Argentina’s Other Red Grape – Bonarda

At the “Discover the Flavours of Argentina” wine tasting in downtown Toronto yesterday, I was intrigued by a grape variety we don’t often see in our market – Bonarda.  The few Bonardas available for sampling were all very quaffable, full of ripe red and dark fruit flavours and sometimes a hint of spice – wines you don’t really need to think too much about but still quite tasty.

Until recently, Bonarda was the most planted grape in Argentina.  Trendy Malbec now has that honour, pushing Bonarda into second.  The high yielding Bonarda has traditionally been blended with other grapes to produce the bulk table wine eagerly consumed by the locals.  Argentina’s populace is known for its thirsty consumption of wine.  At one point the average person drank a staggering (literally!) 90 litres of wine a year.  It has now fallen to about 40 litres a year.

The potential for Bonarda to make quality wine is now recognized and it’s being treated with more respect in both the vineyard and the winery.  It’s not just used for inexpensive blends anymore.  When yields are kept down and the grapes are allowed to ripen fully, preventing an unpleasant green character, the wines can be very good.  It is now used to make some very successful single varietal wines, or it can be blended with either Syrah or Malbec to produce a tasty bi-varietal wine.

There is much confusion about the ancestry of Argentine Bonarda.  For a long time experts weren’t sure whether this grape was actually Bonarda Piedmontese which comes from the Piedmont region in Italy which is now quite rare, or whether it was Bonarda Novarese also from Piedmont and also known as Uva Rara.  Argentina’s National Institute of Vitiviniculture is sure that the grape is not Bonarda Oltrepo Pavese which is also known as Croatina.  Studies have now indicated that there is a very good chance that it is none of the Italian Bonardas, but that it is actually the French grape Corbeau from Savoie, which may be related to California’s Charbono.  Somewhere along the way it must have been brought to Italy where its origins were eventually lost.  Italian immigrants then took it to Argentina thinking it was indeed, Bonarda from Italy.

Wine writer Oz Clark says this about Bonarda, “Bonarda could easily be Argentina’s Beaujolais, and Bonarda Reserva could easily do the job of Beaujolais’ top ‘Cru’ villages. There’s a lot of Bonarda in the vineyards, and it makes such a juicy, gluggable red.” Click here for the website.

Not many Bonardas are available at the LCBO.  One that can be found with many bottles still available is Chakana Bonarda 2009 ($13.95), which is a light, ripe and fruity wine.  Another is Santa Julia Reserva Bonarda 2008 ($13.95).  If you do happen to come across a Bonarda I suggest you try a bottle.  They’re a nice summer red at a decent price…and it’s always fun to try something different.

Bonarda will pair well with bbq’d hamburgers, sausages, pizza, and pasta with tomato-based sauces.

2 responses

  1. Regardless of its origins (and those are, as you mentioned, widely controversial), Bonarda is a really wonderful grape, exuding Malbec tones, with a Merlot fatness to it and a sort of Syrah gaminess.

    About two weeks ago I received an email from a customer who has been a member of ours for 25 years. An international wine drinker, he thinks Bonarda is the “next great wine discovery.”


    Paul Kalemkiarian
    President, Wine of the Month Club

    • Thanks for your comment Paul. I like the way you describe Bonarda. I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Bonarda I have tasted lately, and while I still enjoy a good Malbec, I too think that Bonarda just may be the next up-and-coming grape.

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