Bonarda: The Other Argentine Wine

Getting back its reputation



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 always has good color and sweet tannins," says Sebastian San Martin, chief winemaker for Argento, in Mendoza. "If you control the yield in the vineyard, you can get very good wine." At its most basic, Bonarda has a bright, informal, fruity nose and a striking purple-scarlet hue; want nothing more from it and it will give up aromatic juice that can add character to a Malbec blend. Take it more seriously, though -- work with old vines, aim for quality over quantity -- and Bonarda will show deep, soft, beautiful flavors of raspberry and plum, earth and leather.

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.

"Bonarda has taken a beating as a trash grape," says Leticia Blanco, of Luigi Bosca, a prominent winery in the Lujan de Cuyo region of Mendoza. "It's been alienated for years as a jug wine, but it's finally getting its reputation back." Luigi Bosca has a tasty, entry-level Bonarda in its casual-drinking line (aimed at wooing younger drinkers away from beer), but when the conversation turns to serious examples of Bonarda, nearly everyone points to Nieto Senetiner, a winery just up the street. Here, winemaker Roberto Gonzalez works with old vines to create a special-edition Bonarda of such elegance and complexity, it shuts down the argument that the varietal will always take a back seat to Malbec in terms of flavor.

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.

"I strongly believe in the near future, when buyers are ready to explore from Malbec, they'll switch to Bonarda," says Guillermo Mercado, enologist at Graffigna. "It's a feeling in the whole country that Bonarda is going to take off. And when Bonarda takes off, San Juan will be the flagship region."

2007 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.

2007 Bodegas Nieto Senetiner - Bonarda Reserva

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.

A heavyweight entry with terrific structure; give it a little air and you'll get wet, freshly tilled earth, and mouth-filling, crushed black cherries. 

2008 Bodega Alta Vista Bonarda
Lovely and very simple in the right ways, it’s an informal, all-red-fruit affair (raspberry, crushed cherries) that plays nicely as a cocktail wine.

2007 Bodega Luigi Bosca Finca La Linda Bonarda
You wouldn’t have to be told that this is designed for younger, newer wine drinkers. It’s a massive, tasty strawberry-bomb, with tons of sour cherry, blue berry and sticky tannins on the finish.

2009
Callia Bonarda (Not yet bottled)
Sweet strawberry aromas are followed by mineral-laced, juicy red and pink fruit. Mouth-watering acidity, super-soft, almost non-existent tannins.

2009 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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Comments

  • Snooth User: wally222
    605239 1

    Interesting. Good to know!
    Thanks

    Mar 24, 2011 at 12:48 PM


  • Snooth User: RCGusmao
    602957 1

    Very Interesting.There is no mention to Ernesto Catena's superb blends ( "siesta en T ..., ") unfortunately. Same goes to sister Laura Catena La Posta Bonarda.
    With some ageing Bonardas can become extremely balanced and complex.

    Mar 24, 2011 at 4:56 PM


  • I agree with the comments about Bonarda, its already producing excelent wines, and maches with the most finest Malbec's, but in my country we ussualy discover a product and make it popular, thats happening with the Malbec and Torrontes, now is the turn of Bonarda, the next is for the Cabernet Franc. Some times the product survives.

    Mar 24, 2011 at 5:05 PM


  • nice article. There are so many great wines from argentina and only now are they getting their due. The young people of today are interested in tasting everything and understand that a rating is just a number,and just an opinion of one persons pallet and preferences.iT's exciting that people are willing to try new varietals and tell their friends about them.
    Bonarda is a great wine to drink right away and it is the everyday drinking wine of argentina. Yes, there are some more complex bonardas out there, but it is still a wine that we think deserves to be drunk right away, especially when you can make such elegant malbecs and cabernets.
    thanks for bringing the bonarda to our attention
    Torrontes is another grape which is seeing much success from argentina and I think this year it will explode.

    Mar 24, 2011 at 5:25 PM


  • Snooth User: Pecce
    318469 3

    If you can, try O Fournier, Torrontes, too.
    It is great !

    Mar 24, 2011 at 6:09 PM


  • Snooth User: Pecce
    318469 3

    By the way, i sugest:
    Mendel Unus 2008, Mendel;
    Linda Flor Malbec, Monteviejo;
    Alto 2006, Alta Vista;
    D'Autor 2004, Santa Faustina, and
    Malbec Estrela 1977, Bodega y Cavas de Weinert ($$$$)

    Mar 24, 2011 at 6:14 PM


  • Snooth User: Judyadz
    466063 22

    We have been loving a Malbec Bonardo blend - Tikal Patriota. Served it to many of our wine qeek friends and they all loved it! The other cool thing is the bottle, empty it weighs as much as most bottles weigh full! Give it a try!

    Mar 24, 2011 at 6:38 PM


  • Snooth User: james11
    Hand of Snooth
    349281 4

    There's even more Bonarda in Italy: Its also grown around Piacenza in the Northen part of Emilia Romagna where it is bottled as 'Bonarda' and - if blended with 60% Barbara - as 'Gutturnio DOC'. But...., if "Argentine Bonarda is in fact the same as Charbono"....than it is really NOT Bonarda - unless Italian Bonarda is also Charbono....which I doubt. It pretty much looks like another Chileanian "Merlot/Carmenère" issue to me.

    Mar 24, 2011 at 8:34 PM


  • You can't go wrong with a juicy steak and a good Malbec. Malbec is a steak and potatoes wine.

    Mar 24, 2011 at 9:27 PM


  • If you get the chance, because it's not widely available, try Baqueano Malbec. Very smooth and tasty.

    Mar 24, 2011 at 9:50 PM


  • Snooth User: bkinross
    710489 13

    I agree with the comments regarding Tikal Patriota. I had it first in Brasil and fell in love with it. I have been able to find it for less than $20 a bottle in Chicago at retail. Recently I had another Bonarda/Malbec blend called Alma Negra at Sepia in the West Loop area of Chicago. It was also outstanding.

    Mar 24, 2011 at 10:04 PM


  • Try Finca La Linda Torrontes, not over "floral" as a lot are. very balanced and crisp.

    Mar 24, 2011 at 11:55 PM


  • Snooth User: rolcast
    628745 1

    Just discovered this varietal; it was ad-hoc for a spring night. Soft, refreshing and good conversation trigger. Loved it.

    Mar 25, 2011 at 1:52 AM


  • Snooth User: FatPhilly
    744446 6

    Monte Cepas Bonarda from Lanzarini is a great tasting wine. Only available through special order in PA and select resteraunts. Great Value, Great with Pasta's and light dishes

    Mar 25, 2011 at 9:54 AM


  • Snooth User: Gavilan Vineyards
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    517320 40

    Thanks for the article Carly. I wish you would have made it down to San Rafael as well. Algodon Wine is starting a campaign that is geared in establishing San Rafael as the Bonarda capital of Argentina. Our very own 2009 Bonarda Estate Reserve just won a Silver medal at the Argentine Wine Awards and I would have loved to share a bottle with you. Showing that, as you so well pointed out, there is more than just a quick drinking wine out there. It was made to evolve in the bottle for a few more years. walking through the vineyard and taking some of the grapes to taste them and seeing how the skins immediately give off their deep purple color is amazing.
    The grapes has long been forgotten as a premium wine grape. Still today wineries do not want to pay fine wine prices for just the grapes so it is left to those of us who believe in Bonarda as the future Malbec and to convince people of its awesome taste, one person at a time if need be.
    We just had a client who came to look at buying one of our Wine Estates and was keen on planting 2ha of Malbec. When we opened a bottle of the Bonarda he was stunned and switched to planting Bonarda this September. He liked the taste so much over Malbec. Not just that, he also purchased 7,000Kilos of our Bonarda grapes to make his first vintage at our winery for himself, jumpstarting his wine business.
    The story of the Argentine Bonarda is truly a story of the ugly duckling that turns out to be a prince.

    Mar 25, 2011 at 1:41 PM


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