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Weekend wine How About Bonarda

Saturday, March 28, 2015   by: Vin Greco

If nothing else, the world of wine is always changing.

New regions rise to the fore, nature throws curve balls at growers, winemakers experiment with all aspects of the winemaking process, and, as we see with the case of Bonarda, a “new” grape begins to grow in popularity.

Up until a decade or two ago, Malbec was an “okay” grape often used for blending in France…until it became Argentina’s darling, as that country demonstrated that it had the conditions and ability to do wonderful things with a decent, but ‘mid-range’ grape from France.

Now, possibly, it may be Bonarda’s turn to shine, as this grape with perhaps confused origins also is revealing an excellent potential to deliver a popular red wine.

I say “confused origins” as the name Bonarda is attached to at least 3 grapes in northern Italy, and some have even sought a link with grapes that have migrated out of the old Yugoslavia, specifically “Croatina”.

It appears now that what we know a Bonarda is a grape from the Savoie region in Eastern France, according to Wikipedia. (I know that we aren’t always supposed to trust Wiki, but in this case it seems to be far more reliable than many other sites.)

That grape is Douce Noir, an interesting name – Sweet Black – especially when you start to pay attention to Bonarda’s characteristics as they are demonstrated in wines from Argentina.

By the way, the same grape is known in California as Charbono – which one producer, Jim Summers of summers Estate in Napa calls the “Rodney Dangerfield of wine”, a tip of the hat to the comedian whose trademark line was “I get no respect.”

That there are no Charbonos anywhere in the LCBO may be ‘proof positive’ to Summer’s Dangerfield comparison.

But Bonardas are creeping in. and their ‘Douce noir’ characteristics might provide the explanation.

When made from fully ripened grapes – something for which the Argentine climate in its viticultural areas may be ideal – Bonarda wines are usually moderate in alcohol, lighter bodied and fruity (blackcurrant, dark cherry, dried fig) with light tannins and moderate acidity.

If you consider the rising popularity of such American wines as Cupcake Red Velvet, Ménage à Trois, and Apothic Red, soft reds with relatively high sugar levels (13 to 18%), you may start to get inkling of why Bonarda might be the next go-to varietal.

While the wines are not quite as sweet –the ones to which we have access are in the 7 to 10% range – they are “soft”, not too acidic, not too tannic, and simply quite pleasant on the palate.

When made with fruit from older vines and subjected to wine-making techniques that develop this character, Bonarda can be big, fruity, dense and tannic, characteristics that may be found in the Lamadrid Single Vineyard 2011 Bonarda, $15.95 available at the Great Northern Road Store, which the Wine Spectator magazine calls “tasty and dense” with chunky and powerful tannins.

Zuccardi Serie A Bonarda 2012, $16.95, is more true to the profile, in that it is full-flavoured with a round, soft mouthfeel, not tannic at all, with just the right amount of acidity on the finish to have you nodding, “yes.”

The sole example on the general list, the Argento Bonarda is described by the LCBO as “medium-bodied and fleshy” and is just $9.95 – the 2011 earned a silver at the Decanter World Wine Awards where it was described as having good character and nice fruity expression – whatever vintage is on our shelves, it is certainly worth trying.

Given that it is Argentina’s second-most widely planted grape after Malbec, and that vintners seem to be starting to give it a chance to shine on its own, not relegating it just to blending status, I expect we will see more and more of it,

If you like easy drinking reds, this could become your wine of choice.

Vintages, etc.

As of March 30 until April 26, Washington State’s Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills H3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 will be $3 off at $16.95, a great price for a wine described by the Wine Spectator as “Dark and spicy, billowing with plum, currant and white chocolate flavors, picking up pear and white tea notes as the finish lingers with refinement,” and scored 92 – it’s available at the Station Mall Store.

I am impressed with the wines we are receiving from Chile’s Santa Carolina winery, and the Gran Reserva Petit Verdot 2011 at just $15.95 is a good reason why: Winealign.com describes it as  “a big wine and densely packed with flavour” and a “finely balanced fruity finish.” 

We rarely see this Bordeaux grape on its own, and this is a fine example – I think it is still a bit tannic, and certainly begs decanting or aerating of some sort – but it is a great choice with prime rib or any other beef steak, or with lamb chops.

April 4 Vintages Release

While I was bemoaning the fact that we often miss out on some of the best wines on the Vintages Releases, I can breathe a sigh of relief with the April 4 release, as there are quite a few goodies heading our way.

For Ripasso/Amarone lovers, there are several en route, including Donatoni Massenà Appassimento 2011, $16.95, with a ‘very good to excellent’ rating from Italy’s esteemed and reliable Gambero Rosso – praised as “massively generous, flavour drenched… “spicey and dynamic.”  

Vintages promotes Feudi San Pio Ripasso 2012, $17.95, as rich and complex with layers of flavour, a big wine for the price.

At $24.95, Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre 2011 is an exceptional example of a wine featuring the dried grape technique –Natalie MacLean describes it as “smooth and mouth-filling on the palate with black fruit and smoke on a long finish.”

While the whites are relatively sparse, two may appeal – Napa Valley’s Havens Reserve Chardonnay 2013 at $24.95 will deliver loads of rich tropical fruit, while New Zealand’s Forrest The Doctor’s Sauvignon Blanc 2013, $19.95, carries tons of this Varietal’s much admired citrus fruit flavour and begs for pairings with seafood.

If you miss out on the H3 Cab from Columbia Crest, re-group and try for their Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, $17.95, which the Wine Spectator calls “polished, plush, and vibrant” with “hints of sweet spices and cream” – 90.

From France, Gèrard Bertrand Fitou 2011, $17.95, a typical blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache, carries great fruit and the herbal influences known as garrigue, in this case lavendar and bay according to the Wine Enthusiast which identified all kinds of yummy flavours and scored it 92.

We can breathe a sigh of relief with this abundance of good wine – but we mustn’t forget to buy and drink them!

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