An Argentinian wine merchant’s guide to Bonarda
As Argentina’s second most cultivated red variety, Bonarda is behind only Malbec in terms of area under vine. Having arrived in Argentina in the late 1800s, most probably via Italian immigrants from the slopes of the Alps, Bonarda, like Malbec, has thrived in the favourable growing conditions of Argentina.
The majority of Argentinian Bonarda is grown in vineyards in the Mendoza region. Boasting rich alluvial soil and a dry, sunny climate, the conditions of Mendoza are perfectly suited to this grape. In particular, the aridity of the environment ensures that the Bonarda, which has a thin skin, grows in tight bunches and is thus susceptible to rot, remains healthy as it grows. In fact, Bonarda grows so well in the warm Argentinian climate that growers must manage their vineyards and yields well if they are to avoid diluted, low-quality fruit.
The grape’s very availability has resulted in Bonarda being significantly cheaper than many other Argentinian wines, with the price per ton or kilo at around one quarter the price of Malbec. Great for any wine importer, this translates into very affordable prices on the store shelf.
Having been made in Argentina for many years for basic table wine rather than boutique wine, Bonarda has a rich, dark colour, soft texture, rounded tannins and bold flavour. Although it has been used much in the past as a blending grape, as it has been said to lack acidity, it is now recognised as an extremely pleasant South American wine in its own right. A good Argentinian Bonarda offers a unique taste, consisting of a rich mix of forest fruits, including raspberry, blackberry, black cherry and even plum.
With regard to matching wine with food, Bonardas go well with pasta and most meats, especially roast pork. However, although Bonardas are generally better suited to being drunk with a meal than on their own, this is not true of every bottle. Indeed, some unoaked Bonardas can be particularly enjoyable to drink on their own.
What to look for
Although it is fairly hard to find a bad Bonarda in the UK, as poor wines are rarely exported, there are still some things to consider when selecting your bottle of Bonarda in order to make the best choice. In particular, it is important to be aware of the age of the wine you buy, as due to the characteristics of the grape, the Bonarda wine is unlikely to improve in bottle for too many years. As such, it is likely to be at its peak within two or three years of production.