Are ZINFANDEL and PRIMITIVO the same?
Well yes, when DNA tested they both have the same DNA, but so too is the DNA of white wine Pinot Gris and the red wine Pinot Noir, yet both wines are completely different. My experience here in the Barossa with both of these varieties is that the resulting wines are different.
There are two clones of Zinfandel in Australia C11V7 imported in 1964 and F11V6 imported in 1971.
Published in the “Grapevine Clones Used in Australia” book by SARDI researcher Phil Nicholas funded by GWRDC he refers to:-
C11V7 as FPS clone 01A. (FPS being the Foundation Planting Service at the Uni of California Davis) and F11V6 as FPS clone 06.
In an American publication “A Concise Guide to Wine Grape Clones for Professionals” 2nd edition June 1998 the Author John Caldwell writes:-
There are eight clones selected at FPS (including the two above), although these clones were good choices for WHITE ZINFANDEL they do not have a reputation for producing fine red wines.
John Caldwell goes on to write:-
MONDAVI and WOODBRIDGE started a clonal trial in 1989 with four FPS clones (01A, 2, 3, &6) and a clone of Primitivo. The UC Extension principal researcher in charge of this trial published that of the resulting wines the trial showed that the Primitivo clone consistently had the preferred wine.
The principal researcher goes on to say that clones FPS 01A and FPS 2 were the least preferred.
Calwell writes:- Unfortunately Primitivo was not classified as a Zinfandel type by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) so they couldn’t call the Primitivo as Zinfandel.
The above trial showed that C11V7 (FPS 01A) was the least preferred and this was the first import of Zinfandel to Australia.
The University of California Davis also carried out some heat treatment of various clones of Zinfandel in an attempt to remove grapevine viruses. The amount of days that the vines underwent this heat treatment would lead to clonal name changes, the names simply being the differences in heat duration i.e. 60 days or 120 days.
Zinfandel FPS 1A was put through this heat treatment program and it generated a further two clones FPS 05 (01A H103-2) and FPS 06 (01A H117). Of note here is that FPS 06 is clone 01A with 117 days of heat treatment therefore making clone F11V6 (FPS 06) a sub clone of C11V7 (FPS 01A).
As mentioned above, both these clones in Australia F11V6 and C11V7 were used primarily for the production of “White Zinfandel” in America. The Zinfandel’s produced in Australia from these two clones are a credit to the winemaking expertise here.
Since their origin there has been a small amount of genetic divergence between the grapes of Italy and those of California. For instance, field test comparisons reveal that although Primitivo and Zinfandel grapes retain a remarkable similarity, Primitivo grapes are consistently superior. In part, this is because the earlier maturation of Primitivo and the grapes yields a subtly different flavour, with more noticeable blackberry and spice highlights.
Having made wine from both these Zinfandel clones and manipulating the vineyard with shoot thinning, crop thinning etc I have never been able to make a wine from Zinfandel like those I make from Primitivo.
The resulting wines are quite different and most blind tasters think that they are tasting different varieties, but we now know this to be untrue due to DNA fingerprinting showing them as having the same DNA.
The dilemma for consumers here in Australia is that due to our ability to use synonyms for names you can give Zinfandel a sexy name and call it Primitivo in an attempt to gain some marketing advantage by using the popular “Italian” name or vice-versa.
Seek out both of these varieties and enjoy the subtle differences yourself.