Beyond Malbec: Bonarda, Argentina’s Other Red Grape

Part of the Bonarda Line-Up

Bonarda is the second most popular red grape in Argentina – after Malbec, of course. Nearly 19% of red grape vineyards are planted with Bonarda. The origins of this varietal were under dispute until 2008. Was Bonarda brought to Argentina from Italy’s Piemonte region, where it is known as Bonarda Piemontese? Or was it related to the French Charbonneau (or Corbeau) grape? Or can its roots be traced to Croatia? Laura Catena clarifies the matter in Vino Argentino, “Bonarda is none other than the rare Corbeau or Charbonneau of Savoie, a French departement adjacent to the Italian Alps.”

No matter the origin, to me, Bonarda is a simple, enjoyable, pizza-loving wine.  A wine that’s a good value and in vast supply, but not necessarily complex. Sandy Block’s Argentine wine tasting this winter seriously challenged that notion with a concentrated, oaked Bonarda from Nieto Senetiner. It was unlike any Bonarda I had had before. Still, the majority of the Bonardas we see on wine store shelves are perfectly suited for “open on a Tuesday night” to be enjoyed with casual food. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that we don’t see much evidence that Bonarda can match Malbec’s flexibility and ability to produce wines in a range of styles.

For this line-up of six Bonardas (actually seven, since there were two vintages from one producer), I chose a range of value- to mid-priced bottles. The results were mixed, with two wines on opposite ends of the price range emerging as stand-outs. I found that some of them – namely the first three – actually tasted a bit better when they were slightly cool.

2009 Altos Las Hormigas Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda (Mendoza)

I’m certain that if you have perused the Argentine section of a wine shop in the past few years that you would have seen this wine.  And it’s no surprise, since this is a good wine at a very good price. The Colonia Las Liebres is fresh, with a touch of minerality, cherry, and vinyl. It has nice medium acidity and tannins and finishes with spice and chocolate. A very good value.

At WineNation for $7.99.

2009 Bodegas San Huberto Bonarda (La Rioja)

The San Huberto comes from La Rioja, a province north of Argentina’s best-know winegrowing region Mendoza.  I found this wine to be a bit lackluster. Plum and spice in the nose and on the palate, but it also had a slightly high pitched character. Made completely in stainless steel without any oak, it was quite streamlined.

At The Urban Grape for $13.00.

2007 Ichanka (La Rioja)

Another Bonarda from La Rioja. The Ichanka was an interesting contrast to the San Huberto. The nose was meaty, with lots of plum. This wine spent six months in French and American oak which imparted sweet oak and smoke flavor. The wine’s heat from alcohol was offset by a cool, lead pencil shaving character. A chewy, dense mouthfeel, with medium plus acidity and tannins, and a medium length finish.

At The Urban Grape for $15.00.

2007 and 2008 La Posta Vineyards Estella Armando Vineyard (Mendoza)

La Posta has been a reliable producer of mid-priced wines. Unfortunately, the 2007 La Posta had a very bad case of bret. It would be overly generous to call this awfully stinky bottle “rustic.” To me, this bottle was undrinkable, and it went down the drain.

Luckily, I happened to have a bottle of the 2008 vintage, which was a dramatic improvement over the 2007. Darker than the other wines, the La Posta initially had a lot of fruit on the nose and palate. It was brambly, and had concentrated dark cherries and blackberries. There was oakiness, too, and notes of smoke and toast.  A few hours later, the fruit had largely dissipated, leaving a mocha-filled palate and bitterness. Medium body.

At Bacco’s Wine + Cheese for $17.99 (2008 vintage); At Martignetti’s in Brighton for $14.99 (2007 vintage).

2006 Trapiche Broquel (Mendoza)

As the oldest of the bunch, this 2006 Broquel is starting to show its age. On the nose blueberry jam and pencil shavings. The palate has cassis and a bit of high-pitched acetone. The medium-length finish has notes of chocolate and toast. Good, but probably better a year or two ago.

At Martignetti’s in Brighton for $18.99.

And, my favorite Bonarda from this tasting

2007 Alfredo Roca Dedicación Personal (San Rafael, Mendoza)

Dark garnet, saturated but starting to show a little age. It took about half an hour for the wine to open, but it was well worth the wait. Ripe fruit, primarily cherry and raspberry, with notes of vanilla oak. A lingering finish of spice (white pepper), chocolate, and a little smokiness. Ripe tannins, juicy acidity, and moderate alcohol are all very well-balanced. There’s still a freshness to this wine, and I found it very satisfying. My favorite of this tasting.  It was, however, at its best the first day it was open; after that, the fruit vanished and the texture was flat.

At Winestone for $20.00.

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Katrin is one of the co-founders of Wine Dine With Us. She enjoys sharing her love of wine on the blog, and is particularly fond of wines from Argentine, Alto Adige, and Germany. A lifelong environmentalist, Katrin has become increasingly interested in issues of sustainability in wine and food, local food production, biodynamics, and organic agriculture. When not drinking wine and writing about it, she is a nonprofit professional, specializing in fundraising and special events.

3 Responses to “Beyond Malbec: Bonarda, Argentina’s Other Red Grape”

  1. JC
    June 30, 2011 at 1:32 am #

    “2007 and 2008 La Posta Vineyards Estella Armando Vineyard (Mendoza)La Posta has been a reliable producer of mid-priced wines. Unfortunately, the 2007 La Posta had a very bad case of bret. It would be overly generous to call this awfully stinky bottle “rustic.” To me, this bottle was undrinkable, and it went down the drain.”I would definitely take it back instead of putting it down the drain.  Bret is a defect as surely as is a corked bottle.  The producer (and, further down the line, the importer & distributor) is responsible for selling a faulty wine, and you should get a replacement if available, or a refund.On a related note, I had a conversation with David Raines at Gordon's a number of years ago about an older, corked bottle I had bought elsewhere. I had a pretty good vertical collection of the wine.  He straight up told me  I should drink a more recent vintage, put the bad wine in the recent bottle, and exchange it.  He felt it was entirely fair.  (Now that he's an importer & distributor, I'm not sure if he'd offer the same advice today…)

  2. July 4, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    I always love to learn more and more. This was a really great piece to provide more insights. I'll need to get my hands on a Bonarda soon!

  3. July 12, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    Muchas Gracias for the nice review and your support. We are glad you enjoyed the wine, and happy that Bonarda is becoming more recognized every day.

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