Bonarda: The Other Argentine Wine


Talk long enough about Bonarda and you'll hear all the keywords of ill-repute. High yield. Simple. Jug. Bulk.

Once Argentina's most widely planted variety (it recently lost the honor to Malbec), Bonarda has long been plied for fruity, anonymous juice -- the kind sold by the ton or blended into oblivion. Even its defenders cite the received wisdom that Bonarda could never be age-worthy, that it will always want for Malbec's complexity.

There's one problem with writing off Bonarda in total, though: It's delicious.
Bonarda's image problems begin at the beginning, with its hazy and long-disputed origins. Over the years, Bonarda has been mistaken as a relative of Dolcetto, and more recently assumed to be the same as Bonarda Piemontese, a similarly fruity wine grown near Turin. Genetic studies now show that Argentine Bonarda is in fact the same as Charbono, aka Corbeau, a French grape that once performed for California, and has since gone nearly extinct. In South America, Bonarda's been present for as long as anyone can remember, and given its abundance and robustness, its been a workhorse the whole time.

While a handful of Mendoza-based wineries have expanded their portfolios to include a Bonarda or two, its true home region in Argentina lies about 100 miles north, in San Juan. Traditionally a bulk wine region, San Juan lacks the glamour of Mendoza; the wineries and vineyards here don't yet have the same visitor-attracting amenities, nor the general cache. What they do have is Bonarda, and lots of it, stretching out alongside Syrah, Cabernet, and pistachio groves.

Here are a few favorites. 

Trapiche Broquel Bonarda
Deep purple-red hue with soft, quietly enticing red fruit aromas off the top; sweet and downright pretty in the mouth, all juicy cherry and ripe strawberry over a very subtle vanilla spine.

Bodegas Nieto Senetiner Bonarda
Beautiful and serious, even on the nose. The richly concentrated, earthy red fruit flavors are shot through with a bit of violet, rose, and dark chocolate. This has the body and complexity to stand up to roasted meats, and to anyone who argues that Bonardas fail to meet Malbec standards.
Bodega Luigi Bosca Finca La Linda Bonarda
<font color="#41682d">This is</font> a massive, tasty strawberry-bomb, with tons of sour cherry, blue berry and sticky tannins on the finish.

Altos Los Hormigas Colonia Las Liebres
Brilliant dark ruby in the glass, raspberry, cherry and strawberry permeate from the nose through to the finish, but everything’s smartly balanced to avoid fruit-bomb territory.

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