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The Bonarda Grape


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About Bonarda

(Synonyms: Alcantino, Aleante, Batiolin, Bathiolin, Blaue Gansfuesser, Bonarda, Bourdon noir, Carbonneau, Charbonneau, Charbono, Corbeau, Cot Merille, Cot Rouge Merille, Cote Rouge, Dolcetto Grosso, Dolutz, Douce noire, Folle Noire d L'Ariege, Grenoblois, Korbo, Mauvais noir, Ocanette, Picot Rouge, Plant de Calarin, Plant de Montmelion, Plant de Savoie, Plant de Turin, Plant noir, Turca, Turin, Turino)

Background

Map showing the Savoy region of France

Bonarda is a red-wine grape originating in the Savoy region of France, but today most heavily grown in Argentina. For long, it was thought that its origins might run farther back yet, to the Piedmont area of Italy, where there are some grapes with "bonarda" in their name (such as "Bonarda Piemontese"), but modern DNA analysis shows that the Italian grapes are quite unrelated to Argentine Bonarda; nonetheless, tons of writers still refer to Bonarda as an "Italian" grape, which it just plain is not (indeed, a good majority of articles about Bonarda wines spend most of their time in meaningless discourses on the "mysterious" origins of the grape). Bonarda also had a run for a while in California, where it was known as "Charbono" (and, just to further complicate the story, Charbono was long misidentified and sold as Barbera); today, however, Californian Charbono is rare, and expensive. In France, its commonest synonym is "Douce noir", and in fact that is how Wikipedia lists it (it is also known there as "Corbeau").

It is thus well for the buyer to keep in mind that a bottle labelled "Bonarda", unless from Argentina, will very likely not be made from the Douce Noir grape but from something else (especially if the source is Italy). Argentine Bonarda and Californian Charbono (now rare)—or, if you ever see any, Corbeau—are the only reliable sources (which is not to say that all others must be something else—as always, caveat emptor).

In its new home in Argentina, Bonarda is a major player, being second in plantings only to that country's signature variety, Malbec (which only recently surpassed Bonarda—and it is occasionally rumored that some Argentine Malbecs have an admixture of Bonarda in them). There, unlike the practices in the Old World, it is usually bottled as a monovarietal. It is slowly but surely establishing itself as an excellent grape—not yet considered a top "noble" grape, but it certainly can make excellent wines.

Bonarda made with care makes silky, elegant wines that evoke comparisons with Pinot Noir. Its nose is typically intense and fruity (strawberry gets mentioned often), and its flavor follows the nose. Less-expensive versions are good, simple drinking, very fruit-rich without being actual fruit bombs; but the better versions, of which more and more are appearing, are thoroughly age-worthy, good for as much as a decade or two. Besides red fruit, one hears of distinctive overlays of things from fig to fennel to plum to cassis. Curiously, for its overall power, Bonarda is not a notably high-alcohol wine: 14% would be high (whereas in today's Parkerized marketplace, 14% is barely average). It also tends to be fairly low in tannins.

Mind, not a few online sources refer to Bonarda as a simple, rustic wine meant for immediate consumption; some of that is a function of how some makers vinify the wine, but also a lot of it is the usual bias about inexpensive wines not well known to the drinker. One does not say that, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon is "a simple, rustic wine" just because some cheaply made specimens of it happen to be; and the same with Bonarda. Whatever might once have been the case, Bonarda has gone up in the world, and most makers are now taking a deal more care in the growing and vinification of their Bonardas.

Factoid: Laura Catena, of the eminent Catena Argentine wine family, has said that the reason Argentines stuck with the deceptive Italian name "Bonarda" for the grape, rather than switch to Corbeau or Douce noir, was that they didn't want another French-named grape (referring to that nation's signature wine, Malbec).


Some Descriptions of Bonarda Wines


Some Bonardas to Try

(About this list.)

Pleasing to say, there are quite a few fine Bonardas available, many at risibly low prices.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
Chakana Maipe Reserve Bonarda
(It seems best to look for this wine as just "Maipe Reserve Bonarda".)

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Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Composed, well-oaked, earthy aromas of blackberry get this Bonarda going in the right direction. This is snappy and high in acid, but that ensures freshness and liveliness. Pointy cherry and raspberry flavors finish crisp and tangy. 88 points.

Opaque brown brick red color. Aromas and flavors of tart mulberries, leather and suede, gravel dust, and planked oak and salinity with a tangy, dry full body and a refreshing, rapid finish with dusty, woody tannins and moderate oak. Unique nose. 83 points, Bronze Medal, Recommended.

Medium to dark purple in the glass bodes well for this Bonarda. The variety is also known as Charbono in other circles. The nose is beautiful, full and all about the cassis, dark plums and black cherry. The initial taste echoes the nose. This wine is delicious. Tar, cherry and cassis abound on the palate and carry through to the finish. Tannins are gentle and balanced with a nice level of acidity. This wine drinks great now and will continue to do so till 2022. I paired it with stuffed peppers and a Turkey meatball pasta dish. It worked well, but the real match is probably with a grilled lamb chop. 91 points from me but then again I love expanding my palate with off the beaten path varietals. $16 and 5 stars from me. Salut…

[D]ense purple colour; earthy, plum nose; mouth-filling plum and mocha and coffee bean flavours with ripe tannins. 89 points.

The 2012 Bonarda Old Vine Reserve is about as good an example of this varietal that one will find. Its saturated purple color is accompanied by an exceptional bouquet of mulberry jam, spring flowers and loads of berry fruit. Although it was aged 12 months in French oak, there is no hint of oak, only super fruit, medium to full body, and a terrific mouthfeel as well as aromatics…Maipe is one of my favorite value selections from Fran Kysela as the wines are exceptionally well-made, and sell for a song. 91 points. [Wine Advocate, August 2013]

Bonarda is on the rise and threatening to challenge Malbec in Mendoza, especially when it poses with such an obvious, rich and cakey Andean attitude. This example is clearly culled from a state of the art production facility because despite the slightly funky, gritty, tense and nervous layering and radio fuzz, it shows such a polished quality. Picked & mixed by real humans, this is varietal desert euphoria paradise, full of plum drive and chocolate coating.



Lamadrid "Estate Single Vineyard" Reserva Bonarda

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Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Gritty in scent up front, this features beet and candied black-fruit aromas along with a dry spice note. It feels chunky, with powerful tannins. Flavors of black plum, berry, coffee and chocolate finish with a sweet vanilla taste and another helping of ripe black fruit. 88 points.

Most definitely not my regular drop. Bright medium ruby colored, similar to a Cali Petite Sirah--and inky too. Nose of clean red cherries and red currant. The palate shows off a very velvety lush mix of red fruit, soil, and sunlight. Great bright red cherries, blueberry compote, Chinese apples, some menthol, some tar, some earth, some flowers. A very complete, powerful and precise mouthfeel with the gobby fruit really showcasing. Tannins seem a bit awkward, but not negative. A wonderful balance and long length. Nice welcoming acidity that will hold up to my pulled pork sandwiches at dinner time just right. The price was right too. $11.99. Super QPR, and a new trick for this old dog.

♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 90 points.

♣ Wine Spectator (date unknown), 88 points

Nose of underbrush, mineral, plum, mulberry, and violets. Concentrated on the palate with good depth, balance, and length, this flavorful effort deftly combines elegance and power, quite an achievement at this price point.

Bonardas can typically be very acidic, but this Bonarda drinks like none other: it has a much fuller body than other wines made from this varietal, and it is very lush with big, jammy fruits. The wine is not a classic example of Bonarda, but personally, I don’t care if a winemaker sticks to the typical flavor profiles of a varietal: if it tastes good… I love it! And I love this wine.

The La Madrid winery has become a powerhouse of late with a lot of presence in the market. They always get great scores from the usual suspects in the wine press: Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator and others. I was surprised when I was a bit disappointed by the La Madrid Single Vineyard Reserve Bonarda, which has scored 90 points and over, when it was green tasting. I am normally a fan of Hector Durigutti’s wines as well, even his own Durigutti Bonarda which I have reviewed several times and worked with a lot, in addition to his Aguijon de Abeja Bonarda. This seems to me a case where the fruit just didn’t get ripe enough to make a well balanced wine. All the other aspects of the wine were well done, I just wanted more fruit there.

The Bonarda was bold, big, and somewhat sweet the first go around. It offered a tangy nose with plum and ripe dark fruit. Initially it was lighter and somewhat sweeter on the palate, but became more robust and nuanced as it opened up. Dark fruit dominated the palate through and through, but the wine still remained well balanced on the palate. Subtle licorice notes appeared in the back of the palate and through the finish to balance out the heavy fruit up front. The La Madrid Bonarda finished smoothly and softly with little fanfare leaving a nice crisp hint of spice and mineral. This is a great wine to pair with a burger, but where it really shined was with the spicier foods. . . If you're looking for a wine to pair with heavily spiced Mexican or Southwestern food, this is it. Open up the bottle and go to town with your meal. If you're looking for something well balanced and a little more subtle and nuanced the La Madrid will also work for you. If you're looking for the latter, just let it breathe for an hour or two before serving.

Needs to be decanted, peppery nose as it opens with hints of wet earth and leather. A high sweet dark fruit flavor with leafy grass and green pepper taste thrown in. I also detected a toast and salty flavor which I have not detected in wine before. I would describe this wine as a CAB-LITE and Grenache like.



Ernesto Catena "Siesta en el Tahuantinsuyu" 'Tahuan'" Bonarda

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Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Nose: Very “syrah-like” on the nose in that it has notes of fresh game, black peppercorns, blackberry, leather and plums. Taste: This is a wonderful wine for the money and frankly one that should be quickly saught out by wine lovers of a more acid-driven wine. It has gorgeous dark fruit notes that combine with spice, tobacco and dark chocolate but a stellar cast of acidity that plays along with it. The mid palate is refreshing and full at the same time – the finish BEGS me to finish the entire bottle asap.

The wine is a deep red color with aromas of plums, red currants, tobacco, game, mocha and chocolate. The mouth-feel is smooth with cherry, plum and herb flavors with a sweet, spicy kick on the finish. The tannins are light and there is just a hint of acidity. The whole package of the Tahuan Bonarda is special. Particularly for your holiday dinners.

♣ International Wine Cellar (date unknown), 87 points.

[T]asty aromas of blackberries, plum marmalade and leather. Once the wine is in your mouth, you encounter the black fruit flavor and low levels of smooth tannin with a mineral character in the finish.

Ernesto Catena of the famed Argentinean winemaking family is responsible for this luscious wine. Something of a self-styled iconoclast, he has produced a rich but in no sense overblown red that, while delicious now, has plenty of life ahead of it. Bonarda remains a primarily workhorse variety, but in the hands of talented vintner, it can yield wines of surprisingly complexity. That’s definitely the case here. 90 points.

Another winner from Ernesto Catena, of Argentina's celebrated wine family; generous plum, cassis and blueberry; lovely depth and seamless flavors laced with subtle oak and showing excellent length. 89 points.



Zuccardi "Serie A" Bonarda

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Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Deep, compact and rich on the nose, with a big dose of ripe berry aromas. The palate is healthy and blends a beefy, muscular body with balancing acids and firm but ripe tannins. Tastes pretty and sweet, like blackberry or plum pie. Chewy and chocolaty on the finish; overall it’s a winner. 90 points.

In the hands of a skilled grower, however, [Bonarda] can show as much complexity as the much better-known malbec. This wine from the excellent Zuccardi firm — the same family behind Santa Julia — is full-bodied, ripe and earthy. It offers flavors of black cherry, plum, pepper, herbs, smoked meat and chocolate. This well-structured wine can be drunk with pleasure now but has good potential to age over 5-10 years.

♣ Wine Advocate (31 October 2012), 87 points.

The 2011 Zuccardi Serie A Bonarda has relatively modest alcohol at 13.1% and is aged for 12 months in barrel. It has a crisp nose of blackberry, blueberry and a touch cassis and dried violet. The palate is medium-bodied with chewy tannins on the entry. It is quite tannic towards the finish, with juicy black cherries laced with balsamic, though it could benefit from a little more finesse.

Familia Zuccardi’s Bonarda exhibits aromas of ripe red fruits such as strawberries, cherries and raspberries mixed with secondary spiced aromas. The palate is medium to full-bodied with sweet tannins, touches of dried fruits, and a refreshing balanced finish.

The use of wood is obvious and provides much of the flavor. There is a lot of fruit, cherries with a little blueberry, but vanilla, butter, baking spice, and tannins all come from the wood. Bonarda is usually lighter and brighter, with cherry, light tannins and light acids. In this wine the grapes are upstaged by the wood.

Deep and intense red color with violet hues. Intense and attractive aromas of plum and blackberries. A full-bodied and lively wine with notes of ripe fruits. A soft and persistent finish.

Zuccardi Serie A 2009 showed great body, intense, concentrated and bright color, ripe fruit flavors, soft style and attractive finish.



La Posta "Estela Armando Vineyard" Bonarda

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Some quotations and facts about this wine:

The fruit is a little more black currant than blueberry, but this wine from an own-rooted vineyard at 2,300 feet elevation has the grape's characteristic soft tannins and good acidity, and is a pleasant weeknight wine. 89 points.

Intense ruby color with bright aromas of fresh red & black raspberries and subtle smoky oak notes. The flavor of freshly-crushed raspberries is echoed in the flavor, along with notes of white pepper, dark chocolate, and a touch of sandalwood mixed with mint on the finish. Though quite rich and hedonistic, the seamless structure of this wine makes it a candidate for drinking in its youth or over the next few years (if you can wait that long).

♣ Wine Advocate: December 2008, 87 points; December 2009, 89 points.

♣ Wine Spectator: October 2008, 89 points; December 2009, 89 points.

♣ International Wine Cellar: January 2010, 88 points; January 2012, 88 points.

(There are multiple reviews quoted at this page: click the diamond to see all.)
Good medium ruby. Dark fruits, mocha and smoke on the slightly musky nose; I might have guessed syrah. Then fairly polished and supple for bonarda, with good texture and weight to the flavors of black raspberry, violet and coconutty oak.


Fruity, dark, rich and smoky - everything you need to bring your dinner up a notch at home, impress your friends and make them think you know a ton about wine, or make a snooty wine drinker pause and take note. The Bonarda grape gives this wine a lot of depth and body along with good acid. The net result? A delicious and juicy wine that feels full in your mouth and will go with all kinds of food. 90 points.

Fully saturated violet-tinged dark ruby. Lively and ripe nose -- sweet, smoky gravel, and lots of ripe blackberry fruit. Medium-full to full bodied, it has an intense initial attack of minerally blackberry fruit, which morphs quickly into a sequential parade of mixed berry extracts that clings to the palate. Lots and lots of youthful tannin to resolve, but it's not too rough to enjoy now. 88 points.

Many bonardas have an attractive sweetness but are a little rough around the edges, and this one is no different. There’s a glimpse of cinnamon just as it touches the tongue, and the tannic edge makes a nice contrast for the fattiness of cured meats.

This is a powerful, full-bodied wine, with aromas and flavours of dark berries, cocoa and cloves. Moderate tannins with a juicy, medium long finish.

This particular vintage [2007] had an alcohol by volume of 13.5% costing $12.99 had a lot going on when I popped the cork on this one. BTW, let this one breathe a bit before tasting. On the nose I found blackberry fruits, smoke, bacon, leather, earth, and vanilla aromas. Wow, a lot of activity here. I wasn’t disappointed when I tasted it either. With blackberry, cherry hard candy, black raspberry and plum flavors with hints of raisin and fig with a finish of raspberry mocha this has become one of my favorites and will definitely keep a few of these in the wine racks for when I get the urge.

I am glad La Posta del vinatero (literally, the inn of the winemaker) decided not to blend the juice from Armando's grapes with others in 2003 and dilute their engaging black fruit and smoky flavors. Despite its intensity, La Posta's 2003 bonarda does not come across as a heavy wine. Its acidity helps keep it lively and assures it remains fresh, not boring, throughout the meal.



Nieto Senetiner "Reserva" Bonarda

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Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Appearance: Dense, deep purple. Nose: Dense fruit - blackberries, boysenberries, cherries, plums - with hints of vanilla and pencil shavings, and a faint smokiness. Palate: Medium-bodied - packed with cherries and berry fruit. Woody complexities reflecting the nose, and a pleasant walnuty character. Well balanced with firm tannins and good acidity, leading into a long, warm, dry finish. Overall: This is a great example of big, strong, well-constructed varietal Bonarda. Dense and fruity, but not sweet or cloying. The structure is tight and the balance is very good. There's enough acidity here to make it a good match for whatever you're eating, and enough complexity to make it enjoyable on its own. ****

Smoky and dark from the start, with char and earth aromas to go with basic blackberry. The palate delivers power and a good texture, with bold blackberry and peppery flavors. Becomes more rubbery as it opens but holds onto its plum and chocolaty virtues. 87 points.

♣ Wine Advocate (December 2008), 91 points.

♣ Wine Spectator (15 November 2011), 88 points.

The 2006 Bonarda Reserva is about as good as this grape gets. Sourced from 35-year-old vines, it was aged for 12 months in new French oak. The nose delivers wood smoke, mineral, earth notes, blueberry and blackberry. Dense and layered, the wine has enough structure to evolve for five years given its impeccable balance and a plethora of fruit. Lively acidity gives the finish a vibrant lift.

Bonarda tends to make lighter, fruitier wines than most of the other varietals common in Argentina; the Nieto Senetiner Bonarda Reserva 2002 is richer than many, with lots of red fruits buttressed by smoke and tobacco. Its soft tannins lend it to milk chocolate, chicken, and salmon.

I can’t remember a bonarda I didn’t like; two current favorites are the bright, juicy Nuna Reserve 2009 ($17) and the lively, earthier Nieto Senetiner Reserva 2010 ($16).

The 2008 Bodegas Nieto Senetiner Bonarda sits pretty in the glass with a purple accented dark red. The bouquet has a stereo effect with peat coming in one channel and sweet berries in the other. That complexity carries itself well into the mouth. It starts off with a nice berry (strawberry, raspberry, some with some currant even) flavour but that quickly rolls into a slowly dispersing green vegetable and tannic middle and finish that seems to go on forever. The effect is like quickly sucking all the sweet juice from a beautiful grape in one shot and then slowly trying to work out any lingering flavour from the skin by using every muscle in your mouth. This is not a wine for gulping. It is quite captivating with the gorgeous flirtation with the nose, and the long kiss good-bye.

Seriously good value. This bodega's new (Argentine) owners are buying higher altitude vineyards and successfully using less oak on less expensive, gentle wines such as this and its Merlot counterpart.

It is a deeply purple wine in color and flavor profile. Big upfront nose of blackcurrant and blackberry fruit but not in a sweet way just in a very pure expression of fruit way. Then there is enough pencil lead and herbs to make the nose more interesting. The purple fruit continues in the mouth with a nice package around it of smooth mouthfeel and balancing structure. This is a fruit centric wine but not in an over the top way. 91 points.



Trapiche "Broquel" Bonarda

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Some quotations and facts about this wine:

The nose on this particular wine is very smoky with blueberry notes. Blueberry and blackberry also show up on the palate with lovely tannins that offer a hint of rusticity, which give it a more robust texture. There’s also an excellent acidy. Though not necessarily obvious, it informs the way the wine is clean on the finish, and how well it goes with your food.

This one is dark and intense but elegantly slinky with an Italian blueberry twang to the lush black fruit and an expensive creaminess imparted by the new oak casks in which part of the blend has been matured.

Bonarda could be one of Argentina's USPs if only more producers made the wine as well as this rich, savoury, liquorice and blackberry-like red, with its sweet vanilla oak, medium weight tannins and spicy concentration. Serious stuff with an Italianate twist.

Dark purple-red color with aromas and flavors of grape jam, blackberry, blueberry and cherry. Rich and full-bodied this wine has some serious tannin structure. Sharp acidity and good length with oak, plum and earthy terrior underneath. 86 points. A robust red but one that doesn't completely come together.

APPEARANCE: It looks black and opaque, like squid ink. A sliver of clear ruby might frame the rim, but I’m not making bets. AROMAS: Brooding black berry extract, dusky forest floor, dried tobacco leaf, whiffs of cream charm but show that this 2006 must be drunk now. PALATE: Dry. This wine has no sugary give. It takes no prisoners. Acids are noticeable. Tannins daub away the saliva, feeling leafy and begging for lean protein. Alcohol is a bold 14%. With all that structure the body feels lean, muscular, but hardly heavy. FLAVORS: Pure, stripped, black berry and red apple juice. Dry grey bark and ash. White pepper minerality. Trapiche’s Bonarda cackles at your cliché fruit bomb malbecs. This may all sound horrid. But this wine could care less about your palate. It wants to paint it black. It wants revenge. . . It has strength, depth, and dirt. It tastes unrelentingly real, attacks relentlessly, occasionally gets melodramatic when it rains, but is fleeting. This wine is very good (4 of 5), even if it wants to be very bad.

Lovely aromas coming out of the glass, this was rich and intense with blackcurrants, blackberries, for me it almost has Rioja like characteristics with that big hit of Oak / Vanilla, from 12 months in French & American barrels, maybe a touch too oaky for some though (not for me). It also has some Shiraz like flavours. Initially it's got big in your face flavours with the oak dominating but it is full of mouth watering dark fruits and is silky smooth. This is a big wine and a warning the 14% ABV catches up with you pretty quickly, none the less I really enjoyed it. I think this is a wine suited to food but i would quite happily drink it on its own.

[T]he Trapiche Bonarda 2009 feels wild, untamed, deeply spicy, immoderately savory; slightly jammy black currants, plums and blackberry preserves infused with port characterize the heady bouquet, which opens to hints of blueberry tart, lavender and licorice, potpourri and dusty graphite. It’s rich, dense, intense, chewy, thoroughly imbued with slightly roasted and meaty black and blue fruit flavors laced with burnished oak — from 12 months in new French and American barrels — and soft, velvety tannins. It is, as you surmise, almost a riot of sensations, though fortunately honed with bracing acidity and a touch of granite-like minerality on the finish. Close to being too easy to drink, but it sorta haunts you, too. 14 percent alcohol. . . Very Good+.

This [Bonarda] from Trapiche Broquel smells of roasted red plums and roasted coffee beans with licks of blueberries and loganberry juice. With a year in American (with its sweet vanilla scent) as well as French oak, it’s sturdy and warming, a real boost for an icy night.



For a Splurge

The gap between good and "splurge" is narrower here than usual; perhaps the best "splurge" offering would be the Familia Zuccardi "Emma" Bonarda.

• That wine at 1000 Corks
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• Its Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.
• Its CellarTracker pages.

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