Italian Indigenous Varieties: Bonarda Who Are You?

Bonarda is one of those Italian varieties that you assume you know well, have had, feel somewhat benign towards but yet wouldn’t go out of your way to try it again. Why is that I asked myself? First of all, because we have been confusing Bonarda from Piedmont with many other grapes and I know I am not alone in this.

People often mistake Croatina for Bonarda. Croatina is from the Oltrepo’ Pavese in Lombardy not from Piedmont. Then there’s Uva Rara which is often called Bonarda but is not the same varietal and is also from the Oltrepo’ not Piedmont. Lastly, all that Bonarda grown in Argentina and California is actually not related to the one from Piedmont but is its’ own grape variety, Charbono.

Therefore, who is the real Bonarda? A grape I have seldom met on its’ own. Bonarda, in fact, is usually used as a blending grape in the great wine of Gattinara DOCG in Piedmont to soften Nebbiolo. It also has its own DOC but you rarely see it in the States. In fact, I couldn’t find one Bonarda listed from Italy.

Most Bonarda has been grubbed up in Piedmont. When you do taste Bonarda, you will see that it is a bit sweet and soft and brings lots of color to a wine. This makes it a good date for Nebbiolo. The most well-known Gattinara producer, Travaglini, doesn’t use Bonarda in their DOCG wines but some producers do use it. By law, they can add up to 10% of Bonarda and Vespolina. This miscast grape may still not be at the front of your minds but we should at least get its’ name right. I know I hate when people call me Susan or Suzanne why shouldn’t the real Bonarda get its day in the sun too:).

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