Wine varietals and styles


By Halliday Wine Companion

29 Aug, 2023

Get to know primitivo.

Go to section: Primitivo tasting characteristics | Origins of primitivo | How to pair food with primitivo | Serving temperature for primitivo | The best Australian primitivo regions

Primitivo, meaning ‘early one’, is the Italian name for zinfandel, a grape originally from Croatia. This black-skinned varietal is known for producing still red wines with high alcohol levels, bold flavours, significant tannins and an impenetrable garnet hue. 

You’ll like primitivo wine if you like Californian zinfandel, warm-climate Australian shiraz, or Italian dolcetto, barbera and sangiovese. 

Dark-skinned grapesPrimitivo is a thick-skinned grape that produces wines with high alcohol, high tannins and bold flavours.

Primitivo tasting characteristics

In terms of flavour profile and style, primitivo wines exhibit ripe primary fruit flavours such as blackberry, raspberry, and cherry, with secondary notes of spice, black pepper, and sometimes a hint of tobacco or earthiness. Primitivo wines tend to be on the higher end of the alcohol and tannin spectrum, which contributes to their full-bodied nature.

Origins of primitivo

There’s no doubt that primitivo’s forever home is Puglia, in the south of Italy. Here it is one of the most planted grapes in the region alongside negroamaro, which also produces deeply rich and tannic reds.  

However, primitivo traces its origins to nearby Croatia (where it was known as ‘tribidrag’) and was likely imported in the 18th century by local priests. It was a popular blending grape during its early years, and today it’s used for simple, easy drinking wines sold under the Puglia name. 

In 1994, DNA testing proved that primitivo and zinfandel were one and the same. This fact, coupled with the global popularity of zinfandel, largely driven by the Californian market, led to increased demand for primitivo varietal wines. This growing popularity is one of the reasons we can buy it in Australia today. 

Cheese board with cheddar and briePrimitivo pairs well with aged cheeses like parmesan, pecorino and cheddar.

How to pair food with primitivo

Try primitivo with hearty stews, chargrilled meats and tomato-based pastas. It’s also a good partner for aged cheeses such as parmesan, pecorino or cheddar.

Serving temperature for primitivo

The ideal serving temperature for primitivo is 15–18 degrees. Due to its robust nature, primitivo also benefits from decanting. 

Sign up to view these tasting notes and ratings

By becoming a member of Wine Companion, you'll have access to the largest database of wines in Australia.

The best Australian primitivo regions

Primitivo is not widely grown in Australia, although here we tend to refer to it by its Puglian name, rather than the Americanised zinfandel. 

The grape’s thick-skinned, early ripening nature lends itself well to a warming climate, with producers in regions such as the Barossa, Margaret River and McLaren Vale early adopters.

Across eight modules, Halliday Wine Academy's Introduction to Wine course offers a detailed look at the Australian wine landscape. Learn about wine varietalsAustralian wine regions, how wine is made, how to taste and describe wine, how to approach food and wine matches, along with handy tips that address common wine questions.

Image credits: Ian Routledge and Wine Australia.