field, he knows how to achieve his goals. “My style of wine has forward fruit that carries to the mid-palate and a long sustained finish. I like to use the oak to enhance the varietal identity of the wine and not mask it. Wines that are jammy and alcoholic are not my style.” Read the harvest report and other writings on their blog here.

2017 Di Arie Zinfandel Southern Exposure, Shenandoah Valley, California
ABV 14.3%; SRP $35

Color:  Ruby, plum, medium density

Nose: Pepper, baking spices, clove, bay leaf, raspberry, fresh fruit vs. stewed fruit.

Palate: Bright acidic fruit, very clean; some zinfandels are very heavy but not this wine. There is a bit of viscosity. Wild strawberry, raspberry, rhubarb with spice on the palate as well. Red peppercorn, eucalyptus, sage freshness. This is not the fruit bomb that you think of when you think of some California Zinfandels. Manzanita, bay laurel,  chaparral forest. The wine reflects its place.

Pairing: Love with the pizza, loves the spicy meat and the red sauce, beautiful when cooked on the BBQ which gives it a smoke flavor that’s really nice. Trader Joe’s crust is a solid base. Zinfandel goes really well with anything with tomato. Fantastic with the prosciutto and the mushrooms on the pizza. This is a solid choice with any red sauced Italian food, spicy or not.

2017  Di Arie Primitivo Block #4, Shenandoah Valley California
ABV 14.7%; SRP $25

Blind tasting, I would think this was a zinfandel. They are very similar, but the texture of the tannins is different.

Color: Ruby garnet, medium density.

Nose: Fantastic nose, big fruity nose, roses and plum, carnation, and plum, bramble fruit, stewed blackberries, raspberries, that dusty kind of berry patch. Herbs of sage and menthol, cocoa nibs.

Palate: Mouthwatering; you can taste the mud and putty of the earth. Again this is not a fruit bomb. Minerals and herbs come across the palate. This is a very clean wine. The bright fruit is at the back of the throat.

Pairing: There is a reason that pizza and Italian wine are paired together. This is not exception. OMG it is great.  Anything with red sauce is going to go great with this wine. The char from the BBQ pizza really went nicely with the wine. Try this wine with any summer BBQ; it loves the char and the rich tomato richness.

Join us the first Saturday in November as we learn more about Primitivo! Here’s how:

  • You have one month to research and write about Primitivo. Include in your post at least one Primitivo from any region of Italy.
  • By 8am Wednesday Nov. 4, comment with your title below, email it to me, or post it in the thread in our #ItalianFWT coordinating facebook group. Please include the URL to your website and your twitter handle.
  • I’ll publish a preview post that will include preliminary links to participants and the twitter chat questions for  our 8am Pacific twitter chat on Sat. Nov. 7. The html and questions will also be posted in the files in our coordinating group on facebook.
  • Publish your blog post between Friday Nov. 6 and 8am Sat Nov. 7.
  • Remember to include #ItalianFWT in your title.
  • Include in your post links to the articles by other participants using the preliminary HTML provided and update ASAP to final links when the html is available sometime Saturday.
  • If your post is sponsored or your wines are samples, please note this so no one gets in trouble with the law!
  • Join the twitter chat at 8am Pacific by following the hashtag #ItalianFWT.
  • Visit, comment on, and share on social media blog posts by participants.


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