When a Bordeaux grape and South American terroir tumbled into passionate embrace, Argentinean vintners gave birth to an international legit hit in malbec.

Now Argentines are at work on a second world brand varietal, hoping to avoid anguish afflicting Australian winemakers who soared with shiraz, then crashed when the market turned (yellow) tail and bounded off to next big things. Argentine malbecs, for instance.

Argentina’s winemakers proffer their second-most planted grape, what they call bonarda. The grape makes a smooth, soft tannin red wine with blueberry, cherry, plum notes. A kinder, gentler pour than malbec. Maybe the next merlot.

Most bonarda production is consumed by Argentines, South America’s biggest wine drinkers. Selling beyond borders requires educating others, particularly Americans who purchase one-third of Argentina’s production.

Several grapes in Italy are called bonarda, but genetic tests indicate those are not grapes grown in Argentina. Most likely Argentina’s called bonarda is a grape called corbeau in France and charbono in California.

Argentines stuck with “bonarda”—a homage to strong Italian roots in Argentina in general and Argentinean wine production in particular—rather than bow to horticultural accuracy.

Give Argentina credit. Bonarda’s target price is between $10 and $20—the sweet spot for U.S. wine sales. They offer blends of malbec and bonarda to lure the demurely adventurous. And they are working their distribution chain to include some bonarda in container ships glutted with malbec.

If not there now, bonarda soon will appear at a wine shop near you. Worth a try.


• Finca La Linda Bonarda 2006. Minty, raisiny nose; smoky cooked fruit, plum, some mocha, blackberry; will not appeal to everyone, worth a try for the price; decant for best enjoyment. $11

• Durigutti Bonarda 2008. Dark fruit, plum, chocolate, mint hint; full body, silky smooth, soft tannin; simple, easy drinking pleasure giver. $15

• La Posta del Viñatero Estela Armando Bonarda 2009. Black fruits forward, plum; smoky oaky; coffee, chocolate, mint, pinch of pepper; rich, smooth, no edges. $19