Bonarda from Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Cuyo Region, Argentina
13.9% alcohol by volume
Purchased: 12 July 2017 – $19.99
Opened: 8 September 2017
James Suckling: 93
Natalie Maclean: 90
Wine Align: 86
Wine Enthusiast: 82
Argentina is the world’s 6th largest producer of wine by volume, just behind the US and ahead of Australia. It produces about 6% of the world’s total wine. The country has in excess of 500,000 acres planted in grapes. Red grapes account for about 55% of the total grown in the country with rose and whites accounting for the rest. The country grows more than 100 varietals of grapes but the 6 main ones make up almost half of the total acreage planted. Four varietals account for 79% of all red grapes planted and 42% of the total for all red, white, and rose grapes: Malbec 36% total/20% red, Bonarda 17%/9%, Cabernet Sauvignon 14%/7%, and Syrah 11%/6%. Two varietals account for 35% of all white grapes planted or 7% of the total of all grapes: Torrontes Riojano 20% white/4% total and Chardonnay 15%/3%. Argentina has 4 main wine-producing regions: Atlantic, Cuyo, North, and Patagonia. Cuyo is the largest and most important wine-producing, macroeconomic region in central Argentina and includes the wine sub-regions of La Rioja, Mendoza, and San Juan; with Mendoza being the largest of the 3 by area, population, GDP, and wine production.
Argentina was the first South American country attempting to grow vines, beginning in Mendoza in the early 1800s. The initial plantings came from the Bordeaux region of France, including the ubiquitous Malbec. Eventually, Mendoza was producing world-class Malbec wines, on par or superior to those produced in France, mainly due to its high elevations in the foothills of the Andes, well-drained soils, and lots and lots of hot sunshine. Today the country produces 75% of the world’s Malbec. The country’s 2nd most planted grape, on 47,000 acres, is Bonarda, aka Douce Noir, Corbeau, and Charbono accounting for almost all of the world’s total acreage.
Cuyo Region, in the western Andes foothills of central Argentina is the country’s main wine-producing area that includes the provinces of San Juan, San Luis, Mendoza, and La Rioja. The region covers a 450 miles, north to south, from the village of San Blas de los Sauces in the north to the small city of General Alvear in the south. The region accounts for almost 80% of country’s wine production. The area is one of the driest wine-producing areas of the world requiring some form of irrigation for the all the vineyards.
The Mendoza region, lapping up onto the eastern foothills of the youthful Andes, is the largest wine-producing area in all of Argentina, accounting for 65-75% of the country’s total. A third of the country’s vineyards are dedicated to Malbec with Mendoza also producing the lion’s share of that variety. The region’s vineyards range from 1600-5600′ above sea level. The Mendoza wine region is partitioned into another 5 sub-areas: Central Oasis, East Mendoza, North Mendoza, South Mendoza, and Uco Valley.
The Uco Valley, striking in a north-south direction, just east and parallel to the Andes Mountains, is 45 miles long and about 15 miles wide on average. The northern edge of valley is situated at the small town of San Jose and the southern limit is anchored by the tiny village of El Cepillo. The valley is crossed by the braided Tunuyan and Tupungato Rivers, sourced from the snow packs high in the Andes Mountains. There are over 60,000 acres of vineyards ranging from 2800-5600′ above sea level in the sub-region. The main varietals grown are Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Malbec accounts for almost 45% of all acreage planted. Soils throughout the Uco Valley are alluvial and consist of a rocky, clayey sub-soil overlain by a stony, sandy surface. The soils are immature, infertile, and well-drained; perfect for growing grapes. The dry valley sits in the rain shadow of the mountains requiring irrigation for the vineyards. Growing season temperatures range from 50-85°F with rainfall averages of 1-3.75″ per month.
Tupungato is located in the northern third of the Uco Valley, in the shadow of the Tupungato volcano and about 40 miles south of Mendoza. About a third of the acreage is devoted to vineyards with Malbec and Chardonnay the undisputed kings of the area. The soils are immature, stony and well-drained. Growing season temperatures range from 50-85°F with rainfall ranging from 0.5-1.33″ per month.
Bonarda, also known as Douce Noir, Corbeau, and Charbono, is the country’s 2nd most planted grape. It is planted on more than 47,000 acres which is more than 99% of the world-wide total. The grape is thought to have originated in northern Italy along the Po River valley 3000 years ago, first planted by the Etruscans and brought to Argentina by Italian immigrants. It is a thick-skinned, medium-sized blueish-black grape producing a deep red wine high in tannins. It has aromas of black fruit, plums, and anise. A full-bodied wine with great structure and long aging potential.
Ricardo Santos, owner of the Norton Winery, was the first producer in Argentina to export Malbec wines to the US in 1972. Santos sold this winery in 1989 and purchased vineyards around Mendoza, Maipu and Russell. The Ricardo Santos Bodega and Vineyards, today run by Ricardo’s sons, Patricio and Pedro Santos, has its winery located just south of Mendoza in Russell, Maipu. The winery was built in 2005 and has a capacity 700,000 liters or 185,000 gallons per year. Its air-conditioned cellars accommodate 300 oak barrels. The winery produces 5 reds and 1 white under two labels: Ricardo Santos and Tercos.
Tercos was developed by Pedro and Patricio Santos. The wine’s iconic, humorous and possibly triple entendre wine label of 4-donkeys in 3-piece suits is suggestive of a play on the word stubborn, the literal Spanish to English translation of Tercos, insinuating the difficulty of producing a superb wine from the local dry and poor volcanic-alluvial soils, and finally, they may be donkeys, but they dress up rather nicely.
The Bonarda grape is grown at their Finca La Pitonisa vineyard, or in English, the Witch Estate, which is in the evening shadows of the inactive Andean stratovolcano Tupungato towering another 17,799′ over the 3600′ above sea level vineyards. The volcano contributes to the silica rich, sandy loams of vineyard soils, containing various amounts of aluminum, calcium, sodium, magnesium, zinc and iron which augment the flavors and body of this wine. The vines were planted between 1977 and 1990 placing them mostly into the old vine category of lower yield but concentrated grapes. The grapes for the 2015 vintage were harvested in the 3rd week of April.
The grapes were picked, crushed and fermented in stainless steel tanks for 23 days at 77°F. In December the wine was transferred to 15,000 3/4 liter bottles.
This is a satisfying wine with a pleasing, dark ruby-red to violet color. The aroma is easy with berries, plums and raisins in the forefront with a hint of cloves and spice. The taste is very smooth all around and the balanced finish lasts well into your next sip.
Bonarda compliments so many dishes and entrees, but I usually take a simple path and prepare a plate of thinly sliced sausages such as hard salami and summer sausage with some mild cheddar. Toss in a handful of salted cashews and seedless grapes and you’re all set. Bon appetit.
An outstanding wine at a great price. Drink this year but it’s likely good until 2025. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.