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Bodegas Exopto

Rioja Tour Via Malvasía, Maturana Tinta, Graciano & Blends
Bodegas Exopto
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.

The Wines

Bodegas Exopto Bozeto de Exopto Rosado 2022

Bodegas Exopto Bozeto de Exopto Rosado 2022

Exopto’s chalky rosé takes its textual cues and delicate pastille colour from the rosés of Tom Puyaubert’s homeland in France—specifically the best of the Côtes de Provence. In a region where rosé is mostly an afterthought, Exopto’s wine is sourced from proper real estate: Los Pozos, a single plot of mature 50-year-old vines in the chalky soils of San Vicente de la Sonsierra. The blend is 50% Garnacha and 50% Tempranillo, and the fruit is crushed, pressed and fermented in tank with natural yeasts. It ages mostly in large foudre on lees for up to six months. The result is a superbly bright and tangy rosado with silky white peach and strawberry fruit, subtle textural grip, and the kind of vibrant freshness to take the edge off a long day. Charcuterie sold separately. 

Bodegas Exopto Bozeto de Exopto Rosado 2022
Bodegas Exopto Rioja Bozeto de Exopto 2022

Bodegas Exopto Rioja Bozeto de Exopto 2022

Bozeto means ‘sketch’ or ‘outline’, and as the name implies, this is Tom Puyaubert’s entry-level wine. This pan-regional expression of Rioja’s three principal grape varieties is conceived as a lively, easy-drinking introduction to the range. While most entry-level wines from this region today are based on Tempranillo (a variety both easier and more profitable to grow), Garnacha represents 60% of the blend. This Garnacha hails from the sandy, river-stone terroir of El Agudo—a 60-year-old plot at Alfaro on Monte Yerga (in Rioja Oriental). The Tempranillo is drawn from a selection of mature vines in Ábalos (high-county Rioja Alta), and there is also some Ábalos Graciano, adding freshness and finesse.

Puyaubert ferments this wine in a combination of concrete and steel tank, then ages it for six months in concrete and 5,000-litre oak vats. These days, Tom includes a measure of semi-carbonic maceration for extra buoyancy. This is another smashing release for this wine. Delivering plenty of perfume, it’s a tangy, crunchy-fresh Rioja that marries vibrant summer berry fruit with a dusting of cocoa powder, supple structure and length of flavour. Juicy, aromatic, wonderfully drinkable—and great value to boot!

“Bozeto is a very well-priced cuvée of Garnacha from the Rioja Oriental with Tempranillo and Graciano from the high part of the Rioja Alta. Made in what Tom Puyaubert calls a "semi carbonic maceration style", it has juicy raspberry and wild strawberry fruit, subtle wood and a firm, satisfying finish.”
91 points, Tim Atkin, 2024 Rioja Report
“The pale, fruit-driven and very young red 2022 Bozeto de Exopto is juicy and approachable, mixing 60% Garnacha with 35% Tempranillo and 5% Graciano. Fresh and dominated by the Garnacha, it is ripe without excess at 14.5% alcohol, reflecting the conditions of the year. Only the Tempranillo aged in oak vats, and the Garnacha was kept in concrete.”
91+ points, Luis Gutiérrez, The Wine Advocate
Bodegas Exopto Rioja Bozeto de Exopto 2022
Bodegas Exopto Rioja Horizonte de Exopto 2021

Bodegas Exopto Rioja Horizonte de Exopto 2021

Exopto’s villages-level wine is a blend of 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha and 10% Graciano drawn from a dozen old-vine plots entirely in the western Sonsierra zone (per Villar and Gil, 2019) in the lee of the Sierra Cantabria ranges. Previously based solely on Ábalos vines, from 2020 onwards, the wine includes fruit from the old vines of Los Pozos and El Sacramento in San Vicente, in addition to grapes (20% in 2021) from a vineyard in Baños de Ebro purchased in 2019. The lowest of these vineyards is 400 metres above sea level, rising to 500 metres in Los Pozos. Co-fermented naturally in cement vats, the wine undergoes a short maceration of one week before starting maturation in oak barriques. The wine finishes aging in large, neutral 600-litre barrels to lessen the already minimal oak impact. Reflecting its high-altitude origins, this is a darker, deeper and more structured Rioja than the Bozeto, notwithstanding the excellent vibrancy and freshness you get from the altitude and rocky, limestone soils. Super value, super wine. 

“Grilled Mediterranean herbs and peppercorns with a hint of lard and smoke to the youthful black cherries and damsons. Medium to full body with firm lines of tannins that concentrate at the end, delivering a fine grip to the finish. A modern, fresh and refined Rioja.”
92 points, James Suckling, jamessuckling.com
Bodegas Exopto Rioja Horizonte de Exopto 2021
Bodegas Exopto Rioja El Bernate de Exopto 2021

Bodegas Exopto Rioja El Bernate de Exopto 2021

Sommelier alert. To get straight to the point, this single-vineyard white is one of the most exciting white wines we have tasted from Spain. Period. It comes from a vineyard of the same name, a tiny plot of 80-year-old Malvasía Riojana rooted in the highland limestone soils of San Vicente de la Sonsierra. To preserve what Tom calls “the mineral and citric character that this variety can develop in limestone soils of Rioja Alta”, it spends two weeks on skins and ferments with indigenous yeasts in a 950-litre concrete egg, where it also matured for one year before bottling.

Coursing with the crispness and quality of the 2021 vintage, it’s a superbly refined, energetic white Rioja with layered, pulpy crystalline fruit and scents of chamomile and hawthorn blossom set against a backbone of citrus-charged energy. Mediterranean Burgundy.  It pairs wonderfully with whole roast fish. 

Bodegas Exopto Rioja El Bernate de Exopto 2021
Bodegas Exopto Rioja El Espinal de Exopto 2021

Bodegas Exopto Rioja El Espinal de Exopto 2021

El Espinal was the first label under Tom Puyaubert’s Colección Miguel Angel Mato. Mato, a native of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, is the seasoned grower who does all the work, cultivating by mule in some of Exopto’s principal vineyards. He also owns several old vineyards high on the slopes of the Sierra Cantabria, including El Espinal. The plot name Espinal references the pine trees on the exposed slopes of the Sierra Cantabria in San Vicente, which have always been a part of this high-country landscape. At 650 metres, El Espinal is getting on for serious altitude in the context of Rioja.

This site—a 0.3-hectare limestone/clay vineyard—is planted to bush vines of the extremely rare Maturana Tinta vine, a re-emerging variety in Rioja. The Wine Grapes bible classifies it as Trousseau; however, Puyaubert tells us that this is not the case and that these vines are, in fact, Castets, a now almost extinct French variety that was once grown in some quantity in the Bordeaux area (and is related to Cabernet Franc). Another atypical facet of this cuvée is Puyaubert’s use of vinification intégrale, whereby the fruit fermented in closed, 600-litre French oak barrels, which are rolled several times a day. There are no pumpovers, no plunging—just rolling, which results in infusion rather than extraction. Following fermentation and pressing, the juice is racked back into these same casks for 15 months before bottling.

The result is unlike anything you may have tasted from Rioja before. Picked a whole month after Exopto’s Ábalos vineyards, the inviting dark purple, almost inky hue draws you in before layers of complexity stream from the glass: waves of dark fruit, nettles and scrub and the pine cone/green peppercorn note so commonly found in the wines from this site. Then you get waves of moreish mid-palate freshness, lifted chalky tannins and lip-smacking acidity. Like an outstanding Loire Cab Franc, yet with perhaps more flesh, it’s a superb and unique red from Rioja’s high country. As one taster put it: Yum. 

Bodegas Exopto Rioja El Espinal de Exopto 2021
Bodegas Exopto Rioja La Mimbrera Graciano 2021

Bodegas Exopto Rioja La Mimbrera Graciano 2021

Tom Puyaubert has long been a cheerleader for Graciano grown in Rioja’s Atlantic-influenced terroirs, where it accounts for barely 2% of total plantings. The small parcel, within the existing, old-vine La Mimbrera vineyard, was planted at 5,000 vines/ha and holds sentimental value for its grower; it was the first vineyard Puyaubert planted in Ábalos. The grapes were destemmed and fermented naturally in old oak. The wine spent two weeks on skins and aged for 18 months in the same 600-litre barrel. Puyaubert believes his 2021 is the best Graciano he has made. It’s a superbly fine-grained example, with a beautiful mélange of herbs, vibrant redcurrant and blueberry fruit supported by chalky intensity and spun-out palate length. The finish lingers with fine, sculpted tannins and hints of garrigue and liquorice goodness—a wonderful expression of variety and region. 

Bodegas Exopto Rioja La Mimbrera Graciano 2021
Bodegas Exopto Rioja La Mimbrera de Exopto 2021

Bodegas Exopto Rioja La Mimbrera de Exopto 2021

This limited-release field blend celebrates the very first plot of old bush vines Tom Puyaubert purchased in the village of Ábalos back in 2003. La Mimbrera is a 0.5-hectare plot of vines, only one kilometre away from El Espinal, yet it is a radically different terroir with different varieties. Planted on a limestone hillside at El Hoyo with stunning views over the Sierra de Cantabria, the vineyard is roughly 75% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha and 5% Viura, all surrounded by the wild garrigue of the area. The Garnacha vines were planted well over a century ago, while the Tempranillo and Viura sit in the 70- to 80-year-old range. The grapes are hand-harvested and co-fermented using wild yeasts, and the wine is matured in a single, used French oak barrel before finishing its aging in a sandstone amphora. The new release is packed with class, from the purity of focused blackberry fruit to the mouthcoating, chalky structure that clings to the palate. Marked by the limestone soils, the finish is long and penetrating. It’s a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind Atlantic-influenced Rioja with a proper frame for long aging. 

“Precise, peppery nosés with blackberries, blueberries and hints of violet and white pepper. Tangy and chalky on the palate with a medium to full body where the tannins snatch up the fresh blue fruit and spread them evenly across the palate. Structured and chalky finish with excellent length.”
94 points, James Suckling, jamessuckling.com
Bodegas Exopto Rioja La Mimbrera de Exopto 2021

“Frenchman Tom Puyaubert is nowadays producing better wines than ever. Always humble and down to earth, he is focusing more and more on the vineyards (yeah!)… In the winery he is settling with 600-liter demi-muids, and the oak feels better integrated in the wines, respecting the character of the different vineyards.” Luis Gutiérrez, The Wine Advocate



“I believe the proliferation of new projects, of true vignerons working their vineyards and making their wines means an enrichment for all, for consumers, for the zone, for the country… As we gain in diversity, we definitely become richer.” Luis Gutiérrez, The Wine Advocate

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