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There had been suspicions that zinfandel might be connected or related to primitivo, which is grown in Puglia, the "heel" of Italy. Advancements in DNA profiling technology in the 1990s led to the confirmation of this hypothesis, with further research unearthing a parent/offspring relationship to the Croatian grape plavac mali.
This discovery led scientists to the Dalmatia area of Croatia, where a local grape called crljenak kastelanski was found to be a genetic match to zinfandel. Further research on this latter grape led to the discovery of a genetic match with the even more ancient Croatian variety tribidrag.
Tribidrag/crljenak kastelanski, Croatia’s most successful grape export, thrives under its new monikers in both Puglia and the United States, where it initially arrived on the East Coast in the 1820s before being taken west during the great gold rush.
In California, its roughly 20,000ha make it the second-most-planted red grape after cabernet sauvignon and some 60% greater than the plantings in Puglia. It is also found in Montenegro, Mexico, other US states, the Languedoc and Australia, while the latest NZ Winegrowers figures list a scant 2ha planted in New Zealand.
Wines made from zinfandel/primitivo are typically opulent, lush, relatively high in alcohol, with bold fruit flavours such as raspberry, blueberry, dark cherry, plum and jam, backed by spice, liquorice and pepper characters. Super-ripe examples can move into the pruney, porty spectrum, while lighter versions emphasise red fruits. Mostly flying solo but sometimes seen in blends, they are generously flavoured and supple, invariably offering great bang for buck.