Memories of Matera linger in a glass of Primitivo

Andrew Staples

I first tasted Primitivo in a lovely little restaurant in the old town of Matera, in southern Italy, nearly quarter of a century ago.

Matera had not long since become a World Heritage Site. It’s famous for its cave houses, built into the cliffs on either side of the old town. I was visiting an Italian friend who’d invited me to spend a long weekend in her hometown.

The restaurant was a delight. It specialised in local peasant cuisine elevated to fine dining, and it was superb. Our food came in clay bowls, the Primitivo in a clay jug, and we drank from clay cups.

There is undoubtedly an element of romance in my love of this wine. Its taste carries with it the memories of that fabulous weekend in southern Italy.


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But it is a wine that I love in its own right – a dark, full-bodied, tannin-rich red with a berry-rich flavour and a hint of bite.

I’m told the grape is genetically identical to the Californian Zinfandel, but the flavours are completely different – clearly the soils and production methods affect the flavour.

Puglian Primitivo was not easy to find in the early noughties, but over the years it’s become much more widespread. You can find a passable table version in many supermarkets for around £6 or £7. For something a little classier, you’ll find a good bottle between £10 and £20, and you can pay up to around £30.

A favourite of mine for special occasions is Lu Rappaio Primitivo di Manduria 2019, which really exemplifies everything I love about Puglian Primitivo. It’ll set you back about £20.

I’m perfectly happy drinking Primitivo on its own, but if having it with a meal, a strong, rich red like this demands strong flavours: it works very well with roast beef, roast lamb or a rich bean stew (as I had it those years ago in Matera).

It also works well with strong cheeses – a vintage cheddar, or a good blue. My favourite combination is a sip of Primitivo after a good Stilton on a wholemeal biscuit with some pickle.


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