This weekend, a BFF of mine came through town, which was nice, and she also brought a bottle of wine, which was really nice.
From the very recently erected Trader Joe’s in Asheville, she brought us a 2012 Grifone Primitivo, which is the Italian version of a Zinfandel.
The bottle’s solid orange label (appropriate for impending Halloween, I suppose) declared the Zinfandel/Primitivo “the mystery grape of international viticulture.” This particular Primitivo, grown in Italy’s Puglia region, was promised to be “soft and deep with flavorful vanilla notes and a long finish” — a blurb that might also be useful in describing certain massage parlors.
The Zinfandel is a genetically fascinating grape. Its makeup is all but identical to a couple of Croatian grapes as well as the aforementioned Primitivo. Zinfandel, a clone of the Primitivo, was first grown in the United States in the middle of the 19th century.
This cross-continental grape family has historically been a subject of fierce (fierce for wine people, anyway) legal debate. In 1999, the European Union officially recognized Zinfandel as a synonym for Primitivo, meaning Primitivos sold in American can be labeled Zinfandels and vice versa.
As for the great United States, the jury is still out on the Z/P relationship. It was not until 2007 that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau said it was cool to label an American-made wine either a Zinfandel or Primitivo, but it has yet to deem the terms interchangeable.
A proposal to make the terms synonymous in America was made in 2002 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. A decision on this proposal has yet to be reached.
But all of this has been a digression. I liked the Grifone Primitivo, especially when I learned that it’d cost a criminal $3.99.
Still, though — this wine can’t be legally labeled another arbitrary word because a couple of U.S. bureaucratic departments have yet to bring an 11-year legal dispute to some sort of conclusion? It seems silly.
And of course there are the attendant scores of Internet debate on the subject. Winegeeks.com, “Wine Spectator” columnist “Dr. Vinny,” and “The Wine Institute” all have something to say on the subject. There’s contestation over whether the Zinfandel is a 100 percent Primitivo match, which variety is superior and which is more authentic.
I’m slowly learning that it’s tiny arguments like these constitute the backbone of wine writing.
But is all of this puffy sophistry, or are there some truly earnest devotees to the quarrel? It’s worth exploring, I think.
In the wine business, there are surely the detached theorists and pretenders, but there must also be evangelists, seeking to convert the heathens and zinfidels.
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