Grapevine: Finding fame in Spain
Rioja is undoubtedly Spain’s most famous red wine producing region.
Home to Tempranillo at its peak expression and steeped in tradition, producing wines that compete with the best in the world on any metric you wish to measure them.
For a while though you could have criticised the region for a lack of diversity and innovation. That was until a new generation, and an influx of vignerons from other regions and countries has brought a fresh set of eyes and an objective view of the region and how the wines are produced.
For such a large region, it has always been labelled and known, a Iittle generically, as simply Rioja. More recently we have seen it broken down into three key sub-regions of Rioja Alta, Rioja Alvaesa and Rioja baja. Rioja Alta being at high altitude tends to produce wines that retain more acidity and are therefore a little more lively, Rioja Alavesa is similar to Alta but the wines tend to be fuller in body often considered amongst the best in the region. Finally Rioja Baja is the warmest and driest area, it is well suited to Garnacha (Grenache), which can handle the conditions although the fruit is often used as a blending component with fruit from the other sub-regions.
The wines have always been ‘classified’ by their ageing. From Rioja which sees only a few months in oak before being bottled and released, it is the youthful, fruit-driven, juicy expression of the region. The next step up is Crianza, where the wines spend a minimum of one year in oak followed by bottle ageing up until two years from October of the harvest year. Reserva requires three years of ageing, including one year in oak and finally Gran Reserva sees five years of ageing with a minimum of two years in oak and two years in bottle. While there is no doubt that better quality fruit and wine deserves longer ageing, it isn’t essential to bring out the best in a wine and thus many younger producers have departed from the classification system or simply label all of their wines Rioja, even for their top bottlings.
Bodegas Exopto is owned and run by a winemaker from Bordeaux – Tom Puyaubert. The original move to ageing, and long ageing, in oak for Rioja wines is said to have come from Bordeaux and so too have many of the young winemakers in the region.
Exopto is based in the high-altitude Rioja Alta where you could describe the wines as being in between the traditional and modern. Focused on healthy vineyards and clean no frills winemaking, the oak is large format along with cement vats both of which impart little flavour on the wines – helping to highlight the primary flavours over the secondary.
Bodeas Exopto ‘Bozeto’ Rioja 2018 – $27
Produced from fruit across all three of the Rioja sub-regions, it is dominated by Garnacha from Rioja Baja (50 per cent) and it shows in sunny ripe berry fruits, supported by Tempranillo from Rioja Alta which brings some structure and Graciano providing some freshness and lift. It’s medium-bodied, juicy, fleshy, soft and moreish with just the right amount of acid and tannin to keep it focused and tidy. A delicious example of modern Rioja and great value drinking.