Rioja has long been blessed with exceptional vineyards. The problem has been knowing where to find them. French-born Tom Puyaubert has spent half his life living and working in Rioja. Earlier this year, he took us to visit three of his principal vineyards, a tour which—whether he meant it or not—underpins the story of his 23 years in northern Spain. Planted on a limestone hillside of Ábalos with stunning views over the Sierra de Cantabria, La Mimbrera was the first vineyard Exopto purchased. Twenty years ago, this historic site lay in disrepair. Today, it’s responsible for one of Rioja’s vanguard wines, a field blend of ancient Tempranillo, Grenache and Viura, picked and fermented together in the style of the cosechero winegrowers of Rioja’s past. From Ábalos, it’s a short drive to El Bernate in San Vincente. There is some 1940s Tempranillo planted here, but the real stars are the 80-year-old vines of Malvasía Bianco, their old gnarly trunks protruding from a carpet of rocky limestone. The resulting wine, fermented and aged in concrete, is a striking reminder of why—before Rioja’s culture of efficiency and large-scale production took hold—vineyards like this were planted in the first place. Finally, we ascended to El Espinal, a tiny vineyard at a cool 650 metres planted with the extremely rare, late-ripening Maturana Tinta. The ‘pin’ in the plot name references the pine trees that coat these exposed foothills of the Sierra de Cantabria. The resulting wine, wrought and lifted, is unlike anything you may have tasted from Rioja. Back at the winery, a sample of the perfumed, juicy and lithe 2022 Bozeto swirls in our glass. We’re instantly reminded that much of what this grower has achieved so far would not be possible without the delicious, easy-drinking wine that got the ball rolling. How Rioja could do with more Tom Puyauberts.