On my first-ever trip to San Francisco in 2006, I checked into my hotel on the first night in town and hurried to check out the immediate area within easy walking distance.

Down an alley just off Taylor Street in Union Square I found The Hidden Vine wine bar. I looked over their extensive menu of wines. My waiter, in the cellar-like room adajcent to the Fitzgerald Hotel, recommended I try the Bonarda. I had never heard of the grape.

I tried a glass and loved it. I ordered a bottle that was low $20, drank about half and took the bottle back to my hotel – which I was told was perfectly legal. I loved the wine. I have found just one 100 percent Bonarda since and it was disappointing.

But Friday night I opened a 2005 Dante Robino Bonarda and soon remembered why I loved this wine so much. But, it’s very strange that I had a totally different experience when pairing it with dinner. Read that update at bottom of posting.

It’s a refined wine that immediately catches your attention with the nose where you can detect the oak. It is nice bright fruit on the palate and even and a really smooth finish. Much of what I’ve read about the grape talks about a hint of smoky flavor. I didn’t really get that with this wine but it doesn’t matter. This was good juice.

I bought this bottle at Cork and Cracker in Indianaplis for a ridiculously low $11.95. I found it online for up to $14. I say the price was ridiculously low only because of the quality. I know that I’m catching myself praising wines that are ‘better than their low price’ but this one knocks that concept out of the park.

It’s the perfect combination of smooth and big for an inexpensive wine. There is some wow factor with this dark purple juice.

I did find the Dante Robino website and a little about them there and on the web. It’s a very old winery located on the banks of the Mendoza River in the valley about 600 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. They grow nearly a 1,000 acres of Malbec, Bonarda, Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

And borrowing from the website and research: “Dante Robino was born in 1995 in Canelli, a small town in northwest Italy’s Piomonte Region. After learning the art and sckill of winemaking from his family, he immigarated to Argentenian in 1920 and established the winery that still bears his name on the slopes of the Andes.”

This wine has picked up honors in a couple of different national and international competitions. Do I like it? I’m considering calling C&C to ask if they have any of this beauty left in the shop and hold me a half case or more!

(A POSTSCRIPT): Two nights, one bottle and two wildly different experiences with this wine. Friday night I had the wine with simple red sauce pasta .. not kicked up at all. I didn’t like it with the pasta. Actually, it was simple bottled red sauce and ground turkey. The wine didn’t pair well at all. It was acidic and tannic and for lack of better words – very “oaky”. I’m guessing the acidity of the tomato sauce led to this odd reaction.

A half hour after dinner, it as back to it’s wonderful self. So Saturday night, having a half bottle left, I enjoyed it with two pork chops. One chop was baked with a dry cherry/smoke rub and the other had a traditional BBQ sauce. And, it was great. It just didn’t work with the pasta – at all!

Frankly, it was as bad with the pasta as it was great alone and with the pork.

You never quit learning with wine!

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com