Bodegas Exopto

Outstanding Grower Rioja from one of the most Stimulating Portfolios of the New Spain

Tom Puyaubert is bringing us up to speed with his new vineyard plots. First, there’s La Mimbrera, a gnarly plot of Garnacha and Tempranillo planted between 1890 and 1950. Also, in Abalos, he’s acquired a parcel in El Hoyo where one plot dates back to 1920. Then, San Cristobal, 0.7 hectares of old Viura vines sitting at 630 metres, and Carrapeciña, an old vine parcel devoted to high-grown Garnacha. By the time he gets to a plot of 1940s Malvasia Riojana in San Vincente, we realise that the man behind Exopto is just getting warmed up.

Much like in Champagne, in the last 15-20 years, Rioja has witnessed the rise of a small number of growers who are determined to make wines reflective of their place. In doing so, they are emulating the traditions of the cosecheros (grower-producers) of 19th century Rioja, who made wines from their own grapes long before the impact of this region’s more accepted generic ‘traditional’ model.

When we first started shipping this producer, we marked French-born Tom Puyaubert as a Rioja star in the making. That was ten years ago, and today the man and his wines have amply delivered on that expectation.

All the critical artisanal boxes are ticked here: outstanding, hillside vineyards on rocky soils; very old vines (averaging 60-plus years); low yields; a terrific little winery replete with new cement tanks and large-format oak; and small production. Then there’s the grower’s passion for a place where, in 2003, he arrived as a barrel salesman. Today he finds himself at the vanguard of Rioja’s return-to-terroir movement.

Exopto works a total of 22 hectares of organically tended old vineyards on the slopes of the Sierra Cantabria (Rioja Alta) and Yerga mountains (Rioja Oriental). The majority of these small holdings lie around the villages of Ábalos and San Vicente de la Sonsierra, in the small pocket of Rioja Alta between the River Ebro and the Basque mountains. This postcode has much in common with Rioja Alavesa and is sometimes referred to as Rioja’s Côte-d’Or. The soils here are rich in limestone, the climate is cooler, and the altitude is even higher than most parts of Rioja Alta.

Having established Exopto’s core range—under the Bozeto and Horizonte labels—-Puyaubert has recently turned his attention to several extraordinary single-vineyard wines—something very new for Rioja. Two of the most exciting bottlings we have tasted from northern Spain, La Mimbrera (Ábalos) and El Espinal (San Vicente), now underpin one of the most stimulating portfolios of the new Spain.

The Range

Bodegas Exopto Rioja Horizonte de Exopto 2021
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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
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Bodegas Exopto Rioja El Bernate de Exopto 2021
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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
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Bodegas Exopto Bozeto de Exopto Rosado 2022
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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
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Bodegas Exopto Rioja La Mimbrera de Exopto 2021
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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
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Bodegas Exopto Rioja El Espinal de Exopto 2021
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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
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Bodegas Exopto Rioja La Mimbrera Graciano 2021
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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
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“It doesn’t take a long tradition or lots of start up capital to begin making serious Rioja wines of depth and longevity—as a small group of friends who used to play rugby together have proven over just a few years with their modest but ambitions winery, Exopto.” Jesús Barquín, Luis Gutiérrez and Victor de la Serna, The Finest Wines of Rioja

“Exopto is one of the consolidated new names in Rioja. 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

Country

Spain

Primary Region

Rioja

People

Winemaker: Tom Puyaubert

Availability

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