Tag Archives: wine history

Today’s Wine Word: Primitivo


My brother-in-law was at the grocery store picking up some things for dinner and called to ask whether he should buy the Old Vine Zinfandel or the Primitivo – same brand. My answer was that if the price is the same, flip a coin, because Primitivo is another name for Zinfandel.

In 2002, DNA fingerprinting revealed that Zinfandel’s origins are in Croatia, of all places. They traced it back to a rare variety known as Crljenak Kaštelanski – try to pronounce that one after a few glasses of Zinfandel – or even before 😉

From Croatia it traveled to southern Italy, where they call it Primitivo. Most of it is found in Puglia, the heel of the boot. It also made its way to the east coast of the US as a table grape (for eating) and, eventually, to California where it became a wildly popular wine grape. It was the most planted variety in California prior to prohibition and it’s #3 today.

TRIVIA! In California we used many, many different names used for it – Black St. Peters, Zinfendal, Zeinfandall, Zenfenthal – before settling on Zinfandel. Continue reading


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Today’s Wine Word: Extractive


Question from Jess: You used the word extractive in a recent post. What do you mean?

Reply: Hi, Jess. Thanks for writing! And shame on me for using wine jargon without taking the time to explain it.

As you know, all of the color and most of the flavor, texture and tannin in red wine comes from the grape skins. The juice of most any dark grape is clear. So, depending upon how long the juice and skins are in contact you can make white, rose or red wine!

TRIVIA! This great versatility served our wine pioneers well. In the early days of California’s wine history there was only one variety, the Mission grape, available. From the 1500s until the 1800s every style of wine – white, red, brandy and a dessert wine known as Angelica – was made from this one, dark variety.

Anyhoo, when a red wine is described as extractive it means that it’s extremely dense, probably nearly black in color and extremely concentrated in flavor. Often these extractive reds are also accompanied by high alcohol (alcohol is a solvent) and, in recent years, some can seem almost syrupy.

Depending upon who you’re talking to, “extractive” as a descriptor may be interpreted as a compliment or a slam. 

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