Tasting No 253 – May 30, 2023 – Beyond Malbec: other wines with deep-rooted Argentinian identity

Tasting No 253 – May 30/2023 – Beyond Malbec: other wines with deep-rooted Argentinian identity

           Capri Ristorante, McLean VA

Torrontes vineyard, Salta

Bonarda vineyard, Mendonza

  1. Tasting Overview

In Argentina, while all the usual suspects are well known (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc etc.), there are a few lesser-known varieties that have taken on a uniquely Argentinian identity. The main objective of this tasting therefore is to explore wines made with these special grapes: the white Torrontés and the red Bonarda.

Type of tasting: Open

Presenters: Claudia and Agilson Perazza

Participants: (to be recorded after the meeting)

These are the wines:

  • Susana Balbo, ‘Torrontés Crios’, Salta, 2019
  • Altos Las Hormigas ‘Colonia Las Liebres’ Bonarda, Mendoza, 2020
  • Familia Zuccardi ‘Emma Zuccardi Bonarda’, Mendoza, 2019
  • Bodega Aleanna ‘El Enemigo Bonarda’, Mendoza, 2018

The Menu

  • Seafood salad
  • Agnolotti di ricotta with tomato sauce
  • Lamb with rosemary and potatoes
  • Dessert, coffee, tea


  1. The grape varietals and the regions that produce them


“Malbec may be more popular, but Torrontés is Argentina’s special grape” (M. Puckette@Wine Folly)

Torrontés is an aromatic white wine that originated in Argentina. The only native grape variety in South America to really woo its drinkers, Torrontés is the Queen of Argentina.

Torrontés involves a group of three distinct varieties – Torrontés Riojano, Torrontés Sanjuanino and Torrontés Mendocino – all native to South America. They are a natural cross between the mission grape País (a red grape) and the sweet Muscat of Alexandria grape (also known as Zibbibo), and first appeared in the north of Argentina. Of the three varieties, the most popular (and most delicious) is the Torrontés Riojano, which grows dominantly in northern Salta. Other regions such as Mendoza and La Rioja produce a lot of Torrontés wines using the other two varieties of Torrontés, but these tend to be much simpler in aroma and taste and often made in a sweet style. The wine smells sweet but is usually made in a dry style. Albariño and dry styles of Riesling and Muscat Blanc (dry “Moscatel” from Portugal) are similar in aroma and taste to Torrontés.

The Torrontés thrive in Argentina’s high-altitude vineyards, particularly in the Cafayate region of Salta, where T. Riojano is grown. This region, on the edge of the Andes, boasts some of the highest vineyards in the world, reaching up to around 10,000 feet (3,000m) above sea level. Here, dry, desert-like conditions and a significant diurnal temperature shift help bring out the best qualities of Torrontés. The soils in Cafayate consist mostly of free-draining chalky loam and in some areas can be quite rocky. The dry soil causes stress in the vines which causes them to produce less vegetation and not as many grapes. As there are fewer grapes, it means the concentration of flavors within the grapes rises. New plantations in the higher parts of the Uco Valley in Mendoza are promising too.

Tasting notes: Color: pale straw color with silver and green highlights. Primary flavors: Meyer lemon; peach; rose petal; geranium; and citrus zest. “A perfume bomb in the nose, Torrontés is locally known as “the liar”, as its floral, fruity, and tropical notes trick you into thinking you might have a sweet wine, but the mouth is, to the contrary, bone dry and occasionally a little bitter. If you want a sweeter finish, try one of the late harvests (sweet wine) versions. When made well, it’s like the vinous equivalent of a gin and tonic!” (A. Barnes, Wine Folly).

Food pairing notes: Torrontés is an excellent match with fish and shellfish, as well as with the regional cuisine of the northwestern Argentina, especially the empanadas and the typical Locro argentino. Even though Torrontés smells sweet, it’s usually quite dry, making it a great match with savory dishes that feature exotic spices, fruit, and aromatic herbs. With its light aromatic style and cool serving temperature, it is an ideal wine to match with Asian and Indian cuisine due to its sweet floral aromas of rose petals and flavors of white peach and lemon zest.

BONARDA aka Charbono, Corbeau, Douce Noir…

Emblematic variety of Argentina

Bonarda is a stealthy red wine option from Argentina that many experts think is going to make a big splash in the coming years. If País was the most-planted red variety in Chile, Argentina’s equivalent would be Bonarda. Bonarda was the most widely planted red grape before the Malbec boom and suffered a similar historical treatment as País: downgraded to table wine and abandoned as it lost out on the fashion stakes.

About the grape: Bonarda, as it is called in Argentina, is not supposed to be called Bonarda: the actual true Bonarda grapes are a group of at least six distinct Italian grape varieties, the most well-known of them being Bonarda Piemontese.

Instead, the Argentinian grape, when was DNA-profiled, was found to be identical to a rare grape from the alpine vineyards of Savoie in eastern France, known as Douce Noir or Corbeau de Savoie, which is also found in old vineyards in Napa, under the name Charbono.

The Bonarda/Charbono grape is believed to have originated in the Savoie region in the 18th century, when the Savoie was in fact under Italian rule, rather than being part of France as it is today. The grape became a much-maligned variety during the 20th century and almost disappeared in France. In 1958 it was prohibited in France, and all 500 hectares of the Bonarda vines were pulled out, while it was being planted widely in Argentina.

Bonarda is very important viticulturally in Argentina, where it is second only to Malbec in terms of acreage. In all, Bonarda accounts for over 18,000 hectares (45,000 acres) in the country, representing nearly 10 percent of all grapes grown there. Bonarda has been used to make fruity, medium-bodied bulk wines with low tannins. However, more recently some producers began looking more seriously at Bonarda, discovering its great potential as a varietal, especially for its adaptability to warmer areas, and using site selection and winemaking techniques to make more interesting and premium wines. Of the total cultivated in Argentina, 60% is found in Eastern Mendoza, a warm area located at about 700-800 meters above sea level, where it does best, because of its long hang time required to reach phenolic maturation.

How does Bonarda differ from Malbec? Often considered Malbec’s little brother, while Bonarda displays ample color in the glass, just like Malbec, it delivers lower tannins and slightly higher, more juicy-tasting acidity. Most Bonarda wines are made with little to no oak, and rarely carries alcohol above 13.5% ABV.

Tasting notes: Color: deep ruby to deep purple. On the nose: very fruity on the nose at first; notes of black cherry compote, fresh blueberry, and plum. Then, its complexity evolves, giving off nuanced aromas of violets, 5-spice, allspice, and peonies. If the wine was oaked (though most are not), may have slight smoky notes of cigar box, sweet figs, and chocolate. On the palate: initial burst of fruitiness, medium-body, juicy acidity, and smooth, low-tannin finish. The Bonarda wines fall within three styles:

Traditional Bonarda: Historically pipped as Malbec’s little brother, they are vinified in the same way. More traditional Bonarda wines are fruit-forward coming from warmer regions. Key regions are San Juan, La Rioja, and sub-regions San Rafael and Rivadavia in Mendoza.

Fresh, flirty Bonarda: Treated with shorter maceration periods and some whole cluster carbonic maceration, this new clan of Bonarda are lighter, fruitier, and perfect to enjoy chilled over lunch. Key areas are Luján de Cuyo (sub-regions of Vistalba and Ugarteche) and Tupungato, in the Mendoza region.

Serious Bonarda:  In recent years, you will find a few new Bonarda plantations popping up on prime vine-estate in the highlands of the Uco Valley in Argentina, which proves just how seriously winemakers are once again taking the variety. Delving into the potential quality of Bonarda, these wines do not come cheap, but they do not taste cheap either. Most producers skip the oak and age wines in cement eggs, resulting in more linear, dark fruit and floral Bonarda with finesse. Key region is Uco Valley, Mendoza.

Pairing notes: Bonarda is a remarkably diverse food pairing wine because of its lower tannin and higher acidity. It will go well with chicken, beef, pork, and even a more steak-like fish (e.g., grilled salmon steaks with hoisin BBQ). Because of its subtle brown spice flavors, it will also pair well with flavors from the South Pacific (think pineapple, mango, teriyaki etc.). Locally inspired fares include mole sauces, curried potatoes, empanadas, and tacos al pastor.

  1. Information on the Wines

Wine #1 – Susana Balbo, ‘Torrontés Crios’, Salta, 2019

– The Producer: Dominio del Plata is an Argentinian wine company founded and owned by leading winemaker Susana Balbo since 1999. The winery is located in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, with vineyard plots in several subregions of the Uco Valley. The Crios label features a wide range of monovarietal and blended wines for everyday consumption, including a Malbec rosé. The winery mainly ferments the wine in stainless steel tanks, though concrete eggs have been introduced for premium wines. The Torrontés grapes are sourced from Cafayate, Salta, and the highest vineyards in Valle de Uco, Mendoza.

– The wine: this wine is crisp, refreshing and aromatic, with a bouquet of citrus fruits, passion fruit, lychee, and white flowers. Lively acidity, a hint of creaminess and a long mineral finish add depth and balance to the palate.

  • Vintage: 2019
  • Varietal: 100% Torrontés
  • Regions: Cafayate (Salta) and Uco Valley (Mendoza); 1700m average elevation
  • Hand-harvested
  • Vinification: fermentation in stainless steel tanks at 13oC max. with selected yeasts; conservation over lees for 3 months to improve wine structure.
  • Alcohol: 13%
  • Ratings: 90 pts. (Patricio Tapia Descorchados; Tim Atkin); 88 pts. (Cellar Tracker)

Tasting notes: “This wine blends grapes from two origins: Altamira in the Uco Valley (Mendoza), and Cafayate (Salta). According to Susana Balbo, the Altamira vineyard contributes with the herbs and citrusy side, while Cafayate’s adds the ripe white fruit aromas. The result is a tremendously fresh wine (something you often don’t find in this variety) that hasn’t lost its varietal character. The texture is smooth and round. An aperitif wine” (Patricio Tapia @ Descorchados).

Classic Bonarda: Bonarda wine to get to grips with the grape.

Wine #2 – Altos Las Hormigas ‘Colonia Las Liebres’ Bonarda, 2021


The producer: The sister brand of Altos Las Hormigas winery, Colonia Las Liebres was established in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza to focus solely on the cultivation of Bonarda grapes and was one of the original makers of export-quality single-varietal Bonarda. It makes fresh, juicy and great value Bonarda reds, as well as an excellent traditional method rosé bubbly, and even a sparkling red (named Brusca, in ode to its Italian inspiration).

The Wine. The winery defines their approachable and very affordable red Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Clásica as a bistro or trattoria wine. The ‘house style’ is to keep moderate alcohol and good freshness. It is a good example of the fresher, fruitier Bonarda produced in the region.  Ideal to pair with pasta Pomodoro dishes, pizza and light meats.

  • Vintage: 2021
  • Varietal: 100% Bonarda
  • Region: Mendoza; 90% organic grapes from Luján de Cuyo and 10% grapes from their new property Jardín de Altamira in the Uco Valley, where the limestone soils and higher altitude add tension to the wine even in a warmer year.
  • Fermented for 10 days in 3,000-liter stainless steel vats with indigenous yeasts, with daily rack-and-return for gentle extraction.
  • Matured in concrete tanks with no oak treatment.
  • Alcohol: 13.1%.
  • Ratings: 90 pts (Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate); 91 pts (Patricio Tapia – Descorchados); 90 pts. (Tim Atkin).

Tasting notes: “This is a classic in the Altos Las Hormigas catalog and has been made since the early 2000s. The grapes come from old vines in Luján de Cuyo and some grapes from estate-owned vineyards in Paraje Altamira in southern Uco Valley. It’s a juicy Bonarda with firm and friendly tannins and tones of black fruit in jam (as is usual in the variety) but accompanied by refreshing acidity that invites you to keep on drinking.” (Patricio Tapia).


Bonarda with Bite: Serious Bonarda wines for a different expression

Wine #3. Bodega Aleanna ‘El Enemigo Bonarda’, 2018

The Producer. El Enemigo is a cult wine producer based in Mendoza. The estate is a joint venture by Adrianna Catena and Alejandro Vigil, the chief winemaker at Bodega Catena Zapata since 2002. The pair created El Enemigo and the “Bodega Aleanna” in 2007. The estate focuses on traditional winemaking techniques and produces two wine ranges: Gran Enemigo and El Enemigo. The El Enemigo range is devoted to varietal wines made from Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Bonarda and Chardonnay, while the Gran Enemigo range includes Bordeaux blends, and a number of single vineyard Cabernet Franc wines.

The Wine: This Bonarda is a tribute to old Bonarda wines of the Eastern Mendoza, a wine made in a traditional Mendoza style. This wine shows a deep violet color with bluish reflections. The nose is intense and complex. Intense aromas of ripe black fruit, blackberries, raspberries, black cherries, chocolate and liquor, with some spicy notes of fresh herbs provided by the Cabernet Franc. The taste has a sweet impact with silky tannins and aromas of ripe black and red fruits with notes of licorice and vanilla. Its natural acidity is refreshing. Because of its concentration and complexity, the finish is long and persistent.

  • Vintage: 2018
  • Composition: 85% Charbono (Bonarda; 15% Cabernet Franc.
  • Region/vineyards: El Mirador, Rivadavia (Bonarda); Gualtallary, Tupungato (C. Franc).
  • Vinification: 15 days-fermentation with wild yeast, max. temp. 28oC for 15 days, with 25 days maceration in French oak barrels 2nd and 3rd
  • Aged 15 months in 100-year-old foudres.
  • Alcohol: 13.5%
  • Ratings: 92 pts. (Wine Spectator); 91 pts. (Tim Atkin); 92 pts. (Jésica Vargas @Wine Enthusiast); 88 pts. (Decanter World Wine Awards).

Tasting notes: An intense and spiky Bonarda. Super aromatic and a more challenging, but fun, mouth feel that is blended with a dash of Cabernet Franc. “The bouquet of this well-crafted wine is loaded with flowers, rosemary, strawberry and cherry aromas. Medium in weight, it delivers plenty of red fruit flavors with a touch of spice and toasted oak. Silky tannins and nice acidity make the wine very enjoyable. It’s a good and delicious example of what Bonarda wines can offer”. (Jésica Vargas @ Wine Enthusiast).


Wine #4 – Familia Zuccardi, ‘Emma Zuccardi Bonarda’, Mendoza, 2019

The Producer: Familia Zuccardi is a family-run winery based out of the Bodega Santa Julia, built in 1968, in Mendoza by Alberto Zuccardi. The Familia Zuccardi bodega was established in 2013 in the Valle de Uco, by Alberto’s grandson, Sebastián. Today he leads a young team of agricultural engineers and enologists charged with producing the highest quality wines in the Uco Valley.

The wine: Emma Zuccardi is part of the bodega’s ‘winegrowers’ line of wines. Emma Zuccardi, Sebastián’s grandmother, is a charming and sophisticated woman. She is creative and has her own style. This wine is a tribute to her personality. “The 2019 Emma Zuccardi Bonarda was produced with grapes from the zones where they believe the variety behaves better, in this case in the Valle de Uco, more specifically San Pablo and Altamira, in approximately the same proportion. Fermented and matured in concrete and bottled unoaked, like many wines at Zuccardi, to preserve the varietal purity. It’s juicy and has citrus freshness, something 2019 might have in common with 2018, with very good finesse” (Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate).

  • Vintage: 2019
  • Variety: 100% Bonarda
  • Region: IG Paraje Altamira, Uco Valley; 1100 m ASL and IG San Pablo, Uco Valley, 1400 m ASL
  • Manual harvest
  • Vinification: spontaneous fermentation with native yeasts, maceration for 20-25 days followed by Malolactic fermentation.
  • Fermentation and aging in concrete vats.
  • Alcohol: 12.9 %
  • Ratings: 93 pts. (Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate); 95 pts. (Patricio Tapia, Descorchados); 94 pts. (Tim Atkin).

Winemaker notes: Red with black intense purplish tints. Very fresh, red and black fruit aromas reminiscent of strawberries, cherries, blueberries and raspberries. Silky, smooth and juicy entrance, with a lively acidity and elegant tannins that give a great structure.


  1. References


https://winefolly.com/; https://www.winesofargentina.org/en/provinces/salta;










  1. Club del Vino  Members Rating – TBA after the tasting


About Cecilio Augusto Berndsen

Information Technology, Management, Project Management and Public Administration are areas I am familiar with. I am also interested in photography, wine, sailing, politics, economics, and economic development.
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