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Exopto: Outstanding Old Vine & Single Vineyard Rioja

Exopto: Outstanding Old Vine & Single Vineyard Rioja
The sterile exhibition halls of ProWein in Düsseldorf are no substitution for the expansive beauty of the Riojan landscape and the legendary Franco-Spanish hospitality of Exopto’s Tom Puyaubert. Yet, here we are, lanyards and all, and, regardless of the setting and its wallet-fleecing food trucks, it’s a great pleasure to taste in the company of this inspiring, self-made grower once again.
 
Much has transpired since we last visited Tom in Spain. Having arrived on a shoestring in 2003, Puyaubert now farms 30 plots spread across 22 hectares of vines (the majority of which are over 60 years old) in the western Sonsierra villages of Ábalos, San Vicente and Baños de Ebro. His latest acquisition was two hectares in Baños de Ebro in 2019, whose 60+-year-old Tempranillo and Viura vines will further underpin the quality of Puyaubert’s Horizonte label. Tom tells us he is no longer on the hunt for new vineyards and has now reached the maximum hectarage he and his small team of four can manage precisely and organically. We’ve heard this before.
 
On tasting the current releases, we begin to reflect on the evolution of this grower. In Puyaubert’s two decades in Rioja, his viticulture has evolved to a level commensurate with the finest domaines of Europe. A horse-drawn plough turns the soil, and increasingly, Exopto applies concepts from biodynamic agriculture to further peel back the personality of each parcel. The progression in the cellar has been starker still. In the early days, Puyaubert’s wines leaned towards the traditional values of his native Bordeaux. Today, the more subtle and artisanal practices of Burgundy inspire. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the striking individualism and transparency of Exopto’s single-vineyard releases we offer today, in which the earth-to-glass ethos sings loudly.
 
The delicious, succulent introduction to the range is Bozeto, a blend of the three core varieties of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano, sourced from sites in the Sierra Cantabria (Rioja Alta) and Alfaro (Rioja Oriental). Horizonte is the village-level label, each wine drawn from highland plots in Ábalos and neighbouring San Vicente and Baños de Ebro. More recently, the Cru level is represented by three extraordinary single-vineyard wines; La Mimbrera in Ábalos, and El Espinal and the white El Bernate in San Vicente.
 
Our impression in Germany was that this is the finest ensemble Tom has released. Each red is singing with the brightness and purity true to this grower’s manifesto and the two white wines deserve special mention. White Rioja is no longer confined to the old-school, lavishly oaked patina; nor the cheap, wham-bang tank fermented Viura you find on the supermarket shelves. Instead, this grower’s thrillingly pure, unadorned whites reflect another exciting chapter in Rioja’s return to terroir. 

The Wines

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