Last Updated on November 20, 2019.

Primitivo Wine Profile

There’s a very good chance that the first time you taste Primitivo, you’ll think “Haven’t we met before?” And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Primitivo is almost genetically identical to Zinfandel, California’s powerhouse and arguably most famous variety. Both are descendants of the indigenous Croatian Cjljnek (aka Tribidrag) which basically means that Primitivo and Zinfandel are those twins that you knew in high school who always made you think “Wait now, who is who again?”

In reality, though, Primitivo and Zinfandel can produce different wines for a variety of reasons. Zinfandel is known for being a musclehead of a red, with big dark fruit and fiery zest. Primitivo is a little more restrained and that’s partially due to how it is harvested. The name “Primitivo” is a reference to how early it ripens, and it is usually not left to hang as long as Zinfandel is. It still has the dark inky berry characteristics, but it will also have more of a fig and other dried fruit notes in there. It also tends to be a smidge lighter in body and carry more acidity than its California sibling.

Primitivo Tasting Notes & Food Pairings

On the nose, Primitivo exhibits black fruit, blue berries, figs, and leather-earthiness. On the palate, expect blackberry and fruit compote with a tannic rusticity on the finish. Since it’s not clobberingly huge – and since it’s usually very reasonably priced – Primitivo is the perfect Tuesday night wine for pizza and burgers. It’s remarkably versatile, though, and can work with everything from roasted lamb, eggplant parmesan, and hearty lentil stews. The key is to pair dishes that have enough heft and depth to support Primitivo’s brawn.

RELATED: See a List of Wine Grape Varieties and Information About Each

Taking a hard right in a completely different viniferal direction, Primitivo is also used to make Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale, a delicious dessert wine made by allowing the grapes to dry on the vines. Since the weather conditions have to be just right for this to happen, Primitivo’s Dolce Naturale is quite rare but it is absolutely worth seeking out.

Wine Growing Regions for Primitivo

After descending from Mother Croatia, Primitivo has happily settled in the Puglia region of Italy, which is the heel of the boot. This makes sense because it’s pretty much due south of Dubrovnik. Primitivo is the star of Puglia, which is a region that is not necessarily as famous as, say, Piedmont or Tuscany. This is good news for consumers because it means that Primitvos and other Puglian wines tend not to break the bank. Primitivo is also grown in Veneto and other areas of Italy.

Outside of Italy, Primitivo can be found in California, which is an interesting twist considering its near-twin Zinfandel is often considered the quintessential Californian grape. It’s very versatile in California and thrives in hotter regions, like Dry Creek in Sonoma, Lodi, and the Sierra Foothills. It also can be found in Washington, where it tends to have a silkier texture.

Check Out These Primitivo Wines from Around The World:

  • Castello Monaci Artas, Puglia, Italy
  • Tormaresco Trocicoda, Italy
  • Li Veli ‘Orion’, Puglia, Italy
  • Cantele, Italy
  • Collier Falls Hillside Estate, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California
  • Andis, Amador, Sierra Foothills, California
  • Hendry Block 24, Napa Valley, California
  • Casa Smith ‘Procospino’, Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, Washington

Learn About These Other Wine Grape Varieties

Written By Jamie Metzgar

Jamie Elizabeth Metzgar began her career in wine by pouring in a tasting room on the East End of Long Island, NY. After moving to New York City, she landed a position at Chambers Street Wines where she was encouraged to pursue wine education at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET). She earned Level III certification there and has since earned California Wine Appellation Specialist and Certified Specialist of Wine certifications as well. After way too many moves, she has recently landed in Northern California where she is compiling an unofficial roster of dog-friendly tasting rooms.

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Black Fruit, Blueberries, Figs, Blackberry, Cherry

Earth & Additional Characteristics

Leather, Dry Earth, Rust

The Structure and Style of Primitivo Wines & Blends

Body Medium - Full

Sugar Dry

Acid Medium Minus

Alcohol Medium Plus, High

Tannins Medium



Roasted Lamb

Eggplant Parmesan

Hearty Lentil Stews