Bonarda: The Italian Grape With Argentinean Charm
Luján de Cuyo Mendoza (Photo: Turismo Mendoza)

The Argentine Bonarda has developed a firm footing in a land that is revered for its Malbec and is increasingly becoming renowned for its Cabernet Sauvignon. The ever-growing popularity of the country's dynamic red wine array can boast among its ranks the Bonarda: a bright red with few tannins that is usually dry, has hints of black fruit accompanied by high acidity. This red wine grape, originally from Italy, has become more popular in Argentina and is distinctly different from the Italian Bonarda as the Argentine Bonarda is known in Italy as the Douce Noir grape. Referred to in California as Charbono and in France as Corbeau, this grape is a red Savoyard wine grape variety that has historically been grown in the Savoy region, but today is more widely planted in Argentina.

Argentina's Bonarda is, in terms of surface area, the second most-planted red variety after Malbec, according to the National Institute of Viticulture. Believed to have arrived in the country at the end of the 19th century, its cultivation began in the Cuyo region which is located in the central west of the country that is traditionally made up of the provinces of Mendoza, San Juan and San Luis. Its vines are easily identifiable in the vineyard for its typically ironed leaves, many of them whole, with strongly coloured buds and medium compact clusters holding characteristic round berries. This variety has long been used as a base for common red wines due to its high yields per hectare, its outstanding colour contribution and its tremendous ability to improve blend wines, especially with Malbec.

The subsequent discovery of its oenological potential sparked reduced production per hectare, helping the yields achieve exceptional quality and leading to its development as a varietal from which high-quality wines are made. The Argentine Bonarda is a wine of intense colours: marked violets or purples that evolve to ruby red. Its intense aroma expresses attractive fruity notes of red fruits (raspberries, strawberries, cassis or cherries) and black fruits (blackberries, plums or blueberries). On the palate it is pleasant and sweet, with good intensity and soft tannins that give the wine an elegant, velvety texture.

Present in most of the wine-growing provinces of Argentina, this grape represents 8.5 per cent of the total vine in the country, with Mendoza having the largest number of Bonarda vineyards reaching 15,250 hectares or 83.3 per cent. They are followed by San Juan with 2,267 hectares or 12.4 per cent, while the rest of the provinces have the remaining 788 hectares or 4.3 per cent. The country's total production of this varietal is in excess of 237,033 tonnes annually, of which 86 per cent is consumed domestically and 14 per cent is exported, generating revenues of over US$7.2 million dollars. The Argentina National Viticulture Institute report on grape varieties also names Canada as the main destination for pure varietal Bonarda wines, followed by Brazil, United States, United Kingdom, and Russia.

Here are seven of the best Argentine Bonardas in the market today:

Vinalba Malbec Bonarda, made up of 90 per cent Malbec and 10 per cent Bonarda, is produced by Bodega Vinalba from vineyards located in the Uco Valley region of Mendoza. Captivatingly rich with an elegant and complex taste, it features plum, damson, bramble, smooth flavours of blackcurrant and delicate floral notes that are combined with hints of vanilla-toasted oak. The colour is a deep ruby with purple hues and its aromas are of rich dark fruit as well as hints of violets.

Cristobal 1492 Bonarda is produced by Don Cristobal Winery and is made up of 100 per cent Bonarda grapes from vineyards located in Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza. The wine is a pure, sweet, easygoing, full-bodied red wine with lots of boysenberry, currant and chocolate aromas and flavors. In the mouth it is dark and saturated with a bouncy palate, youthful but tolerable tannins, and a fudge-infused finish.

Gran Dante Bonarda, a 100 per cent Bonarda, is produced from 60-year-old vineyards in the Santa Rosa area of Mendoza by Bodega Dante Robino. On the nose, it has typical notes of red fruits in abundance, with some balsamic touch, followed by a fairly intense vanilla. On the palate it is extremely juicy, with sweet tannins that give it some structure before ending in a long and elegant finish, unfolding as an interesting aromatic charge, where vanilla, red fruits and a spicy touch are enhanced.

Dante Robino Legado Bonardo is another 100 per cent Bonarda variety, produced in the Alto Agrelo area of the Lujan de Cuyo region in Mendoza, by Bodega Dante Robino. The wine has an intense red color with violet hues with expressive scents of red fruits that stand out. On the palate, it is friendly with a certain maturity, is somewhat spicy and voluptuous, with marked acidity and wood that appears on the finish.

Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Rosé Brut Nature is a sparkling rosé exclusively made with Bonarda grapes by Bodega Altos Las Hormigas in El Peral, Uco Valley. It has a highly delicate aromatic expression reminiscent of freshly cut red fruit, marzipan, flowers, almonds and minerals. In the mouth, this espumante is dry with fine persistent bubbles expressing tension and minerality, complemented by its evolved, moderately refreshing acidity. It also has a soft onion skin colour, with coppery nuances and culminates in a long finish with notes of chalk that highlight its origin: a Bonarda vineyard on calcareous soil typical of the Mendoza terroir.

Zorzal Eggo Bonaparte Bonarda, a deep and bright coloured wine full of floral, earthy and herbal aromas, is produced by the Michelini brothers of Zorzal Wines in the high altitude terroir of Tupungato, Mendoza. Fermentation and aging take place in cement eggs, where the wine is kept in constant motion by the ovoid shape of its container. This causes the wine to evolve homogeneously, with the same temperature throughout the year. The result is a soft but nervous structure and an exquisite, long and persistent finish in the mouth, without any trace of wood.

Paso A Paso Bonarda Vino de Garage is a 100 per cent Bonarda by Paso a Paso Winery in Uco Valley, Mendoza from 70-year-old vines. It is deep purple, well characteristic of the strain, displaying on the nose an aromatic array that ranges from fresh fruit to herbaceous, passing through spicy notes and a smoky background. On the palate, It has a sweet entry and vibrant acidity, with sweet tannins, great persistence and spicy aftertaste.

Bonarda Argentina has distinguished itself from being a grape introduced by European immigrants, to becoming a very well-adapted traditional Argentine red grape that has very little in common with its origins abroad. The diversity of the country's unique terroir has produced, in warmer areas like the east of Mendoza, grapes of a juicy and intense red with a balsamic, fruity profile that are enveloping as well as very easy to drink. However, in colder, higher-altitude regions, the grapes grown in this climate produce wines of a more complex and delicate tannic structure, with expressions of black fruit, which, in turn, opens the possibility to achieve very elegant wines with great aging potential. The Argentine Bonarda is a very fresh, juicy wine with good maturity and low alcohol content, which makes it super-easy to drink. Salud!

Cristóbal 1492 Bonarda (Photo: Don Cristobal Winery)
Dante Robino Gran Dante Bonarda (Photo: Bodega Dante Robino)
Dante Robino Legado Bonarda (Photo: Bodega Dante Robino)
Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Rosé Brut Nature (Photo: Bodgea Altos Las Hormigas)
Zorzal EGGO Bonaparte Bonarda (Photo: Zorzal Wines)
Paso A Paso Vino De Garage (Photo: Paso a Paso Winery)
Bonarda Argentina Grapes(Photo: Turismo Mendoza)
Bonarda Argentina (Photo: Turismo Mendoza)
Viñalba Malbec Bonarda (Photo: Bodega Viñalba)
Andre Reid

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