Better Know a Grape: Bonarda

Better Know a Grape: Bonarda

I like to tell people that wine isn’t as complicated as it’s made out to be. And that’s usually the case … except, of course, when it’s not.

Take, for example, Bonarda. Several different grape varieties are known by this name, but chances are if you see the word “Bonarda” on the label, you’re drinking a wine that’s not made from Bonarda at all.

I know. I know. Let me ‘splain: there’s “Bonarda” from Italy and “Bonarda” from Argentina. Three different grapes go by the name “Bonarda” in Italy. There’s the Bonarda that’s planted in north central Italy, particularly the Oltrep├▓ Pavese and Colli Piacentini regions. That’s actually the Croatina grape. (If you see the word “Bonarda” on the label of an Italian wine, you’re likely drinking one of these wines.)┬áThen there’s the Bonarda that’s planted in Piedmont, in northwest Italy, that’s really the Uva Rara variety. Finally, there’s the real, and very rare, McCoy: Bonarda Piemontese (also, somewhat obviously, from the Piedmont region). As you can probably guess, nomenclature in the wine world can be imprecise, and nowhere more so than in Italy.

Now for “Bonarda” from Argentina, which you’re much more likely to see at your local wine store. This is–surprise!–a completely different grape. It’s actually Charbono (also known as Corbeau in France, for those keeping score at home). Nonetheless, we’ll call it Bonarda here because, well, that’s what they call it in Argentina, where it’s the second-most-planted red variety after Malbec. And like its much more famous compatriot, Bonarda is a terrific value. I’ve never seen a Bonarda for more than $20, and they often come in around $15 or less. However, Bonarda provides a very different taste experience than Malbec, whose primary appeal is its deep, chocolate and plum flavors and soft, smooth texture. Bonarda, on the other hand, offers bright fruit, spice, and earth. What it lacks in body, it makes up for in acidity. Bonarda produces straightforward wines, meant to be drunk young. I can vouch from experience that Bonarda-and-burgers is a winning combo.

Paul and I enjoyed this Colonia las Liebres 2008 Bonarda along with some hamburgers straight from the grill. Made by Malbec mega-producer Altos los Hormigas, this Bonarda is a bit softer and rounder than most other versions I’ve tried. Still, the characteristic red fruit and spice flavors are there. It reminds me of one of my favorite quick desserts, strawberries macerated in some balsamic vinegar and topped with a few grindings of black pepper. If you were to distill the essence of that dish — fruity, tart, and peppery — you’d have this Bonarda. This is not a remotely complex wine, but it is a satisfying one. I found it at my local wine store for $12, but I’ve seen it online for as little as $9.99.

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