Most people are familiar with Argentinian wines made from the Malbec grape. Did you know that the second-most-planted grape in Argentina is Bonarda? The grape was brought to Argentina in the 19th century and was thought to be the Bonarda del Piedmont grape, from Italy. DNA studies in 2009 changed that thought, when it was discovered that the Bonarda in Argentina is actually the Corbeau Noir—a grape from Savoie in the French Alps. The name Argentina was placed behind the name Bonarda, to differentiate it from the Italian variety of the same name. Other synonyms for Bonarda, in addition to Corbeau Noir, include Charbono and Douce Noir.
The Bonarda grape is late-ripening, and for comparison, it even ripens after Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes are thick-skinned, with high levels of phenolic compounds, which are those that provide wines its color and flavor. Those high phenolics require heat to get appropriately ripe. There are over 46,000 acres of Bonarda in Argentina, which represents eight percent of the country’s vineyard plantings.
Bonarda is also grown in California, with some vines over 70 years of age. The grape goes by the name Charbono here, but had been mistaken and labeled as Barbera, and even Pinot Noir. In the 1930s, it became bottled as Charbono, and in 1999, the University of California Davis linked Charbono to Bonarda (Douce Noir, Corbeau Noir).
Wines made from Bonarda are quite fruity, with aromas of black cherry, blueberries, plum, figs, violets, allspice, and Chinese 5-spice. Most wines from this grape are unoaked. If they are oaked, they will have slight notes of cigar box and cocoa. On the palate, Bonarda brings a big pop of fruitiness, along with bright acidity, medium body, and smooth tannins. Despite having a bit lower tannin levels, the wines can age, due to the moderate-to-high level of acidity.
With fairly low tannins and high acidity, Bonarda is a great wine for pairing with food. It can be paired with chicken, pork, beef, and meaty fish, like salmon. Its tendency to display spices on the palate make it a great wine to pair with flavors like teriyaki, hoisin, barbeque sauce, as well as pineapple and mango, or even a pineapple-mango relish. Bonarda wines also pair well with Italian foods, like spaghetti with meat sauce, and pizza.