The lovely whitewashed town of Gioia del Colle, in the center of Italy’s Puglian heel, is known for being a few things: a production center of fresh cow’s-milk mozzarella, the birthplace of Sylvester Stallone’s father, and the cradle of Primitivo, southern Italy’s equivalent of Zinfandel.
The grape’s origins are Croatian (where it is known as Tribidrag or Crljenak Kastelanski), but it was here in Gioia del Colle that 18th-century monk and botanist Don Francesco Filippo Indellicati selected the variety for its early ripening and called it “Primativo.”
The grape spread to Puglia’s other regions. It took a completely separate path (possibly via Austria) to the United States, where its identity was the subject of debate until the 1990s, when DNA profiling confirmed that Primitivo and Zinfandel are genetically identical.
Yet here’s the twist: Gioia del Colle Primitivos are distinct from those in the rest of Puglia, or anywhere else for that matter. They also defy the dark, chewy, big-Zin image.
“It’s a different biotype,” says Marianna Annio, 49, who launched a small organic producer, Pietraventosa, with her husband in the early 2000s. “In Gioia we have a thinner, more elegant Primitivo.”
Just how elegant? I hadn’t drunk a glass of Primitivo for more than a dozen years. Yet after a few days eating and drinking my way across Gioia, I became a convert to its charms.
The particularity of the tiny Gioia del Colle…
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