BBQ Part II – Zinfandel vs. Primitivo

June 14, 2005

Sorry for the delay in posting. I do have a day job, and it went a little crazy over the last few weeks. Plus I took a short trip to Minneapolis, where I indulged my inner-wine shopper to the limit (the VISA limit).

Anyways, the next two wines we tasted in our BBQ tasting were the Cline Red Label Zinfandel (2003 vintage) and the Vigne & Vini “Zinfandel” Primitivo di Salento (2001 vintage). Both were paired with slow-cooked baby back ribs and jicama slaw. And both were somewhat disappointing.

We had hoped to use this to show the similarities and differences between Zinfandel and Primitivo. To make a long story short, the two grapes are genetic twins. Some authorities argue that they are one and the same, while others suggest they are both mutated forms of the Croatian ‘Crljenak‘ grape. But we won’t go there today. Suffice to say that the two grapes share many characteristics, and as Zinfandel is (arguably) an excellent BBQ wine, it would stand to reason that Primitivo would fill the same nice. Right?

Maybe in other circumstances. The Cline was just too light to take seriously. When I drink Zinfandel, I want something medium-bodied, with lots of bramble fruit (raspberry, blackberry, etc). I expect a hint of “wildness” in the background, and I aim to enjoy it. The Cline was light, showed some minor raspberry flavours and didn’t have the “wildness” I was looking for. There was a nice enough finish, which made it a good match for the food, but at $18 and change, it’s not worth the price. I used to really enjoy the Cline Red Label series, but this was a disappointment. If you’re going to try this, chill it for 15 minutes and serve it on the hottest day of the year.

But it was still better than the Primitivo. If I had to use one word to describe the Vigne & Vini, I’d call it ‘funky’. And not in a Maceo Parker kind of way. More like a “who opened their skanky gym bag” kind of way. It smelled like a racoon had tipped over the garbage and rolled in it, and my notes show that it tasted like an unholy combination of stewed beets and raspberries. Not only did it taste like this to start, but it got worse as the night progressed. I took it home, and my wife turned up her nose at it, preferring to open a bottle of cheap Cawarra red instead.

So no, I won’t recommend it. I won’t even tell you the price. Pick up the Pasqua Primitivo at Kenaston Wine Market instead. Or venture into their Italian section and pick out one of the other fine Primitivos they have in stock.

On the whole though, I’d still say Zinfandel is an excellent BBQ wine. The pronounced wildness and bramblefruit flavours make it a good match with sweet and smoky BBQ sauces, and it pairs well with ketchup. My current fave is the Bogle Old Vines Zinfandel, which is sadly unavailable up here. If you can’t find that, Ravenswood’s Vintner’s Blend is always a safe bet, and there are lots of other choices as well.

Next up, we bring out the heavyweights. Australian Shiraz takes on the relatively unknown Washington State Syrah.

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