Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Argentina's Bonarda Making a Comeback

Argentina means Malbec, right? For many people that is the logical and most accurate perception. But long before Malbec became the rage, Bonarda was the grape of choice in that South American country.

I’ve written many times about Malbec as a great introduction to new varietals and also written about Malbec as one of Argentina’s best-known exports. But it might surprise many to know there is nearly the same amount of Bonarda planted in Argentina as Malbec.

Bonarda has been a staple in Argentina’s wine industry for years, used mostly in blending and for table wines. It is believed the grape came originally from Northern Italy’s Piedmont region. One school of thought was that Bonarda was California’s Charbono but that theory has been dismissed.

There is another faction that believes the grape comes from Savoie, France. But whether it genetically got its start in Italy or France, it’s definitely known as Argentine today.

The wines are easy to drink, fruity and very inexpensive. They have a bright and fresh texture with just enough acidity and even a little pepper. In most cases you’ll get really rich flavor along the lines of raspberries and other dark fruit from this deep purple juice.

The wine is easy to drink and good with grilled meat and red sauces.
A little research shows the grape is frequently described as the “workhorse” grape. It demands heat and sunshine, provides big yields, and is usually less expensive than Malbec.

It’s all over the internet that many of Argentina’s winemakers are taking a second look. Malbec has really taken the world by storm over the last decade. Could Bonarda be next?

I first discovered Bonarda at a wine bar in San Francisco in 2006 and have searched for great ones since. It seems in recent months more Bonarda is turning up in Central Indiana wine shops.

It’s pretty easy to find a Malbec/Bonarda blend. There will even be a little Syrah thrown into some bottlings. It’s tougher to find the 100 percent Bonardas but worth the effort.

I like the wine’s richness, acidity, and it has a certain earthy or smoky characteristic that many wine drinkers will find enjoyable.

Besides my pick-of-the-week below, here are a few names of reliable Bonarda producers: Familia Zuccardi, Altos, Alamos, Argento, Caligiore, Sur de los Andes.

Howard’s Pick:
Durigutti 2007 Bonarda
– This is one of the best Bonardas I’ve found since that first one in San Francisco. It has a big, earthy nose of dark fruit. I picked up a little plum and it has an astringency I like in red wine. Although I paid $14 for this at an Indiana shop, the wine is widely advertised for as low as $10-$11.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Many Great Wine Choices for Steak

If you love summer grilling and struggle with a good wine pairing you’re not alone. Too many people fall back to the classic Cabernet Sauvignon or maybe Merlot when there’s beef on the barbeque.

I love a powerful Cabernet with a charred piece of beef tenderloin anytime of the year but many palates aren’t accustomed to the tannins and dryness of a big Cab. Perhaps you’re trying something new on the grill or just want something different.

There are lots of options and it’s fun to pair a familiar food like steak to a new wine. I think that’s a great way to find something you’ll really like.

Argentina is the great beef-producing country and if you have a steak there you’ll be served Malbec. I think Malbecs are a logical match for about any grilled steak. Malbec is almost always lower in alcohol than Cabernet too. The Malbec is going to be smoother, probably less tannic, and a great match for most beef.

How about thinking outside the box with tonight’s steak? If dinner was going to be a red-sauce pasta dish you’d probably reach for an Italian Chianti. If you’re putting a red barbeque sauce on beef ribs why not pair it with the Italian classic wine?

If you like to really coat your grilled beef with cracked black pepper and make a spicy steak, then a peppery California Zinfandel makes a lot of sense with its big fruit forward characteristics and spicy finish. Another alternative for those who shy away from big wines would be a jammy Australian Shiraz.

If the steak flavor is big, try an earthy Cotes du Rhone wine from France. If it’s a special occasion and your budget allows, go all out and serve an earthy but bigger Chateanuneuf-du-Pape from the Rhone. CdP wines were all the rage a few years ago but they’re not cheap. Entry point for a good one will start in the $35 range.

But there are lots of great Cotes du Rhone wines at reasonable prices. My top wine of 2009 was a $12 Patric Lesec Bouquet bottling from the Cotes du Rhone region that would be really good with grilled beef.

If your dinner guests are big Pinot Noir fans, yes Pinot can work with beef, use a Pinot Noir you know. The California Russian River Valley Pinots and some from the Monterrey area tend to be big wines that will hold up.

Traditional Burgundy and Oregon Pinot Noir made in a more delicate style are probably going to be a better pairing for a lighter grilled meat - think lamb!

And if your beef is hamburger don’t think the beverage has to be beer. Frankly, a grilled burger may give you the greatest flexibility to match a great wine. Hamburger and Cabernet will work just fine! A mild Italian Valpolicella would make great sense with a burger. If you want something even lighter, especially if you don’t know your guests’ tastes, try a French Beaujolais or South Africa’s Pinotage.

Howard’s Picks:
Alamos 2007 Seleccion Malbec
– This is one of the best Malbecs I’ve had under $20. It has rich flavor and intensity you just don’t get in most value wines. It’s deep purple with hints of caramel and cherry. You can find it in bigger wine retail outlets for $16-$20.

Follow Along: I’ll be traveling Michigan’s wine country July 13-16 and blogging daily about the wineries and experience. Most of the visit will concentrate on the beautiful Leelanau County area in northwestern Michigan. Follow along on my blog - Grape Sense - A Glass Half Full.