Friday, 17 June 2011

Visellio Primitivo Salento 2001

Whilst we're on the subject of where varieties emanate from, how about California's own Zinfandel?  Well, a few years ago DNA evidence showed it to be the same variety as Primitivo, which comes from Puglia, the heel of Italy.  That they are one and the same was already suspected as they both make wild tasting, tannic, brash and alcoholic wines, whether in Italy or California.  For completeness we should note that it's also in fact the same variety as Crljenak Kaštelanski from Croatia, but let's not worry about that for now.

Whatever name it goes by, it's certainly not shy and demurring.  No Pinot Noir this.  It's got loads of tannins, masses of alcohol and a big wild taste - certainly not for everyone!  It also doesn't age particularly well as a rule, so it's quite tricky to know the best way to deal with it.  However, in skilled hands and from old vines it can produce excellent wines that are still slightly wild and with their own distinctive personality, but with good structure, the ability to age and with the overt feral nature tamed down a bit.

In a completely different (and awful) style, masses of Zinfandel in California is bizarrely used to make 'Blush' wines (a term generally used to indicate quite sweet pink wines) that are obtusely called "White Zin" (it's pink, not white). It's pretty much all really commercial and fairly sweet rosé wine of no merit whatsoever.  But we won't dwell on that commercial aberration, let's look at what it can do in a premium red wine, this one from Italy...

Proving the variety can in fact age really well, last night I had a bottle of 2001 Visellio, which is a bit of super-cuvée Primitivo from the Salento Peninsular (ie the heel of Italy), made by one of the best producers of the region, Tenute Rubino.  At ten years of age this was by no means too old; it was extremely powerful and extracted, with lots of tannins that had nicely mellowed and it's 14.5% alcohol didn't stick out at all.  It was stuffed with bags of dark fruit that had become chocolaty and spicy with time.  Lovely, haunting flavours, with lots of complexity and a long finish.  All very good, competent and no doubt Robert Parker would love it, but, but...

I have to say that good as this wine was, for my taste it was too extracted and too rich with not enough grip in the tannins and not enough acidity. The resulting balance was too soupy, not clean enough and not great as a partner to food.  It was made more in the style of a blockbusting Californian Zin instead of a more restrained Puglian example (the best of which normally come from the appellation Primitivo di Manduria).  For me this style is more of a show wine designed to impress than something you can actually share a bottle of over dinner.  Sorry Tenute Rubino.

Having said that I don't want to put you off the variety altogether; there are some great examples out there and if you are in the UK and new to the variety, then I would recommend a bottle of the very decent Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel for £9.50 from Waitrose, which is spot on with some smoky barbecued meat.  I think Primitivo / Zinfandel will always be one of those varieties that I want only once in a while, but it's great as an occasional wild card.  Very wild.

1 comment:

  1. Great article Hugo. One thing though - are there really no decent Zinfandel Pinks? I seem to remember quite a nice one I used to drink many years ago - or do you think it was the 14.5% alcohol kicking in?