As those familiar with our tastes may surmise, we at Rosenthal were not explicitly seeking out high-alcohol wine from the deep south of Italy in the recent past; nonetheless, the Attanasio family’s bold, wild Primitivo di Manduria grabbed us by the collar and all but forced us to reckon with it. Intense ripeness as a true expression of terroir is vastly different from intense ripeness as an end goal of winegrowing and winemaking, and in wines such as Attanasio’s it is simply a fact of nature—and just one part of a riveting whole.
The grandson of the winery’s founder Giuseppe (whose name still graces the labels), Alessandro Attanasio farms seven hectares of primarily bush-trained Primitivo in the province of Taranto, hard on the northern coast of the Ionian Sea in southern Puglia. He works these stingy old vines—which give him 40 hectoliters per hectare in a bountiful vintage, and 20 in a tough one—according to old agrarian practices: following the phases of the moon; employing only copper and sulfur to treat against disease; fertilizing with manure and humus; and these being bush vines, conducting all vineyard work manually and harvesting by hand. This zone’s reddish soils of silty clay over friable tufo limestone yield wines of intensely rich fruit shot through with a cleansing minerality and framed by a savory salinity that speaks of the nearby Ionian, and Alessandro harnesses these elements into Primitivo that demonstrates with authority that equilibrium can exist even in wines of extremes.
|Primitivo di Manduria: The workhorse of the estate, Attanasio’s basic Primitivo di Manduria, from vines between 40 and 50 years of age, comprises around 75% of their production, or roughly 15,000 bottles per vintage. Primitivo—better known in the United States as Zinfandel—delivers brawny tannins alongside its explosively rich fruit, and thus Attanasio favors releasing his wines after a few years of resting in bottle so that these tannins are better harmonized. Aged for 12 months in steel followed by 16 months in 225-liter barriques (20% new, and the remainder four or five years old), this wine leads with licorice cushioned by thick, brambly plum and black cherry fruit; subtler notes of fresh pipe tobacco and unsweetened chocolate add complexity. Amazingly, this riotous palate resolves to a clean, penetrating finish, with the impression of acidity rising sharply as the sensation of richness recedes. 16% alcohol by volume.|
|Primitivo di Manduria Riserva: Attanasio allocates a small portion of his Primitivo harvest to the production of a Riserva, making a maximum of 2,000 bottles per vintage. Like the workhorse above, this wine spends its first 12 months in steel, and is then transferred to 225-liter barriques; after one year, Alessandro selects the very best barrels to be bottled as the Riserva, keeping them in these barrels for an additional year, then moving them to tiny 114-liter barrels for a third year of barrel aging. The Riserva ratchets up the tobacco and earth elements of the basic bottling, and the fruit, though just as luscious, rises up through the wine more reservedly and with less explosive force, creating an overall impression of greater complexity.|
|Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale: Only in vintages that are particularly hot and dry—which is really saying something for southern Puglia—does Attanasio produce the locally legendary “Dolce Naturale” version of Primitivo. A parcel of the family’s oldest vines, planted in the early 1920s, is harvested and air-dried in a naturally ventilated room of the cellar for several weeks, thereby shriveling the grapes and concentrating their sugars. These raisinated berries are pressed for their meager amount of juice, and the wine finishes fermentation with around 75 grams per liter of residual sugar, then spends two years aging in stainless steel. Even in a wine this sweet and dense, the terroir roars through, with savory spice contributing high-toned elements that merge with the ample acidity and offset the sugar appealingly. Given the briefer aging and the lack of wood, this carries less of the markedly earth-driven character of the two wines above, offering fruit-spice interplay at its center and subtle echoes of the salinity and dusty tannins of its dry cellar-mates at its fringes.|