Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The DOC Rules Have Changed: Primitivo di Manduria DOC

Primitivo di Manduria DOC is no longer 100% primitivo, and I'm mad as hell. Famed wine critic Jancis Robinson reports in her article, Getting to Grips with Puglia, that the Primitivo di Manduria DOC now allows "up to 15% of any other varieties planted on a given estate, including such foreigners as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot." I'm glad I happened to find this article because I haven't found anyone else reporting on this abrupt change. The Primitivo di Manduria DOC used to be a varietal wine.

A DOC is a government-controlled label of quality in Italy, and Italy has so many DOCs that the label is almost meaningless these days. However, the DOC label is still important in Puglia because the region is in the process of becoming well known in the United States, and its DOCs have been successfully branded. If you go to almost any Trader Joe's, you'll find two of Puglia's best known DOCs: the Salice Salentino DOC and the Primitivo di Manduria DOC. Had you predicted this in the 1990s, you would have been laughed all the way back to Puglia.

Primitivo is famous among Americans because it is the same grape as zinfandel. This has helped the Primitivo di Manduria DOC gain a foothold in the U.S., but Primitivo di Manduria DOC wines aren't nearly as well-known as many other Italian wines. Why would Puglia shoot itself in the foot like this... just as it was getting started? Robinson suggests that the "locals seem to lack faith in their indigenous grapes." Is this the reason? I've never met a Pugliese winemaker who wasn't proud of the native grapes.

But maybe I'm getting ahead of things. Maybe this change in rules isn't bad. Many winemakers will continue to make 100% primitivo Primitivo di Manduria DOC wines, and perhaps the addition of new grapes will produce more age-worthy wines. What do you think?

I can't help but think that this change in regulation will result in confusion among American winelovers. Flavors will change and the wines will be less reliable. Most importantly, a unique identity and terroir will be destroyed. Further, the connection between zinfandel, primitivo, and the Croatian grape, crljenak kaštelanski, is already shrouded in confusion. Just the other day I found a wine at Trader Joe's that further misleads consumers. Its label reads, "Zinfandel in America... Primitivo in Italy... Mali Plavac in Croatia..." but Plavac Mali is not the same grape as zinfandel: It is a cross between zinfandel, aka crljenak kaštelanski, and another grape called dobricic. Can't we just keep things simple?

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