When Italy Meets Argentina, Who Wins?: Finca El Reposo Bonarda

argYou’d think that every North American wine drinker would be very familiar with the fifth-largest wine producing country in the world. That would be Argentina, by the way, where people consume boatloads of red meat, red meat, wine, bread, red meat and wine.

Argentina is a resource-rich country south of the Equator that used to produce oceans of inexpensive, “rustic” wine but has recently earned a reputation for producing world-class reds from the spectacular Mendoza region. I’ve written lots of posts about Argentine wines that I’ve loved, and you can click here to read them. Most of them are made from the Malbec grape, which originated in France but has found its best expression in Mendoza.

Today I’m writing about another European grape that’s taken root in South America. In fact until recently, it was the most widely planted grape variety in Argentina. I’m talking about Bonarda, which came to Argentina with immigrants from the Piedmont region of Italy.

If you know anything about Italy, you know that Piemonte is in the northwest of the country at the foot of the Alps, and has a relatively cool Continental climate. Mendoza sits in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, but the warmer temperatures allow the grape to ripen way past their Italian cousins.

So when I tasted Finca El Reposo Bonarda 2009, I didn’t know what to expect. When I uncorked and poured out this wine, I saw intense and opaque purple color. I thought, “This thing isn’t messing around.” Then I smelled it, and got what I can only describe as a Petite Sirah nose. I got a sense of fleshy dark berries and wet wood.

The palate even started out like a Petite Sirah, with deep cranberry notes and a grippy, chewy texture. But it seemed like something was missing. After the initial burst of dense fruit, there was a hole where…something should have been. It left me thinking that this Bonarda grape may be a wonderful thing to include in a blend (as it no doubt was in Italy) but can’t “go it alone” as a varietal wine.

So I grabbed an open bottle of California Cabernet that was sitting on my counter, and poured some in a glass with my Argentine Bonarda. And it was great! The more austere Cab toned down the fleshy Bonarda and gave me a great wine to drink with my dinner. I hate to tell a whole country how to make their wine, but I’d vote for using Bonarda as a blending grape




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