Primitivo from Gioia del Colle, A Revelation

Puglia or Apulia as we write in English, is a long region that is the heel of the Italian boot and is among the top wine producing regions in the country. A large part of the wines are made with indigenous varieties such as Primitivo and Negroamaro, two red grapes that many people know and have tasted in various iterations. They are by no means the only indigenous varieties from the region however. My focus today though is Primitivo from Gioia del Colle.

The above photo is a part of the map of the Denominations from Puglia but it clearly shows the center of Puglia which is where we find the DOC that I am focusing on today, Gioia del Colle.

Primitivo has not always been the first grape I was attracted to or wanted to taste, until I tried my first Primitivo di Gioia del Colle some year back.What makes them attractive to me is their elegance and acidity on top of the other aspects one expects in a Primitivo – deep important dark fruit, depending on how its aged – cedar, oak, even animal skin aromas. Yet with the wines from Gioia del Colle, I found other sensations I wasn’t expecting.

Perhaps it is the terroir, a high plane in what is known as the Murge, at around 400-500 meters above sea-level. Maybe it’s the soils that have both skeletal materials, are calcarious in nature, and have limestone as well as red soils with iron residues. The area was first inhabited in 3000 BC and apparently there were rivers running beneath the high plain so loads of fruit trees, oak, and olives once grew here. Maybe it’s the climate, Mediterranean of course but because of their elevation, they do get a bit of breeze which can be hard to find in Puglia. Likely it’s the mix of all these factors as it always is, and the hand of careful producers that make these wines so special.

Tenuta Patruno Perniola is one of these producers. They are located in the Murgia pugliese, in the town of Gioia del Colle, which is between the provinces of Bari and Taranto. The family has owned the property since the 1800s. It is focused exclusively on Primitivo which they make in a number of different versions, oaked, aged in stainless steel and sweet. The vineyards are located at 350 meters above sea level with constant breezes, good thermal excursion and rich soils filed with minerals that give the earth a red color and the nickname “red earth.”

According to the winery’s website, their goal is to let the grape speak for itself and neither to make a big oaky version nor one that is a fruit bomb. I think they were successful in their efforts and I quite enjoyed the wine, much to my surprise.

Tenuta Chiaromonte is another winery whose Gioia del Colle Primitivo caught my eye. This one is a Primitivo from Acquaviva delle Fonti in La Murgia which is near Bari in Pulia. The winery started in the 1800s with 3 hectares and now has 32 hectares. I tried this wine at a Gambero Rosso tasting and the owner, Nicola Chiaromonte was happily pouring this big, bold wine. At 16.5% alcohol, it didn’t fit into what I consider my typical wine style. Moreover, I am always hard pressed when it comes to Primitivo to find one I really enjoy but this one won me over. It had all of the juicy red and black fruits, spice and pepper, and garigue or Macchia Mediterranea notes one would expect from a wine from Southern Italy. However it didn’t have the oak treatment that I have found to be very common in that part of Italy. What you got in that glass was pure primitivo made on Calcareous soils in Southern Italy.

According to the winery website, Primitivo can also called Primativo or Primaticcio. This last because it is an early ripening grape. The Phoenicians were already selling Primitivo in their day. Apparently a priest from Gioia del Colle, Don Filippo Indellicati, started the first monoculture of this variety.

Many years ago I interviewed Pasquale Petrera who is the fifth generation of his family to run their small winery, Fatalone, that is on a rocky hilltop 365 meters above sea level and located 45 kilometers from both the Adriatic Sea to the east and the Ionian Sea to the south.

The winery was a founding member of the Consorzio di Tutela del Vino Gioia Del Colle DOC, and they were the first winery, in 1987, to bottle Gioia del Colle DOC using Primitivo as a monovarietal.

Organic practices have always been important to the family, according to Pasquale, who says the winery has been practicing sustainability and respect for nature for five generations. Getting biologically certified was only a way to put a seal on our work. The company received certification in 2000.

The practices in the vineyards have now moved to focus more on sustainability in the winery as well. Music therapy is used to help with the aging of their barrels.

What isn’t a problem is that the grapes they use all grow right around the winery and there is no need to transport them anywhere, saving on emissions and time. They also put all of the compost from the winery such as cuttings, clippings, and the like back into the property.

In terms of climate change, Pasquale said that they are seeing more drought conditions, earlier harvests and a reduction in yields because some of the grapes are drying on the vine on account of the heat. This inevitably makes the wines fruitier.

Like many winemakers, Pasquale hopes that Italy will focus on preserving its land and the specialness of individual terroirs, protecting their 3000 indigenous varietals and traditions of the land that constitute an inestimable cultural, environmental and societal patrimony.

Priimitivo Riserva Fatalone ages for two years, one of which must be in oak, Slavonia usually. The soil is calcareous with a planting density of 3000-3500 vines per hectare. Full bodied and velvety with red fruits and oak notes on nose and palate, this wine can age for 10 years but is balanced when released.

Primitivo Fatalone is their base wine with many of the same characteristics as the riserva, full-bodied, red fruit and a velvety mouth-feel. They use open vat fermentation with manual stirring, frequent pumping over and without added yeast.

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 remember distinctly feeling as though I was swimming in an Emerald. I can’t wait to go back.

While I haven’t tried all the wines from Gioia del Colle DOC, I have tried enough of them to confidently say this is an area to watch and try.

Though we are not going to gather for a chat this month, here’s the line-up of articles on Pugliese wines and pairings…


  1. Two things in your post article that particularly grab me: Macchia Mediterranea and feeling like you were swimming in an Emerald. I’ll have to go back to experience both myself.

  2. It was good to read of the Gioia delle Colle specifically and your experience with their wines. It’s hard to get a real good grasp on what is “typical” of an area without really knowing the place and having tried a number of wines. Appreciate your insight!

  3. I love that you found these Gioia delle Colle Primitivos so surprisingly good. Sometimes Primitivo can be hard to love. It is also interesting how different these wines are. A delicious wine at 16.5% for me is a rarity, and now I am very curious to try this wine!
    I also love that Fatalone uses music therapy for aging. There is much to be said about frequency in winemaking!

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