Tuesday, March 29, 2005

29 March 2005 - Bonarda = Confusion

The confusion about Bonarda started a year ago and just when I thought I got it, I just got more confused. The story involves at least five different grape varieties -- all of which might be called Bonarda -- and at least four countries.

Where to start? At the beginning. Before phylloxera wiped out most of Europe's vineyards in the late 19th century, 30% of the vineyard land in Italy's Piedmont was planted to Bonarda Piemontese. Today it is virtually nonexistent. But what about all that Bonarda planted in Oltrepo Pavese, just across the southeastern border of Piemonte in Lombardia? Turns out that grape isn't Bonarda at all, but is actually a variety called Croatina.

And what about the Bonarda which is one of the two (Malbec being the other) most widely planted grapes in Argentina? Various experts, including Jancis Robinson, are sure it's not Bonarda. Some say it is in fact Croatina; according to Robinson however, most ampelographers think Argentina's Bonarda is the same grape as California's Charbono. Charbono is believed to be the French Savoie's Corbeau, aka Charbonneau, which is also known as Douce Noire. Douce Noir is, according to Galet (via Jancis Robinson again), identical to Dolcetto. Whoa, back to the Piemonte, by way of Argentina, the USA and France!

So, let's see, we've got:
Bonarda Piemontese -- virtually extinct, but still grown in the Piemonte.
Croatina -- thriving in Oltrepo Pavese, where it is called Bonarda, and perhaps, in Argentina.
Charbono -- aka Corbeau, Charbonneau, Douce Noire, tiny quantities in California, virtually extinct in France.
Dolcetto -- thriving in the Piemonte.
Bonarda -- What makes this exercise worth the effort is the wine. Whatever its actual identity, its true origin, I've tasted a few remarkable wines that claim Bonarda as the grape. Look for Martilde or Riccardo Albani from the Oltrepo Pavese, Tikal or Susanna Balbo in Argentina. These Argentine examples remind me more of Bonarda as Croatina than Bonarda as Charbono. Still confused? Have a glass of wine, relax, enjoy the ride wherever it may take you.


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