Last weekend we had a bottle of Felline Primitivo di Manduria 2001, which is a tre bicchieri wine (the top accolade from Gambero Rosso, the definitive Italian wine guide). I bought it when on a six month tour of Italy in 2003, from a wine shop in Lecce, a beautiful university town right down in the Salento Peninsular, the heel of Italy.
We had it with a rich, red wine octopus casserole. Not a dish from Puglia I grant you but from Campania, also in the South of Italy and with exactly the right richness and character to accompany the wine.
Primitivo is so named not because it's primative and wild (although it is) but because it ripens early. It's from Puglia and was recently shown to be genetically equavalent to Zinfandel, the more famous variety that has made its home in California. The clones are quite different however and they are still considered separate varieties in California. Like Zin it's a powerful variety that can make extremely alcoholic wines that can be too heavy and wild if not careful. However, in the right hands and from old vines in a good site Primitivo can make superb wine that needs many years bottle age to lose its ferocity and melt into a harmonious whole.
At 10 years old this bottle from the producer Felline was just perfect, still full of strong black fruit flavour but also showing tobacco, liquorice, undergrowth and a wealth of other secondary flavours. With a great sense of place it was clearly Southern Italian but also highly complex, very well integrated, extremely long and without doubt a great wine. What a shame I only had one.
Well done to Felline indeed.