Posts Tagged ‘Bonarda’

Bonarda, the other Red Wine from Argentina

March 26, 2010

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

 

Wines of Argentina WofA

March 13, 2010

Like in the past years, Argentina‘s wines will be the darling of the media in the coming month and a half, as the south american wine power shares the stage with New Zealand for the annual Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. Because of that I will start covering some ground here and for the days to come, with wine reviews and notes on Argentina’s wine culture, regions, grapes, personalities and other etceteras. 

Let’s begin with a flashback, the Wines of ArgentinaWofA- show of last September, held at the Sutton Place Hotel in downtown Vancouver. Pablo Cuneo, winemaker for Ruca Malen, introduced nine wines representing the wide diversity of Argentinian terroirs as well as grape varieties. Among other interesting things he mentioned was that Argentina’s wine exports amount to only 2% of the global market. This was surprising to me and I’m sure, to many others. Before Mr. Cuneo’s presentation, I thought Argentina’s market share to be a lot bigger than that. But then, you need to understand that Argentina only became a global wine exporting power in the nineties.

In terms of surface cultivated, Malbec takes 50%, followed by Bonarda, in the mid 20’s and Syrah with about 13%. Of these, Bonarda may be the least familiar to Vancouver wine enthusiasts. Traditionally this grape was used exclusively for blending. There is a reason for this, as the variety is very vigorous, so much that some call it -jokingly- a weed. By saying this, they mean that grape production can be huge if the growth is left unchecked. As we all know, too many grapes per vine and the quality of your wine goes down the sink. However, some winemakers have placed their hopes on this variety, restricting berry production and launching some interesting varietal bottlings to the market. A few of these have reached Vancouver, but we will visit them some other time.

Syrah is another grape that not everyone will associate to Che Guevara’s motherland; such is the strong positioning of the Argentina-Malbec tandem in the mind of the global consumer. However, some good Syrah varietals are made there, with my favorite ones coming from the San Juan region. And we should not forget about Cabernet Sauvignon. Argentina, with a long ripening season virtually free of rainfall, has great potential for the king of black grapes, and some good examples have already reached the shelves of the Liquor Distribution Brand and private wine stores. 

In looking back, it would have been nice to have a Pinot Noir from Patagonia or a sparkling wine in the flight. I am sure there will plenty of those in the upcoming Playhouse International Wine Festival. Let’s now go to the nine wines tasted. 

Lurton Gran Lurton Corte Friulano 2008

Corte is Spanish wine jargon for blend. This is a Tocai Friulano, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Torrontés blend from the Uco Valley, near Mendoza. My notes mention floral citric quince*, good acidity, slightly bitter background, creamy texture and lingering finish. In spite of said bitterness or price ($27.99) I gave it a B and a ☺, which means I quite enjoyed it. 

Etchart Ayres de Cafayate Torrontes 2008

Cafayate is arguably the region that has the potential for the best Torrontés, although personally, the best varietal I have tasted is Andeluna‘s from Mendoza. The Etchart version has a pronounced, terpenic nose (chemical term for “floral.” Now go impress your friends). Sweet aromas, a bit rustic, grapey flavors, persistent finish, 15.99 Cdn.  

Las Moras Gran Shiraz 3 Valleys 2005

I discussed Las Moras winery in a previous posting and this one was a head turner during the show. I had to turn my head because the WofA staff forgot to fill my glass and not wanting to disturb Mr. Cuneo’s talk , I gave a convincing look to a staffer who promptly poured some for me. Sometimes I can look very menacing, you know. I found floral (lavender), dark fruit, coffee, rock, sweet tannin, integrated alcohol in a medium-bodied wine that warms up the mouth uniformly, very pleasant all in all. Syrah feels at home in San Juan and I am convinced this will be more evident in the future as more varietals are imported. $24.99. 

Norton Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

In my vinous ignorance I said once that Argentina was in debt for not producing good Cabernet Sauvignon. Time and time again I have been reminded of  my insolence, tasting very interesting vatietals, particularly from the Mendoza area. This Bodega Norton rendition showed a mellow nose with spice, very subtle green note in the biggish body, red fruit and sweet tannin and a long, warm finish with pepper spice. Good at 17.99. 

Andeluna Grand Reserve Cabernet Franc 2005

This is probably the weakest –or the only weak- link in the long chain of excellent wines by this award winning winery. And I am not saying it is not good. Only that at the price (54.99) I’d rather take the brutally good Limited Reserve Malbec 2004** or the elegant Bordeaux style Pasionado blend. This Cabernet Franc showed subdued red fruit, pepper leaft and tannins a bit angular, although the effect of these on the mouth was rather pleasant. Good, like I say, but not at that price.

Ruca Malen Kinien Malbec 2007

Another Malbec from the Uco Valley, which is a cool area within the Mendoza wine district. The nose was closed but the palate was smooth, sweet tannins with solid fruit and firm but gentle grip. The finish was long and soft, like the whispers of a slow stream. I quite liked this one. $34.99. 

Montes Kaiken Ultra Malbec 2007

Aurelio Montes is a bit of a wine King Midas. Every wine he touches, no matter the grape, seems to turn to gold. He is also a bit of a wine Marco Polo, not hesitating much before setting up wineries far from his native Chile, in places like Napa or as in this case, Luján, in Mendoza. The Kaiken Ultra is the bigger brother of the Kaiken Malbec Vancouver wine lovers know so well. The 10 extra dollars are fully justified. Dark purple with floral and plum, sweet scents. Montes’ hallmark smoothness in mouth is present, with pronounced dark fruit and lingering, spicy finish.  Rock solid at $28.99.

Trapiche Malbec Single Vineyard Federico Villafañe 2006

Sweet, gentle  fruit aromas. A jammy, soft, sweet-tannin full bodied palate make this one into one crowd pleaser Malbec. It was the show’s favorite, although myself would hesitate to fork out the 80 dollars required to taste this beauty. 

Flichman Paisaje de Tupungato 2006

This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Merlot and Malbec woos the nose with ripe fruit followed by even riper fruit, smooth, sweet tannin body. The alcohol is very well integrated, warming up the mouth uniformly for the length of the finish. Lovely at 18.99.

 

*In 15 years in Vancouver I have never seen one quince. Does anybody know what it tastes like? Back in Peru, where it is very common (membrillo, mem-bree-yoe), as kids we loved to hate it. It looks like a small pale yellow-green apple. It has an interesting herbal –quincey– fragrance. On biting is crunchy, grainy, with zingy acidity and slightly sweet; after a few seconds en bouche it turns excruciatingly astringent, but then, you want more.

** The Andeluna Limited Reserve Malbec 2004 is now just over $60.

Saludos

Ivan Alfonso

Note. Photos courtesy of Andeluna Cellars

A Soiree with an Argentinean Winemaker

October 2, 2009

Argentina Tango, the South World Wine Society’s* wine tasting event of Photo-0070September, featured Ms. Celeste Pesce, assistant winemaker of Luca Wines, a small lot production effort led by Laura Catena, scion of the quasi legendary Catena family of Argentina.

When I first arrived at the Sculpture Room of the Listel Hotel, I saw familiar faces, wine lovers who attend the Society’s events with regularity, the members of the exec committee, but couldn’t find the lecturer. I saw a bunch of women, attractive, well dressed, chatting near the bar, but I couldn’t tell if Celeste was one of them. They looked too vancouverite to be her, so I went around the room, not asking my fellow members, so as to guess, just by the looks, who Celeste was.

I figured I should be able to tell. This lady got her degree in enology in Udine at the age of 26. She became assistant winemaker to Laura Catena at 29. Is talent like that written on the face? Which of these women could be her? I also considered her ancestry. Pesce, meaning fish, is an Italian last name. So I figured she would have that mediterranean dark, that voluptous look of the daughters of Botticelli, Garibaldi and Sophia Loren. I placed my eyes on a woman whose dark hair, full and supple, made me think that was Celeste.

I was walking toward her when a red-haired, jeans clad thin girl, with a boyish glint in her blue eyes gave me the amplitude of her smile, with a few strands of hair reaching over her eyes and down to her freckle-covered cheeks. “Tu eres Ivan, el Peruano?”. I could not conceal my amazement. This was Celeste, asking me in Spanish and with a very slight Argentinean accent, if I was who I am. She must’ve heard from other members of the exec committe that there was a Latino on board. She looked decidedly Irish, or at least, she looked as she came from the British Islands. I learned later that her mother side is Swiss. So on we went with our Spanish, animated chat. It’s a great feeling when you can speak your mother tongue. I sat next to Celeste and listened to her as she walked us through the eight La Posta and Luca wines of the night.

Celeste was quite candid about her life. Everyone was surprised to hear that she grew up in a farm in Santa Fe, a town north of Buenos Aires, milking cows and driving tractors. While studying agriculture in Mendoza she discovered her love for wine. “The faculty of agriculture was very wine and viticulture oriented, so it really caught my attention. But what really gave me the final push was to study at the Univessita degli Studi in Udine”. She also had a life-changing experience when she went back to the roots of her family, in Italy. She fell in love with the history of wines, the evolution of winemaking and winedrinking. She could relate to this very well, as in her own home in Argentina they have a lot of immigrants from Italy and Spain, and a vigorous wine culture.

Celeste’s job at Luca is to work with the chief winemaker, Luis Reginato. They work with the growers in the vineyards and then focus on the vinification and blending. The production is rather small, no more than a thousand cases for their Chardonnay and Laborde Syrah, and barely two thousand for their highly esteemed Malbec.

The audience fully enjoyed the night, the wines, the food, and most of all, Celeste’s natural ability to engage people. To tell stories about winemaking, about her childhood, or just anecdotes that happen to those who fly around the world promoting their wines.

When it came the time to vote the favorite three wines of the night, the majority chose the La Posta Pizzella Malbec. Close second came the Luca Malbec followed by the Luca Chardonnay. Celeste’s favorite was the Luca Laborde Syrah, and so was mine. This Syrah is produced from clones selected in France and Argentina. Supple, impressive, deep, this wine left me thinking, wondering, about the sun touching the leaves and bunches day after day, the cold nights, the bunches invisible, hanging on the vines in the dark. It made my mind wander and imagine the winemakers, their labor in the bodega, in the vineyard, their dreams. But enough of my favorite wine. All the wines poured that night score high points with the most prestigious wine critics.

Below the list of wines served at the event:

Catena Chardonnay 2007-88 pts. Wine Spectator**
– La Posta Estela Armando Vineyard Bonarda 2007-89 pts. Wine Advocate
La Posta Cocina Blend 2007-90 pts. Wine Advocate
– La Posta Pizzella Family Vineyard Malbec 2008-89 pts. Wine Advocate.
Luca Chardonnay 2007-92 pts. Wine Advocate
Luca Malbec 2007-92 pts. Wine Advocate
Luca Syrah Labourde Double Select 2007-92 pts. Wine Advocate

*The South World Wine Society will be hosting their popular “Big Reds” event on November 5th. More information and registration at www.southworldwine.com
**The wines in bold are available at Everything Wine, North Vancouver Store.

Bonarda, the other red grape from Argentina

May 27, 2009

Although not well known in British Columbia, Bonarda is one of the most widely planted red grapes in the land bonarda don domenicoof Che Guevara. Traditionally used for blending, today some wineries are producing very interesting varietal wines. Don Domenico’s rendition, grown and vinified in northerly San Juan, has a pretty ruby red color, with purple tones. Aromas of dark fruit, almost like prune juice, herbaceous, earth minerality precede a medium body with red fruit and slightly angular tannins. The finish has good length, with red fruit, peppery spice and a vegetal streak.

Product: Bonarda

Variety: Bonarda

Vintage: 2005

Winery: Don Domenico

Origin: San Juan, Argentina

Alcohol: 14.4%

Price: 26.99 (