Tasting Primitivo di Manduria – #ItalianFWT

Primitivo is a grape variety that you can find in the Italian region of Apulia or Puglia as it is called in Italian. Primitivo is related to the Croatian grape Tribidrag and California’s Zinfandel. Tribidrag was held in high regard throughout the history of Croatia, praised by poets in the 15th century and widely exported to France and Italy. It has been in Italy for many centuries, certainly since the 1700s. It garnered its name because it is ripens earlier than many of its Apulian counterparts.  

Primitivo is grown widely in Puglia and specifically it is well known from Manduria and Gioia del Colle. I had the privilege of tasting through about 20 Primitivo di Manduria wines at 10:00am last year on the first day of Vinitaly.com. It was eye-opening not just because of all that tannin so early in the morning but because of the beauty and minerality of so many of these wines.

Primitivo di Manduria is produced in the province of Taranto. It has two areas, the area close to the Ionian sea and the one farther inland. The climate is largely Mediterranean with mild temperatures in the winter and hot summers. The Municipalities of Manduria, Carotino, Monteparano, Leporano, Pulsano, Faggiano, Roccaforzata, S. Giorgio Jonico, S. Marzano di S. Giuseppe, Fragagano, Lizzano, Sava, Torricella, Maruggio, Avetrana, Talsano and Taranto, all of them belonging to the Taranto provincial territory can produce Primitivo di Manduria DOC. The municipal territories of Erchie, Oria and Torre Santa Susanna belonging to the province of Brindisi can also produce Primitivo di Manduria DOC. Much Primitivo di Manduria DOC is grown on Alberello or bush vines. It’s a relatively easy grape to grow and there is a saying that imparts this view of the vine:

“A San Giovanni (June 24) si chiude la vigna e si va al mare” which means from the end of June until August, you go to the beach and the sun and the weather will take care of the vines. The Consortium of Primitivo di Manduria was created in 1998 by 10 companies and then was recognized in 2002 as a legal entity. There are three denominations that are followed by the Consortium. Primitivo di Manduria DOC (DOP), Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale DOCG, and Primitivo di Manduria Riserva DOC.

Soil studies show clay-loam inland but closer to the sea there is more sand. The soils here have a lot of iron and red earth in them as well. According to the Consortium rules, there needs to be 85% Primitivo, with 15% allowed of other non-aromatic red varieties. 

Wines have at least 13.5% finished alcohol, which rises to 14% for the Riserva version, which in addition must receive 24 months’ maturation, of which 9 months in oak.

My pairing with these amazing wines was a panino al prosciutto from the bar inside the fair at Vinitaly. Despite the early hour, I found the tasting energizing and lovely. The wines all had that red fruit, spice and mineral note I expect from these wines. Some had more oak on the palate than others. I found many to be ethereal and elegant.

I had avoided Primitivo for many years but this amazing tasting showed me the error of my ways.

In the past, Puglia has been a region of volume wines but the great work that many producers have been doing these last 15 years really shows across the board in all of these wines. Most have moved away from making overly oaky wines which were all the rage for awhile.

As this is a post about wines, I won’t wax poetic about the beaches and the water but Puglia does have some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. I always felt that I was swimming inside an emerald when I was lucky enough to visit.

Just a brief note about Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale DOCG which I have only tasted twice. I am a huge fan of sweet wines and find red sweet wines some of the most intriguing. I tried one from Gianfranco Fino years ago. According to Fino, he only makes it in perfect years. It spends one year in barrique and one in the bottle before being released into the market. It was deep ruby red in color, and had a rich and sweet bouquet of floral notes, herbs, nuts and fruit. It also had the minerality and acidity I found in the Primitivo di Manduria D.O.C. The wine was balanced and harmonious, never over the top, and had a long beautiful finish of fine tannins and chocolate. I also tried one from Pirro Varone years ago, my first in 2010. Called Tocy, the wine could be a nice alternative to Port but there isn’t a big market for dessert wines here in the USA, unfortunately. I am a huge fan of these gems and would always rather drink my dessert than eat it.

Want to learn more about Primitivo? Check out these bloggers’ posts (below) and join us Saturday 11/7 at 11:00 a.m. EDT for the twitter chat, you can find us at #ItalianFWT.


  1. What a great experience. I agree with you: I would rather drink my dessert than eat it. Most of the time anyway. I will have to keep an eye out for anything from the Primitivo di Manduria D.O.C. That’s completely new to me!

  2. What a great Vinitaly tasting Susannah! I’ve mostly tasted Primitivo from producers closer to Bari, just a few from Manduria. And also being a fan of wines with sweetness, I really need to find and order a Dolce Naturale. Any producers you can recommend?

  3. Wow – 20 tannic red wines at 10 in the morning! A sacrifice but somebody needs to do it, right? I was looking for a Primitivo di Manduria but couldn’t find one locally and was out of time for ordering online. Hope to try one someday!

  4. Ah, big red tasting flights early in the morning are indeed always eye openers, but you do make it sound lovely with the panino. A great overview of the region and you’ve definitely also left me wanting to ‘swim inside an emerald.’

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