A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bonarda - Mendoza, Argentina

Ok, everybody buckle up for this one. The topic today is Argentinian Bonarda, and it's a tough grape to really pin down. For starters, there are several different Bonardas: there's Bonarda Piemontese, grown in Italy's Piedmont region and which has the synonyms Bonarda dell'Astigiano, Bonarda di Chieri, Bonarda di Gattinara or Bonarda del Monferrato; there's Bonarda dell'Oltrepò Pavese, grown in the Lombardy region of Italy and also known as Croatina; and finally there's Bonarda Novarese, grown around Piedmont and Lombady and also known as as Uva Rara. According to Argentinawineguide.com, the Bonarda grown in Argentina is either Bonarda Piemontese or Bonarda Novarese. Jancis Robinson (In the Oxford Companion to Wine), Oz Clarke (in his Grapes and Wines) and Wikipedia disagree and believe that Argentinian Bonarda is actually Charbono. But which Charbono? There is a Charbono grown in California, that it turns out is actually a French grape also known as Corbeau in Savoie. Some sources (Oz Clarke is on the fence, but Jonathan Alsop in his Wine Lover's Devotional) also believe this Charbono is the same as Dolcetto, grown in the Piedmont, but genetic testing says that this isn't the case. There is also an Italian Charbono grown in Barbera and Dolcetto vineyards in Piedmont which is not related to Corbeau or Dolcetto at all, which Jancis Robinson believes is the true Bonarda.

So which is it? The answer is, we still don't know. The strongest case seems to be for the Italian Charbono (UPDATE: As noted in the comments below, the French Charbono, or Corbeau, actually seems to be the closest match and Argentina is allowing winemakers to label their Bonarda as Corbeau if they wish. Thanks to commenter Gavilan Vineyards for the information). There is a large number of descendants of Italian immigrants in the country, with an estimated 60% of the population having some degree of Italian descent. Many of the Italian immigrants came from the Piedmont and Lombardy regions, where the Italian Charbono hails from. In any case, more research will need to be done to figure out what Bonarda actually is.

When most people think about Argentine wine, Malbec is what immediately springs to mind. Malbec is by far the most planted red grape in Argentina with over 20,000 hectares devoted to it in 2003. Before Malbec became the big star, Bonarda was the most planted red grape in Argentina and it is currently the 2nd most planted red grape there with about 16,000 hectares planted (Cabernet Sauvignon is a very close third and likely to overtake Bonarda soon with 15,440 acres planted). It is not as omnipresent in the US marketplace as Malbec, but it is easily obtainable from larger wine shops.

The bottle I picked up was the 2006 Trapiche Broquel Bonarda from Mendoza, Argentina. I paid about $18 for it. The wine was inky purple/black in the glass with incredibly deep saturation. It was completely opaque with even a small tasting pour in the glass. The nose is rich and complex with aromas of bittersweet chocolate, blueberry jam, intense black cherry aromas, boysenberries, blackcurrants/creme de cassis, and espresso. The perfume on this was rich, heavy and dense and I could have probably smelled it for about half an hour without getting tired of it. On the palate, the wine is full bodied and intensely rich with flavors of chocolate, charcoal, cola, blackcurrant and blackberries. This is a wine that Robert Parker would probably use the phrase "gobs of fruit" for. The fruit flavors are rich and sappy, so extracted that it's almost sweet, but there are those nice earthy elements there also that keep this from tasting like syrup. There is a nice acid base and fine, powdery tannins. This is a blockbuster of a wine for the price and would be ideal with grilled meats, steaks, roasts or just sitting in front of a fire and relaxing. If you're a fan of rich, extracted new-world red wines, this is just the things you are looking for. Whatever grape is actually in this bottle is pretty tasty.

(See also my post on Sangue di Giuda for more information on Bonarda in Italy)


Paul Kalemkiarian said...

I love the topic of this blog. Let’s get the word out about some of these more “obscure” varietals!

Bonarda is one of my favorite wines, and considering how big it is in Argentina, I'm always surprised how few people have heard of it.

Adding to the difficulty in pinning this varietal down are the varying opinions on where this grape actually comes from. The consensus seems to be that it has its origins in Piedmont, but some have speculated that its roots were first in Sovoie, France, and that it was then transported to Piedmont, where it began to gain its prestige.

Comprising both Malbec tones and Merlot “fatness,” and Syrah “gaminess,” it’s a wine that ranges from being slighter-bodied with fruit flavors, light tannins, and moderate acidity, to being big, dense and tannic with dried fruit and even chocolate (in older vines), and especially when oak aged.

Great article.

Paul Kalemkiarian
President, Wine of the Month Club

Gavilan Vineyards said...

At Gavilan Vineyards in San rafael, Mendoza, we are making a premium "Bonarda".
To clear the subject a little. There was DNA testing done on 'Bonarda' rootstock and compared to what was previously thought to have been North Italian Bonarda. The result was it had very little markers with those roots yet then further tested, it had exceptional markers with Corbeau from France.
Thereto you need to understand the immigration structure of Argentina. Lots of Italians immigrated in the 18hundreds and 9hundreds. But also may many French came during that time. Both groups bringing many different vines with them. The city we are, San Rafael, was founded by French immigrants.
It is reasonable to believe that Bonarda in Argentina is in fact Corbeau from France.
HOWEVER, and I am writing that in capital letters, the vines have found their own home here and in fact have very little to do with any of their origin roots stock. A Corbeau from France tasts largely differnt than a Bonarda from Argentina. One of the main reasons why Bonarda Argentina, as we like to call it, is the second highest planted vine in Argentina. Second to Malbec, also a French grape. Same as Bonarda (Corbeau) Malbec grows poorly in France yet produces excellent in Argentina's climate.
Enjoy a Bonarda. They are super rich in color, if you get one that is you can see through, don't buy it again. Your glass should be deep deep purple or blood red (depending on age). The flavors are intense and a good Bonarda will have strong tanins.

Gavilan Vineyards said...

BTW, there are some vineyards that have been allowed to change the name of their plants from Bonarda to Corbeau. Jean Bousquet is one of the here in San Rafael, Mendoza.