20 February 2018


Morella Puglian Primitivo Primi di Tutto!

  • 20 February 2018 /

Lisa Gilbee of Morella talks of two diametrically-opposed vintages, 2014 & 2017: the former enjoying “heaps” of rain, the latter little if any at all. But in both years, her (& Gaetano’s) 18ha of Primitivo has adapted successfully; a sign of biodynamics at work perhaps, equipping the vine with the means – & antennae – to respond quickly to the challenging weather? In the 2014 vintage, after a wet spring the Salento sun finally appeared on 27th July & from that moment their Primitivo was able to soak up the 6 weeks of glorious Puglian warmth & photosynthesize it into ripe grapes in time for a late August harvest; one she finished by 1st Sept. Lisa says that the luxuriant Primitivo leaves quickly absorbed the sun’s rays, & were also helped by a tramontana (the North Wind) that dried up any mold, stopped any more developing & accelerated the ripening process of the remaining Primitivo bunches. The rain set in again on 3rd Sept, after which they harvested the later ripening Malbek & Negroamaro, coming in last of all. In fact, the resulting 2014 Primitivo ‘La Signora’ & ‘Old Vines’ show little evidence of a damp year, drawing strength from their 70 & 85 year old alberello, unirrigated roots & scarce fruit – a little fresher, & marginally lower in alcohol perhaps. Lisa reckons the ancient Puglians recognised this regular Sept rain & so identified a varietal to ripen quickly beforehand: hence Primi-tivo was born. Even her friends at Ridge winery, California, famous for their Lytton Springs & Geyserville Zinfandels, have since planted Primitivo, a distant cousin of Zin, & found it to ripen first of all even there! In 2017 meanwhile, & despite their worst fears (of drought), Lisa & Gaetano say they’ve come to trust in the vine’s ability to look after itself rather than be panicked into action. And so it was in 2017 that the Primitivo thickened up the leaves & skins as way of protection, & dug deep! Be sure to be surprised by the fruit of their ancient, biodynamic vines! 2014 Primitivo ‘La Signora’, Manduria – tasted 29 Oct. 2017 from bottle, 14.5%: the slenderer, scented, younger vine (70 years!) expression of their free-standing Primitivo vineyard lying adjacent to that of ‘Old Vines’, literally. Perhaps a different clone? Pretty blush red, it caresses the senses like a warm Mediterranean breeze, generous with raspberry essence, root ginger, blackberries & cream fruit; a big heart, so seductive, so svelte plush plum, so alive! As ever, it’s very ‘Lytton Springs’, with pulpy charm, it glides, the silkiest of tannin structures as if to be invisible. In 2014, it’s more La Signorina than Signora! 2014 Primitivo ‘Old Vines’, Manduria  – tasted 29 Oct. 2017 from bottle, 14.5%: while La Signora’s free-standing vines are statuesque, reaching upwards; ‘Old Vines’ are gnarled, bent low to the ground – feeling their 87 years perhaps. And ditto the wine: darker in hue, brighter too (lower pH?), brilliant indeed! The nose is distinctly balsamico, emphatic with darker mulberry fruit, more profondo, compact, spicy pepper, black licorizia; classic Old Vines ‘rum ‘n raisin’! I know Lisa & Gaetano use a basket-press, but this has Barossa…or is it Geyserville all over it!? Sensational, it’s precise, tonic-fresh, eucalyptic/tamarind esque, a cool mulberry heart, racy, more structured & tannic than the Signorina! Dark chocolate, herbal, & very long. Wow! One to tuck away? p.s. watch out for their new single-vineyard ‘Mondo Nuovo’ Primitivo from c. 70 yo vines, this time from cooler, tufo soils, first harvested in 2014..