“Primaticciu, primaticciu…putimi povuru ca ti fazzu riccu”
“Primitivo, primitivo…prune me poor thus I will make you rich”
This was how our great-grandfather, Lu nonnu ‘Ntino (Costantino Gianfreda), ecited, so attached to his favorite grape variety that he gave him a nickname. That was Primaticciu”, his friend of every day, his hard work mate that inspired him to do better and better and recommended him a pruning that could let him have few bunches so to produce a remunerative and quality wine.
A very futuristic vision, considering the bygone times during which the most important mission was only to produce as much as they could! Nowadays, with this philosophy, Lu Nonnu ‘Ntinu would have been non only understood but also admired for the quality of his grapes, while in those times he was even considered nonsense!
Primitivo di Manduria: the origin of its name
Primitivo is an early grape variety, hence its name: it was the first (“primo” in Italian language) red-berry-grapes to be harvested in Manduria and the nearby area: Sava, Torricella and Maruggio are the historical districts in which the oldest vineyards are. The harvest usually started at the end of August, when the grapes were at the optimal point of maturation with the right percentage of dried berries, which gave richness and structure to the obtained wine, as well as considerable sugar content. All the families living in these territories usually owned some tomolos of land and produced Primitivo in underground cellars, underneath their houses. Fermentations were spontaneous and several times natural yeasts were not able to completely convert sugars in alcohol: for this reason, the obtained Primitivo basically kept its sweetness. All the wines produced in the surrounding area were collected in Manduria and brought to the train station from where the cargo trains left, loaded with this nectar, to the Northern part of Italy where people appreciated such structured wines with a so intense color. Therefore Manduria symbolized the place of collection and origin of this wine, in fact up in the North they said “PRIMITIVO FROM MANDURIA is coming”. Hence it derives our DOC name, surely nowadays the most important in Puglia.
Primitivo di Manduria in its several typologies
Nowadays PRIMITIVO DI MANDURIA is classified in DOP, DOP Riserva and DOCG Dolce Naturale.
The production area of grapes apt to produce Primitivo di Manduria DOP and its variants wines principally falls in the districts of Taranto province and few districts of Brindisi one.
The Primitivo di Manduria DOP Riserva is more renowned respect to a DOP thanks to its ageing, that has to be of two years at least, nine months of which in wood.
Besides the dry version, we find the long-established Dolce Naturale one, which disciplinary is even more based on the past tradition when Primitivo was only known as a sweet wine. This typology is in fact today called DOCG. Its key features, that distinguish it from the dry versions, are: a total minimum 16% vol. alcohol content and a minimum 50 g/l natural sugar content. The enhancements are strictly forbidden and the residual sugar has to be only the one derived from the natural drying process on the plant.
Primitivo di Manduria training systems
The Primitivo traditional training system is the alberello pugliese (Apulian little tree), typical of the Mediterranean culture, a system of reduced expansion in which the plants are placed in the soil without any support or forcing following the natural growth of the plant. This is a very common system in the dry areas like Puglia is, in which the plant is always maintained of little dimensions and with few vegetation so that it can sustain itself with the few resources available in this kind of territory. Production amounts are very low (the oldest vineyards trained with alberello system usually produce 25/30 tons per hectare) but the quality of grapes is always exceptional.
The alberello training system doesn’t allow to use mechanization in the plot, therefore it’s tough and expensive to manage. This is the reason why unfortunately through time it has been partially abandoned in favor of spurred cordon.
Primitivo di Manduria: the grape variety characteristics
Primitivo has a conical-cylindrical shaped bunch and spherical berries.
It has a very thick skin, rich in polyphenols and anthocyanins, which tends to easily break in presence of humidity or rain: this is the reason why this grape variety is sensitive to mold attacks.
Primitivo in fact is suitable only for dry and sunny climates. Its vegetative cycle is premature in all its phases and it already arrives to the optimal maturation point in the second half of August. A fantastic characteristic of this grape variety is the natural drying on the plant, present in all the Primitivo vineyards, with a higher percentage of dry berries in the old vines. The drying consists in a concentration of all the good substances inside it (sugars, polyphenols, anthocyanins…) while its acids continue to decrease, differently from what happens in the artificial drying on the shelves in which the bunch has been already detached from the plant and so you get also acids concentration.
From this wonderful grape variety you get a very intense ruby-color wine, which tends to garnet after long time of ageing. A fruity intense nose with prune, cherry, blackberry, raisin or under-alcohol grape aromas and, depending on the zone of cultivation, you can find interesting Mediterranean scrub notes. An explosion of flavor in your palate! A warm, powerful and structured wine with an embracing and balanced tannin, an optimal smoothness also when dry and good sapidity above all when coming from vineyards close to Ionian sea.
Primitivo di Manduria: the ideal food matching
Primitivo is a great-body and intense-flavors wine, so it needs to be matched with structured and savory dishes of which Apulian cuisine is rich: meat stews (“alla pignata” horse meat), roasts, aged cheeses (Apulian pecorino), but also pasta with meat and tomatoes sauce (handmade orecchiette with meatballs and “brasciole” – meat rolls).
But the dish we like the most to imagine matched with Primitivo remains the one that more traditionally our grandparents used to match with it: fava beans purée with wild “cicuredda” (chicory).
Hurray for Puglia!