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A Different Taste of Argentina
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 15, 2012
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Argento, Mendoza (Argentina) Bonarda, 2010 (Lion Nathan USA, $13):  Ever since I first visited Argentina, I have been intrigued by Bonarda -- the wine itself, but also the grape variety.  Viewing it as an Italian variety, I was predisposed to like its wines, even if some of the tastiest examples I first tried reminded me more of Beaujolais.  I saw Bonarda as a welcome change-of-pace from the ubiquitous Malbec and its alternative, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Bonarda’s underdog image -- once the most planted variety in Argentina, usurped by Malbec twenty years ago -- heightened the intrigue.  Now, the availability of this lovely, great-value, award-winning wine has given me all the excuse I need to spread the word about Bonarda.

Argentina boasts many Italian immigrants and many Italian grape varieties, but genetic testing has proven that Argentina’s Bonarda is actually Corbeau, from the Savoie region of France (rather close to Piedmont, where another “Bonarda” still exists), and the same as what we call Charbono in California.  In Argentina, Bonarda was the workhorse grape to sate the massive demand back when the country’s annual per capita consumption was 90 liters.  (Consumption is now down to about 26 liters, still about three times that of the U.S.) 

I can only imagine how mediocre most of that wine must have been.  But today, with the odds against it, Bonarda makes some very interesting wines, often in a style that’s lighter than most Malbecs, but sometimes in quite a serious style.  Winemakers have explained to me that many old Bonarda vineyards exist and that when the vineyards are properly managed, for quality rather than for volume, some very good wine can result.  Because Bonarda is prized for its deep color, it is also sometimes blended into other red Argentine wines.

Nick Goldschmidt, a veteran winemaker from New Zealand who lives in Sonoma County, has been the consulting winemaker for the Argento Wine Company since 2009.  Argento Bonarda comes from an area in the Mendoza province called Rivadavia, the historic zone of Bonarda, south and east of the town of Mendoza. The vines are 80 years old; Nick notes that making Bonarda as an unblended wine requires the best grape sources so that the fruit flavor can match the power and weight inherent in Bonarda.

When I last saw Nick, he was raving about the 2008s from Argentina, but he subsequently said that the 2010s might be even better; 2010 was a late season and the crop was low, making for some very intense wines.  The 2010 Bonarda is, to my taste, not intense as much as it is complete and well-formed.  The color is deep ruby-purple; the wine’s aroma suggests blue and black fruits, black cherry and blueberry, with a note of spicy oak and a hint of floral perfume.  In my mouth, the first impression of the wine is its softness; this is not a sweet-dense-pulpy softness but rather a smoothness and a lack of rough edges.  The wine is medium-bodied and fully dry.  Despite its vivid fruit flavors it doesn’t come across as what I would particularly call a fruity red, because it has savory notes and very fine tannins that give it character beyond simple fruitiness.

This 2010 Argento Bonarda recently won the International Trophy for Best Single Red Varietal Under £10 in the Decanter World Wine Awards Competition, first competing against Argentine wines and then against regional winners from all over the world.

As you might suspect from the $13 price, this is a wine for drinking, not for cellaring.  Something about its fruit flavors inspires me to recommend it with duck.  Any grilled summertime fare should also be a good accompaniment.

89 Points