It’s Baffling…Bonarda (and Friends)

Bonarda is baffling. One grape—Bonarda Piemontese—may be considered the Original Bonarda or the True Bonarda…and yet there are quite a few other distinctly different grapes that (at least sometimes) go by the same name. These include Croatina, Douce Noir, and Uva Rara. Let’s take a closer look and try to unravel the mystery of Bonarda.

Bonarda Piemontese: Native to Italy’s Piedmont region, Bonarda Piemontese has been linked with the area around Turin since the 1790s. This heritage suggests that Bonarda Piemontese is the Original Bonarda and most likely the first grape to use the moniker.

Bonarda Piemontese is very sparsely planted—the latest statistics count just 540 acres/218 ha planted in Piedmont. The grape—typically used in red blends—is specifically mentioned and allowed for use in a few of the appellations of northwest Piedmont, including Colli Tortonesi DOC and Pinerolese DOC. (Several other Piedmont appellations allow for the use of Bonarda; but the regulations are unclear as to which specific version of Bonarda is intended.)

According to the Vitis International Variety Catalogue (VIVC), Bonarda Piemontese has up to 14 synonyms; of these, the ones that make the most sense include Bonarda di Asti, Bonarda di Chieri, and Bonarda Nero. In red blends, it is appreciated for its color, freshness, and ability to add a bit of softness to a wine otherwise full of edgy (often Nebbiolo-derived) tannin. If you ever happen to stumble across a varietal Bonarda Piemontese, you could expect to find a smooth, soft-tasting wine with floral aromas and fresh, fruity flavors.

Croatina (Bonarda Rovescala): Croatina is a dark-skinned red grape believed to be native to the Oltrepò Pavese area of Lombardy. It is here—in this area named after the town of Pavia across the Po—that the Croatina grape is often referred to as Bonarda Rovescala (after the tiny town of Rovescala), or simply Bonarda.

The name Croatina means Croatian Girl, and for many years it was assumed that the grape was native to the Primorska Hrvatska (Coastal Region) of Croatia. While it would have been a short trip indeed from Croatia to Northern Italy, it is now considered doubtful that the grape originated in Croatia.

What is known is that there are currently close to 8,100 acres/3,300 ha of Croatina grown throughout Northern Italy, where it is known to produce richly hued (purple/blue), mildly tannic wines with aromas of red cherry, blackberry, raspberry, and sweet spices.

Croatina is allowed for use in more than a dozen AOCs across Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, and Veneto. These include Oltrepò Pavese DOC, Colli Tortonesi DOC, and Colline Novaresi DOC (among others). It is also used in the Bonarda dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC, which is required to contain a minimum of 85% Croatina.

Douce Noire (Bonarda Argentina): Douce Noire is a minor French grape, believed to be native to the Savoie Region and still planted in small amounts in this mountainous area of eastern France. In other parts of France, it is more commonly referred to as Corbeau (meaning crow, and likely referring to its dark black color).

Douce Noire is also planted—under the name Charbono—in some parts of California, particularly in Napa where it was once a specialty of the Inglenook Winery. It is believed that the grape was originally brought to California by Italian immigrants who may have introduced it as Charbonneau (a name once used in eastern France).

It is, however, Argentina where Douce Noire really shines; at last count there were over 46,000 acres/19,000 ha of Douce Noire planted in Argentina—mainly in Mendoza and San Juan. In Argentina— where it is known as (you guessed it) Bonarda—Douce Noire is used to produce red blends and fruity, easy-to-drink reds and rosés typically available at a good (value) price. It is unclear how the name Bonarda came to be used in Argentina, but it is likely that when it first arrived, the grape was thought to be of Italian origin. It has been suggested that the grape be referred to as Bonarda Argentina to avoid (further) confusion.

Uva Rara (Bonarda Novarese): Uva Rara is thought to be native to northern Italy (Piedmont and Lombardy), where it currently accounts for 1,500 acres/600 ha of vines. The name translates to rare grape and is believed to refer to the small number of grapes in each bunch rather than rarity in use.

Uva Rara is typically used in red wine blends; it can soften the tannic edge of Nebbiolo and add color and depth to wines based on Barbera or Croatina. You may find a splash of Uva Rara in the wines of the Ghemme DOCG, Gattinara DOCG, Lessona DOC, or Oltrepò Pavese DOC (among others). In addition, it is allowed for use as a varietal wine in the Colline Novaresi DOC

While you are on the lookout of these wines, be alert…you may experience a sighting of Bonarda. If you’ve read this far, you should be not at all surprised to learn that in these parts, Uva Rara is sometimes referred to as Bonarda; specifically, Bonarda Novarese.

TL/DR: Croatina, Douce Noir, and Uva Rara are sometimes referred to as Bonarda; however, they are all distinct grape varieties and not identical to nor related to Bonarda Piemontese.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Who ya gonna call? Those bastards!


Who are all these bastards? The Vitis International Variety Catalogue (VIVC) lists no less than 38 wine grape variety names that begin with some form of the term bastardo. These include Bastardo Branca, Bastaro do Douro, Bastardo dos Frades de Bolinio, Bastardos Saperavi, and Bastardo Castico. They are mostly red varieties (32/38 are red), and hail from many different countries—Spain, Portugal, France, Georgia, Ukraine, and South Africa.

Some of these 38 bastardos are synonyms for other, better-known grape varieties—such as Bastardo Espanhol = Tinta de Lisboa, Bastardo Negro = Alfrochiero, and Bastardo Nero = Graciano.

No less than five of our Bastardos—including Bastardo do Castello, Bastardo do Douro, and Bastardo Preto—are listed in the VIVC catalog as synonyms for Trousseau. Trousseau is also the name cross-referenced with the entry for Bastardo in Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and José Vouillamoz. So, with that ultra-impressive source, I am going to find out a bit more about this bastard by learning about the grape variety otherwise known as Trousseau.

Trousseau is a red grape variety and one of the two grapes indigenous to the Jura region of eastern France—the other is Poulsard, also a red variety.  Trousseau only occupies about 5% of the vineyard land in the Jura, but is authorized as a principal grape variety in many Jura appellations, including the Arbois, Crémant du Jura, Macvin du Jura, and Côtes du Jura AOCs.


Trousseau is planted in several regions across Spain, including Galicia and Asturias (where it may be known as Verdejo Negro). It is approved for use in the Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras DOs (under the name Merenzao), and is grown in other regions throughout the north of Spain as well.

Portugal has more than 3,000 acres/1,200 ha of Trousseau/Bastardo and as such is the leading country in terms of plantings. Much of Portugal’s Trousseau is grown in the Douro, where it is often found in field blends (mixed vineyards) and winds up being used in the production of Port. Plantings are also found in the Dão, Beiras, and on the island of Madeira. Bastardo is the typical name used for the grape in Portugal, and appears to be the birthplace of the colorful name.

Trousseau is early-budding, early-ripening, somewhat disease-prone, and susceptible to botrytis. It needs a lot of sunshine to fully ripen and can lack color intensity if under-ripe or over-cropped. As such, it’s a bit difficult in the vineyard.

When its good, Trousseau produces delightful wines with aromas of dark, red-and-black berries, orange peel, black pepper, fresh herbs, a hint of earthiness, and a distinct minerality. The grape can potentially reach high levels of sugar while retaining a crisp acidity and has been known to produce a flavorful rosé.

We may never know who the original bastardo was. According to Jancis Robinson, et al, in Wine Grapes, the name was first recorded long ago—in 1531, to be exact,—in a treatise entitled Description of the Terroir Around Lamego written by Portuguese a writer named Rui Fernandes.


Fun facts about Trousseau:

  • The name Trousseau may be a reference to the Old French word trusse, meaning “a bundle;” it could be said that the grapes appear “bundled up.” Or…it may be a reference to the French word troussé, meaning “trussed;” this could be a reference to the shape of the bunches.
  • Trousseau is not the same grape as Tressot—a red grape from France’s Yonne department—even though they are often confused (and despite the similarity of the names).
  • A white (pink-skinned) mutation of Trousseau known as Trousseau Gris is grown in a few areas—mostly in the Jura region of France—and was known, once-upon-a-time in California, as Gray Riesling.
  • In the New World, Trousseau has recently been identified in an old vineyard in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley AVA. Several wine growers in Oregon—in the Umpqua and Willamette Valley AVAs—have begun planting it as well.

References/for more information: 

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Five Fast Facts about Mencía


Mencía is a red grape variety, mainly grown in northern Spain with additional plantings in central Portugal. It is known for producing nicely acidic, moderately tannic red wines.

If that is all that you know about Mencía, you are doing pretty well! However, if you’d like to learn a few more fascinating facts about Mencía, please read on!

#1: It is pronounced “Men-thee-ah.”

#2: It was once thought that Mencía was the same grape as—or closely related to—Cabernet Franc. However, modern DNA testing has proven that Mencía and Cabernet Franc are not particularly closely related. Mencía is, however, identical to a Portuguese grape known as Jaen—aka Jaen du Dão. It is possible that Mencía is native to the north of Spain and spread from there to Portugal’s Dão Region—perhaps via pilgrims trekking home from Santiago de Compostela. However, it is also possible that it originated in the Dão and later made its way to Spain.


#3: These days, Mencía is best-known as the main grape of Spain’s Bierzo DO (located in the region of Castilla y León), where it accounts for nearly 75% of the vine acreage. Mencía is also grown in Galicia (Spain) in the Valdeorras DO, Monterrei DO, and Ribeira Sacra DO. In Portugal, it is grown in the Dão, Lisboa, and Beira Interior Regions.

#4: In the not-too-distant past, Mencía was primarily grown in the fertile, rain-abundant plains and valleys of Portugal and Galicia. These plantings produced high yields, which were in turn used to produce large volumes of high-acid, fruity, quaffable wines often compared to certain lovable-but-not-serious versions of Beaujolais.  As these things usually go, there certainly were a handful of quality-minded producers all along, and the idea of ultra-high quality Mencía was fully realized when—in the 1990s—Alvaro Palacios came to town. Palacios, already famous for creating ultra-high-quality wines in Priorat, began to produce Bierzo DO wines from 40-to-60-year-old Mencía vines grown on the well-drained soils of the area’s hillsides. The resulting wines, now produced by Descendientes de J. Palacios, are rich, concentrated, serious wines (including some single-vineyard bottlings that can fetch prices of $500 a bottle or more). Other top producers of hillside-grown Mencía include Dominio de Tares, Casar de Burbia and Castro Ventosa (whose holdings include a pre-phylloxera Mencía vineyard planted on the only sandy soils to be found in Bierzo).


#5: Quaffable wines produced from the Mencía grape variety will be pleasant enough and have a nice cherry-red color, good acidity, and moderate tannins as well as aromas of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, and pomegranate with some floral undertones. Lower-yield, higher-quality Mencía can show all of the above as well as hints of licorice, black pepper, and a whiff minerality—often described as a “gravel-like scent”. These wines can be deep red/violet in color, rich in meaty tannins, and as age-worthy as the finest Pinot Noir.

According to the latest figures, there are about 25,000 acres (10,100 ha) of Mencía in Spain, as well as about 7,000 acres (2,835 ha) in Portugal.

References/for further information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Grape Invaders: Caladoc, Rosé du Var, and Couston

Photo of Caladoc by Vbecart, via Wikimedia Commons

A few weeks ago (on November 15 and 16, 2017),  France’s National Committee of Appellations of Origin (INAO) relating to wine and spirits held a meeting. In addition to discussing the yields and conditions of the 2017 harvest, the committee approved a few requests for experimentation within the scope of some existing AOCs.

A few of these were quite interesting. For instance, the Blanquette de Limoux AOC is going to test machine harvesting, and the three AOCs of Chablis (Chablis AOC, Chablis Grand Cru AOC, and Petite Chablis AOC) are going to test the use of anti-hail netting.

However, what really caught my eye was the approval of some experimental plantings in two AOCs. Two experimental grapes— Caladoc and Rosé du Var—were approved for testing in the Côtes de Provence AOC. Caladoc was also approved as a test subject in the Côtes du Rhône AOC, as was Couston. I am not too familiar with any of these grapes, so now seems like a good time to do some research on these grapes. Here’s what I found out:

Caladoc: Caladoc is a red-skinned grape, created as a Grenache X Malbec cross by Paul Truel while working in Montpellier in the 1950s. The goal, which was achieved, was to create a variety resistant to coulure (shatter). The grape produces red wines that are deeply colored, full-bodied, and tannic, but it is most often used in fruity rosés.

Caladoc is currently planted to more than 6,000 acres (2,420 ha) in France and is used in Vin de France and Vin de Pays, but it is not approved for any AOC-level wines. However…the grape is quite respected in Portugal, and allowed for use in at least seven DOCs, including Arruda, Alenquer, Torres Vedras, Óbidos, Do Tejo, Beira Interior, and Encostas d’Aire. The grape has also made its way to Spain, Argentina, Lebanon, and Brazil.

Rosé du Var: Rosé du Var is a pink-skinned grape variety native to the Var département of Provence—an area also famous for Fréjus Cathedral, Bandol, and the beaches of Saint-Tropez. The grape also goes by the name Roussanne du Var—but (confusingly, but not surprisingly) it is not related to the Roussanne of the Rhône. The parentage of Rosé du Var has not been confirmed, but it is believed to be one of the many offspring of Gouais Blanc.

Rosé du Var grapes form big bunches and big berries, and can be vinified into white or rosé styles of wine—neither of which tend to be very flavorful. It is perhaps for this reason that the grape variety is not currently approved for use in any of the AOC wines of France, although you will find it used in both blends and varietal wines in Vins de France and IGP/Vins de Pays (particularly in Provence and other areas in southern France).

Photo of Couston by Vbecart, via Wikimedia Commons

Couston: This grape appears to be quite an obscurity (it didn’t even show up in the wine grape tome-of-tomes, Wine Grapes [see below]). I did find a few websites with a bit of information, and it does appear in the Catalog of French Wine Grapes. From these few references, I was able to find out that Couston appears to be a natural crossing, discovered by one Mr. Julien Couston, in the 1970s. The grape is believed to be the offspring of Grenache and Aubun Noir (a red variety native to the Northern Rhône). Couston is a vigorous vine known to produce grapes capable of creating full-bodied, full-flavored, and tannic red wines with rich cherry-like aromas.

It is anticipated—but by no means assured—that the INAO will sometime in the future approve these grapes for limited use in the above-mentioned AOCs of France. In all likelihood, if they are approved, they will be limited to a certain percentage (10% to 20%, for instance) of the final blend. We’ll have to wait and see what happens!

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…