Primitivo (aka Zinfandel)

Dolio Primitivo on Tasting Room wall

The Grape

Primitivo is a grape varietal primarily grown in Italy’s Puglia region (in the heel of the boot). It is also grown in California and Washington.

 In 1967, Austin Goheen, plant pathologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Professor at the University of California at Davis, was the first academic to realize that Primitivo and Zinfandel could be identical varieties. By 1994, collaboration between UC Davis and Italy’s Experimental Viticultural Institute of Conegliano brought definitive proof that the two varieties were genetically identical. Further research culminated in 2003’s genetic analysis that Italy’s Primitivo, the United States’ Zinfandel, and Croatia’s Crljenak kaštelanski/Pribidrag (now known as Tribidrag) all share the same DNA profile.

Adriatic Sea map courtesy of

The three clonal lines for the variety have evolved independently over time. A 2005 research report from a 2000 to 2003 study of Zinfandel and Primitivo plants in Fresno, California concluded that Primitivo ripened earlier, had similar or higher yield, and had similar or lower susceptibility to sour rot.

Croatia to Italy

In the 18th century, the grapes were brought across the Adriatic Sea from Croatia to Italy where they were planted and studied by a priest, Don Francesco Filippo Indellicati. Because the Tribidrag grapes ripened earlier than other varietals, he named them Primitivo, which translates to “first one”. (It is worthwhile to note that the Croatian name “Tribidrag” is derived from a Greek phrase meaning “early ripening”.) The grapes easily thrived in Puglia’s climate and became the most commonly planted varietal in the region.

Arrival in the United States

Horticulturist, George Gibbs, imported the Tribidrag varietal from the Austrian Imperial Nursery collection to the East Coast of the United States in the 1820s. At that time, the Austrian Empire ruled the kingdom of Hungary, which included Croatia.

Merriam-Webster suggests that the name Zinfandel was first used in 1858 and is probably a modification of the obsolete and misapplied Hungarian tzinifándli, czirifandli, which referred to an Austrian white wine grape, Zierfandler.

Used as a table grape, Zinfandel was not recognized for its wine potential until it arrived in California, most likely around the time of the Gold Rush during the 1850s. Zinfandel was recognized as an exceptional grape variety for wine making in California in the 1880s and by 1884, it is estimated that Zinfandel accounted for half of California’s vineyards.

The Wine

Primitivo produces medium to full bodied wine that is notable for its intensity and complexity of fruit flavors and often contain a “jammy” component in both bouquet and flavor. The berries’ high sugar content tend to produce higher alcohol wines. (It’s a good idea to check the ABV on the label.)

As always, fermentation choices provide the foundation of the desired wine style while the selection of aging vessels influence the presence of tannins and smoothness of the wine.

Filling amphora with Primitivo
Filling the amphora with Primitivo

Dolio Winery’s Primitivo

With Primitivo in our wine menu, Dolio Winery can offer a full array of red Italian wines that range from bright, medium bodied wines to deep, smooth, full-bodied wines. Our first experience with Primitivo in 2014 vintage resulted in a Double Gold Award from the Seattle Wine Awards.

Our 2016 Primitivo is available as of this post. Our style highlights dried fig and raisins while brimming with jammy cherry notes. The deep, smooth finish features hints of white pepper. It may remind some of port wine.

To date, all of our released Primitivo wines have been through extensive barrel aging in American Oak barrels. These barrels help to accentuate the pairability with foods that are robust like BBQ pork. Equally delicious, the vanilla barrel overtones prefectly complement fudgy chocolate desserts.

Dolio Primitivo on Tasting Room wall
Dolio Winery’s 2016 Primitivo

Future vintages of Dolio Winery’s Primitivo include 2017, 2018 (aged in amphora), and a small batch from a temperamental 2019 vineyard year.


Barbera: An Italian Red Grape Varietal

Dolio Winery's Harmony and 2014 Barbera

The Grape

Barbera’s origins lie in northwest Italy’s Piedmont region. This red grape varietal is the third most planted grape in Italy. Grown worldwide, Barbera vineyards can also be found in California, Washington State, Australia, Argentina, and South Africa. 

Italy's Wine Regions
Italy’s Wine Regions Courtesy Wine Enthusiast

Ampelographers suspect the origin of Barbera dates as far back as the 7th century, much longer than the more familiar Cabernet Sauvignon recognized since the 17th century. (Ampelography is the field of botany concerned with the identification and classification of grapevines.)

In the 1800s, Italian winemakers emigrated and introduced Barbera grapevines to the United States.

The Wine

Historically, because it generally had lighter body and less concentration than the nobler Nebbiolo from the same region, Barbera was given a lesser status. Longer aged Nebbiolo was reserved for special occasions while younger and more readily available Barbera was used as a table wine and known as the ‘wine of the people’.

Naturally high in acidity and low in tannins, Barbera can be considered ripe, bright and tangy. It is presented both in blended wines and as a single varietal. While ‘Old World’ Barbera is a traditional Italian wine that’s highly acidic and quite tart, ‘New World’ Barbera wine tends to be full-bodied and more fruity.

Dolio Winery's Harmony
Dolio Winery’s Harmony is a blend of 50% Barbera and 50% Syrah.

Pair Barbera wines with rich dark meats, mushrooms, herbs, herbaceous cheeses like blue cheese, higher tannin foods like root vegetables & braised greens. The bright acidity in the wine will complement a rich fatty or high tannin dish.

Barbera ages well, though it may be difficult to find cellared Barbera, as it drinks so nicely as a young wine.

Dolio Winery’s Barbera

Italian red varietals are central to our winery so Barbera is a regular on our wine list. While not many acres are dedicated to this varietal in WA State, the quality of fruit we can acquire has been outstanding.

Our winemaker allows Barbera to spend ample time in barrels which builds tannins to complement Barbera’s natural acidity. The result is a bright ‘New World’ style wine with fruit notes of sour cherry, anise, fig and caramel.

Winemaker, Don Klase, with his first vintage of Barbera
Winemaker, Don Klase, with his first vintage of Barbera

As of this post, Dolio’s single vintage 2014 Barbera is available. Also on our wine list is the very popular Harmony blend of 50% Barbera and 50% Syrah which showcases the brightness of Barbera and deep finish of Syrah.

Some of our favorite surprise pairing items with Barbera include Blood Orange Truffles and Tiramisu.