Crljenak kaštelanski (pronounce Tserl-yee-ehnak Kashh-tell-ann-skee). Primitivo (pronounce pri-meh-TEE-Voh). Or, if you are confounded by Croation and intimidated by Italian, go with the California pronunciation: zinfandel (‘zin-fən-del).
According to DNA testing by Dr. Carole Meredith, UC–Davis, and Dr. Edi Maletić, U–Zagreb, all three are same grape, with origins tracing back to Croatia/Dalmatia. It also is known by other names: pribidrag in other parts of Croatia, kratošija in Montenegro and Macedonia, and tribidrag in southern Dalmatia.
Wow. California’s signature grape suddenly has cousins—more accurately, according to DNA, twins or clones throughout the Mediterranean-Adriatic world.
What is the “official” name? This being wine, an authority, the esteemed English wine expert, Jancis Robinson, asserts: “According to the rule of anteriority, whereby the oldest name takes precedence, ‘tribidrag’ is adopted here as the prime name for this variety.” Tribidrag means “early ripening” in Greek. Reinforcing this, Italian “primivito” means “first to ripen.”
I fully expect California zin makers will tell authorities to kiss off when it comes to the naming protocol.
European immigrants brought “zinfandel”—zierfandler, zenfendal, black Sonora, black St. Peters in those protean frontier days—and it found its home in California’s terroir. Testy in its native lands, it flourished in the New World—as would malbec and carménère in South America in later years.
Vitis vinifera grapes come in 5,000-10,000 varieties. They grow many places; they soar in some. We are still figuring out what works where, a toil of millennia, and what name to give them.
• Masseria Altemura Sasseo Primitivo IGT 2015: Good value, different take on zinfandel—somewhat more subtle and less alcohol heat than the California iterations of this grape. $13-18 Link to my review
• The Federalist Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel 2015: More wine beverage than traditional wine; happily does not transgress into excesses of some bourbon barrel efforts, which is a plus. $18-20 Link to my review
• Ravenswood Single Vineyard Old Hill Zinfandel Sonoma Valley 2015: Silky smooth, sophisticated, delicious, complex, concentrated, fruit-forward, well-behaved ancient vines zin—likely from the oldest zin vines in Sonoma. $50-60 Link to my review
Last round: Want to impress your friends? Order a glass of tribidrag rosé (white zinfandel).