Bonarda, the other Red Wine from Argentina


With the ever increasing popularity of the wines of Argentina in Vancouver, Malbec seems to be on everybody’s mind, not to say everybody’s palate. The grape’s name is as recognizably Argentinian as the Tango itself. Torrontes, Argentina’s white signature grape is slowly carving a space for itself on the city’s wine store shelves. Vancouverites are also becoming more familiar with other grapes –both black and white- coming alongside Malbec: Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, Chardonnay and Viognier. But there is another new arrival, a black grape that is received with curiosity. That is Bonarda, an Italian variety that is planted extensively in Argentina. In fact, until not long ago, it was the most planted vine variety.

As such, Bonarda has always been blended to make the table reds that the southamerican nation demanded to quench their thirst for wine. Never considered a “noble” blend, Bonarda was limited to the passenger seat due to its character as a wine and its wild vigor in the vineyard. Bonarda grows and produces fruit like it is nobody’s business. That was precisely the reason for its ubiquitous presence in Argentina’s vineyards: lots of grapes were needed to make lots of wine. Let’s not forget that until the 70’s consumption in Argentina reached a mind –guzzle- boggling 90 liters per head per year.

With the arrival of the nineties, the innovative approach of familias like Catena, technology and investment, winemakers quickly realized that Bonarda would not satisfy the demand for quality export wine. Malbec took that honor. The rest is history. For Malbec, that is. The curious Vancouver wine drinker may have noticed Bonarda on the back labels of their favorite Malbec, with which is blended to add  perfume, inky purple red color, moderate acidity and to lighten up the tannic load.  They get along so well that it is considered a signature Argentinian corte (blend). Some say that they tango with each other. Bonarda is also blended with Sangiovese to make agreeable table reds for early consumption and it also has an interesting synergy with Syrah.

In conversations with different Argentinian winemakers it seems that there are two bands: one claims that Bonarda will become the next Malbec phenomenon; the other –idea I share- think that the grape will have a less exalted role, given that keeping yields low will always be a viticultural challenge. A little bit like what we see today with vigorous grapes like Carignan in Languedoc. In blends it does really well; alone it makes a few good wines. The rest of the varietals are just….Carignan.

To sum up, Bonarda on its own is intense in color, frequently rich, inky. The nose is perfumed, with easily identifiable aromas like red fruit and mulberry. Spice in the background is not unusual, and when oaked it can exhibit pleasant tones of vanilla and tobacco. In the mouth it shows vinous intensity, ripe, sweet fruit and velvety tannins. It can also show –testament to its ferocious vegetal vigor- a “green” background, a bit like biting into a fresh arrugula leaf.

 There are several bottlings that are available in Vancouver. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Colonia Las Liebres $12.99

Maipe $14-16

Dante Robino $19-22

Don Domenico El Escondido $28-32

All of the above are quite nice sips. Without doubt the best of the lot is the Finca El Escondido (San Juan region), by Don Domenico, perhaps reflecting the increasing viticultural costs of keeping the vine’s growth in check. Dante Robino is also very competent although it lacks the ripe, sweet fruit of the former.

Maipe and Las Liebres are also pleasing varietals; the second one is great value. Anecdotically, I once tasted the Las Liebres aerated through a Vinturi. The gizmo really enhanced the texture and flavor of this baby, suggesting that other Bonarda may benefit from aeration. 

Blends

Among the blends to be found in Vancouver we have:

Los Crios Syrah Bonarda (50%-50%), Vina Antigua Sangiovese Bonarda and Benmarco Malbec (blended with 10% Bonarda). This latter one speaks for itself, with its plump texture and sweet tannins.  Vina Antigua is a simple pleasing table red like the ones Argentinians put on the table any week night; follow suit and wash down your daily dinner with a sip or two.

Pour Bonarda to accompany grilled meats and vegetables; roast beef, pasta and hard cheese.

Salud

 

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2 Responses to “Bonarda, the other Red Wine from Argentina”

  1. Kent Benson Says:

    It is my understanding that, much like the Carmenere in Chile, the Bonarda in Argentina has been associated with the wrong grape for decades. According to the research conducted in 2003 by UC Davis’ Carole Meredith, the Bonarda of Argentina is the same grape as California’s Charbono and France’s Corbeau/Douce Noire/Charbonneau, not Italy’s Bonarda. Many Bonarda producers in Argentina continue to associate the grape with Italy’s Bonarda, despite the conclusive evidence to the contrary. Here’s a link to one of the many references to Meredith’s work in this area: http://www.vinovixenz.com/SAmerican-Wine.htm.

  2. winecouver Says:

    Thank you for the contribution, Kent. Probably the confusion came from the strong Italian component of the European immigration in Argentina.

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