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!