​Riccitelli, Patagonian Old Vines Merlot 2015 Rio Negro


From £32.99, 58 Swiss francs 

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This is a wine I would love to serve blind in Bordeaux. It reminds me so much of a wild but serious young Pomerol made for the long term, with a layer of extra intensity thanks to the vines’ exposure to the intense Patagonian sunlight in southern Argentina.

It’s made by Matias Riccitelli, one of the live wires of the rapidly evolving Argentine wine scene. Son of the famous Jorge Riccitelli, he is now doing his own thing, making edgy, low-sulphur wines in concrete and all that. See Julia’s report on her visit to South America earlier this year. This, incidentally, is another of the wines dug out by London-based cherry picker Steve Daniel. Alas it does not (yet?) seem to have made it to the US.

Yet this wine is rather different from most of what comes out of his small, perfectly formed Lujan de Cuyo winery, seen, with the Andes in the background, in the picture above and also below. Rather than a glimpse into the future, this Merlot seems more like a visitation from the past.

Mathias sources the 100% Merlot grapes for this wine from a long-overlooked vineyard on the banks of the Rio Negro in Allen, at 39 degrees latitude, with vines at least 50 years old – so older than virtually all vines in Pomerol for instance. The wine is made at the Fabre Montmayou winery down there.

As anyone who has tasted the wines produced here will attest, they have a specially concentrated vibrancy, thanks presumably to the temperature swings between the clear days and the cool nights. The growing season is relatively long for Argentina and presumably the fact that these vines are so old, and ungrafted, adds an extra dimension. Soils are sandy loams and the river supplies water for flood irrigation – though there is nothing remotely dilute about this wine.

Winemaking was pretty traditional with an extended maceration of five days before fermentation in concrete vats (very Petrus) and 20 days afterwards, and the wine was aged in a mixture of first-, second- and third-year barrels and much larger old oak vats.

This is full-on flavour, still with some tannins but submerged by the massively velvety ripe fruit. My note on first tasting it: ‘Seriously old-school Pomerol on the nose! Rich and gamey with masses of sweetness and a surprising amount of evolution on the nose. Definitely not bordeaux on the palate – a kick of dry minerals and masses more daytime sunshine than one would expect there. But a very fine wine. Velvety and as though iron filings were dissolved in it. Very interesting! Congratulations on scouting out this parcel of vines. Not perfect (thanks to that drying finish) but certainly distinctive.’

In fact I tasted this 14.5 per center over three nights and it kept on softening and improving, which bodes well for the future. If you want to drink it straight away, I would recommend decanting it.

I like the retro label, and the turquoise wax seal is certainly distinctive. All in all, this is a heck of a lot of interest for the money. When I chose it as this week’s wine of the week, I didn’t realise Julia had already tasted it twice – once in Argentina and once in London – but I see that we agree on the score: a very promising 17 out of 20.

In the UK it’s available from Great Wines Direct at £34.26 and Strictly Wine at £197.88 for a 6-bottle case as well as the other stockists listed by wine-searcher.com, who also list stockists in Switzerland. I have since been told that this wine can be found at Italian Wine Merchants in New York.

And, as I say, it's a great wine to serve blind to anyone with fond memories of Pomerol of yore.

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