PRIMITIVO a dark skinned grape, naturally sweet and known for producing inky colored highly tannic and high alcohol wines. Its home is generally recognized as the region of Italy called Puglia, very close to the Croatian border which is probably where the grape was first grown. In the early 19th century it was introduced here in the United States under the name ZINFANDEL where it became enormously successful and for a time was known as “the American grape.” It actually became the subject of great debate until DNA analysis proved both grapes to be the same. This was found to be the case in 1994 after years of research, experimentation and arguments on both sides.
Primitivo actually fell out of favor worldwide and in the 1990’s many of the vines throughout Europe were pulled. But the vines proved to be very strong and regenerated while here in the states Zinfandel was booming. The name “Primitivo” translates as “early one” which has to do with the early ripening of this variety of grape. This produces a very robust tasting wine, almost bordering on bitter and in much of Puglia the wine is called Mirr Test or “hard wine.”
The winery is located in Southern Italy. If you know anything of the geography of the country, it is on the heel of the boot. Masseria Li Veli was founded by Marquis Antonio de Viti de Marco, an internationally known economist and university professor. His project was to transform the crumbling region into a major wine producer. Today the winery produces Puglian style wines from local grapes, both Primitivo and Negroamaro while also incorporating in smaller doses the Susumaniello, Verdeca, and Minutolo. All farming and cultivation is sustainable using what is known as the SETTONCE system, that being training the vines in a hexagonal configuration to allow for more sunlight on the foliage, good air circulation, maximum space for roots and ease of cultivation.
The wine itself is a very deep purple with a slight leaning toward the deepest red. The aroma is strong and hints at cherries and cinnamon. Not for those who favor a lighter wine, this has a powerful taste, very strong, no sweetness and maybe a slightly bitter aftertaste. The bitterness can be overcome though by decanting for a long while, I did for almost two hours, and letting it rest, allowed some of the strong tannins to escape into the air before drinking and allowing its taste to grow and fulfill itself.
The wine’s name in this case, “Orion,” does not refer to the constellation of the same name. Orion comes from the Greek, meaning boundary or limit, and a wall that once served as the boundary of Salento when this was a Greek colony is today a country road that runs alongside Li Veli’s Primitivo vineyard.
Reviews are countless and this wine receives some very high praise. James Suckling rated the 2017 vintage as 90 points calling it slightly sweet and commenting that it would benefit from a little less wood.
Wine Enthusiast gave it a respectable 89 points, rated it highly in the under $15 class while commenting on its accents of violet and graphite.
So, this wine does appear to be a dichotomy in that some of the praise almost seems back-handed. Praising while at the same time making some recommendations or or criticisms. Personally, I did find this wine to be very strong, again the alcohol level is over 15%, so it is not good to pair with any delicate foods. While I don’t limit myself to whites only with fish, I would say that in this case, this wine would be far too strong for a fish dinner. Better suited for game, such as venison or wild boar so as not to overtake the meal. I would say that even the vegetables need some body to go along with this, so certainly corn and peas should be avoided. Maybe try some brussels sprouts or broccoli sauteed in garlic and olive oil. Think complements here, not only sides and you will be rewarded with a wonderfully unique and balanced experience.