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The Bonarda Grape

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About Bonarda

(Synonyms: Bathiolin, Douce Noire, Charbonneau, Charbono, Corbeau, Corbeau Noir, Mauvais Noir, Plant de Montméllion, Plant de Turin, Plant Noir, Turca, Turin)


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).

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Some Descriptions of Bonarda Wines

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Some Bonardas to Try

(About this list.)

Applying quality constraints shortens the list considerably (sorry, this is not a first-rank varietal), and applying availability restrictions slices that list down even more. This is what was left.

Aleanna "El Enemigo" Bonarda

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks.

Folk Machine Charbono

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Reviews” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks.

For a Splurge

We could find no reasonably available Bonarda wines better enough than those listed above as to justify a “splurge” price.

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This page was last modified on Saturday, 30 October 2021, at 11:26 pm Pacific Time.