Zinfandel = Primitivo = Crljenak Kaštelanski = Kratošija

These weeks I am working a little bit on ampelography and digging deeper into the collection the Serbian National Library I’ve found some interesting article, which I want to share with you. Here is the bibliographical data you need to find it in Internet by yourself:

Savić, Svetozar (2010): Autohtone sorte vinove loze u Crnoj Gori. “Matica Crnogorska”, fall 2010, 453-480.

But since very few are familiar with Montenegrin language and the topic is interesting to all those who love autochthon wine varieties, let me summarize the main ideas of Savić’s article…

If Mr. Savić is right, the order of names in the title of my post should be the opposite one, as everything started in Montenegro (Crna Gora), where the variety most of us know as Zinfandel or Primitivo has at least three names: Kratošija, Krakošija, and Grotošija. Also in Croatia there is more than one name with Crljenak Kaštelanski being just the most popular, but in use there are also: Pribidrag, Tribidrag, or Tibidragho. Primitivo is variety’s Italian name, and Zinfandel… needless to write – who doesn’t know this proud Californian grape. Old grape varieties like mushrooms tend to have many local names.
After having read the article, I realized that much of the discourse is to be found on the omniscient Wikipedia. The difference to what you can read on Wikipedia is that the roots of the variety are now traced even further, both to the South and into history.
The discovery that Zinfandel and Primitivo are the same variety we owe to Austin Goheen from the UC Davis. Ampelographers of his university confirmed the identity of the vines from Puglia and California in 1972. However already in 1962, a Montenegrin scientist, Marko Ulićević claimed that Zinfandel and Kratošija are the same variety of grapevine. In the 90s there was a theory that Zinfandel is also identical to Mali Plavac from Croatia, an idea still represented first of all by the celebrated Californian wine-maker of Croatian origin, Mike Grgich. But the hypothesis didn’t find a confirmation in genetic tests by Carole Meredith. Be that as it may, it seems like Croatians decided to proof the Dalmatian origin of Zinfandel and in the beginning of the century they came up with Crljenak Kaštelanski, which is indeed the same variety as Zinfandel and Primitivo. But one thing is to discover that some vines are identical, another one to find out the origin of them all. Do the celebrated products of Sonoma and Manduria (Primitivo di Manduria DOC) owe its beauty to the hybridization and/or selection that started on the Croatian coast?
From earlier Croatian ampelographers like Stjepan Bulić, we know that Crljenak was rather a rare variety of Dalmatia, even marginal if considering the fact that in 19th century it was present actually only in the region of Imotski. In 2001, only 20 vines of the variety were found in the whole Croatia (sic!). It’s a very small population, especially when comparing its popularity in Montenegro, along with its long history over there. On the other hand, the history of Primitivo is traced into the 18th century, although the first documents mentioning this name are from the second half of the 19th century. This excludes Italy as a region of origin for this variety, but not as the origin for Zinfandel vines from California. The mentioned small population and marginal role of these grapes in Croatia may suggest that plants, which became known as Zinfandel, were brought to the USA either from Puglia in Italy or from Montenegro. Did migrants from one of these countries bring them? Most probably, but we still don’t know.
One is however sure: Zinfandel, Primitivo, Crljenak Kaštelanski and Kratošija are one and the same variety, which sometimes is able to give exceptional wines. Therefore it wouldn’t be a bad idea to discover the region of its origin… the country of old Greek colonies where the coast is a result of cultural exchange between Montenegrins and Venetians, and so is the architecture and food.
Kratošija means ‘short neck’, and ‘neck’ stands here for ‘stalk’. In Montenegro, it mostly gives easy-going, refreshing wines of a deeply red color, but even more often becomes a part in premium cuvees with Vranac. Unfortunately I cannot recommend any Kratošija wine as my private discovery of Montenegro is still on the to-do list. On the other hand, the biggest producer of the country – “13 jul-Plantaže”, who owes over a half of Montenegrin vineyards, uses Kratošija only in cuvees too. So there is no other way but looking for smaller barely known wineries on site. At least since the end of the World War II, Kratošija is grown also in Macedonia, but I’m skeptical about the quality of that from a huge industrial winery of “Tikveš”, though I need to try first before judging.
Kratošija may be an autochthon Montenegrin variety (see e.g. Dušan Burić 1985, 1995) and some old texts may point to the fact that it’s present in Montenegrin vineyards since centuries, but it’s still waiting for being rediscovered. I could barely find any information about it, not even in Montenegrin sources. There is still much to be done in the process of description and promotion of Balkan wines. But they are worth this job. I have no doubts about it!


8 thoughts on “Zinfandel = Primitivo = Crljenak Kaštelanski = Kratošija

  1. Very informative post. Really appreciate the work you’ve put into it! I find it a little bit odd that Primitivo has that many names. I mean nobody would start renaming Cabernet Sauvignon or Riesling for example. So I find this really interesting and I wonder why there are so many different names for it.
    Will share this on Twitter 🙂

    • Thank you for sharing and for the comment, which points toward some interesting developments in human culture. Many varieties have several names, also the French ones, but then only in France (between villages, regions etc.). Cabernet made its big career in the world quite late and was brought to other countries usually by well-educated wine-growers, who wanted to enhance the quality of their wines. That’s why they knew and kept the name. But there are many varieties which spread earlier, among simple peasants, who didn’t know the original name, or were not able to pronounce it, or changed it in its isolated mountainous regions. Primitivo arrived in Italy, when Venice still had its colonies on the Montenegrin coast (intensive exchange between the Eastern and Western Adriatic coast) and before the modern viticulture was born. Maybe it was brought by some sailor, who planted it in its village without even knowing the name? The names in Montenegro are in turn just different spellings or pronunciations, which could be due to many slightly different dialects. Mountainous areas have usually very dialectized languages – every valley speaks another variation.

  2. Very interesting post! I love looking into the history and interconnectedness of vines and grape varieties. Thanks for sharing! As chance has it, I am currently drinking a Primitivo di Manduria as I type this. Beautiful, beautiful specimen.

    • I see you’re enjoying your time with Apulian produce 😉
      The region has a lots to offer and I hope to discover the South of Italy better, but the world is so big, and now I’m in the Balkans 🙂

  3. It could easily be the case that it’s originally from Montenegro. Then again, we could find that those vines came from Albania or somewhere else. It’s hard to tell.

    One issue we found for its lack of planting is that when researching our Dalmatia guide http://www.vinologue.net/guides/dalmatia/ we found out from various winemakers in the region that Crljenak is quite heat intolerant, which is part of the reason it was crossed with Dobričić to create Plavac Mali which as you know has become the dominant red of the region.

    There is a definite need for more research to be carried out.

    • Thank you for your comment. You’re right that discovering the origin of grape varieties is difficult… leaving aside the fact that information of this kind are more often interesting than useful. The producers of Primitivo or Zinfandel can do good job even without knowing where the variety originally comes from.
      However, the Balkan areas as a wine producing region is still little known and – as you said – more research is needed, especially that the potential of these countries is big and there is so much good wine here, which will probably become more popular internationally soon.
      Have you written also a wine guide for Serbia?

      • No wine guide for any Serbian regions currently. In addition to Dalmatia, we have Herzegovina and soon Istria for the Balkan region. Serbia is interesting for us, but the problem is that we don’t write country-wide guides and focus on specific regions. There isn’t a lot of information on Serbian wines at the moment and we’ve only been to the Sremski Karlovci area. So, it would be hard to know what would be the best area to focus on.

      • Oh, Herzegovina is a good choice. I’ll be there in a month and feel already thrilled to visit places like Tvrdoš Monastery or Vukoje winery.
        True, the area around Sremski Karlovci, which we could define as Fruška Gora, has a lot to offer. The regions are indeed still not defined and in many publications their borders will differ. The project of the Ministry of Agriculture to create an appellations system hasn’t been implemented yet. But maybe you could try Šumadija, in which you’ll find such great wineries like Aleksandović, Temet, Radovanović, Jelić etc. etc. Important comment on it: it’s better to talk about the geographical region of Šumadija, not the wine district, which is much smaller than the region itself, and of course not so well defined.

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