They say that it’s often the horses that are the trickiest to train that turn out to be the best. I’m hoping that this turns out to be true given the rollercoaster ride I’m on with my young pony. Suffice to say that I’m keeping spirits high with a ready supply of arnica tablets and the odd glass of wine.

I was sharing my woes with a Spanish winemaking friend (also a talented horseman) who sent me a bottle of 2001 Rioja in the post. It came with a brief note: “We doubted whether we’d ever be able to make something decent . . . but taste it and you’ll see that the effort and worry was worth it”.

The year 2001 is widely recognised as a very fine vintage in Rioja – rated ‘excelente’ by the regulating body – and the best since the much-lauded 1994 vintage. The years 2004 and 2005 are also vintages to keep an eye out for but some of the 2001 reserva Rioja’s are coming into their own now and their generously-fruity, balanced qualities don’t give many clues to the bumpy nature of the vintage.

The vineyards had a bad spring that year, with harsh frosts wreaking havoc, killing young spring shoots and reducing the anticipated harvest by as much as a reported 60 per cent in some places.

Summer was a season of two halves – drought to start and torrential rains to follow. The drought meant yields were reduced even further and many feared that the downpours would swell the grapes and leave the flavours somewhat ‘watered down’. What, in fact, was happening was that the rain was tempering the very high sugar levels that the grapes had achieved in the earlier hot, dry half of the summer.

Still, the last remaining weeks on the run up to harvest are critical and winemakers possess nerves of steel or very short nails. Given the unpredictability of the previous months, it’s not surprising that some makers were not overly optimistic. As it transpired, 2001’s autumn was almost perfect for the winemakers of La Rioja and the grapes were able to reach optimal ripening without too many other problems.

There’s no doubt that crops were significantly reduced but most acknowledge that the quality of the grapes more than made up for the loss. The resulting wines have, broadly speaking, a great balance of fruit, tannin and acidity.

The feedback I’m getting from merchants in this economic climate is that we’re still drinking but that the desire to know that we’re getting value for money is stronger than ever. I have always believed that Rioja offers very good value for money and given the success of the vintage and the reasonably keen prices, I would certainly recommend you have a look at what is available. The Oxford Times Wine Club is this week offering a case of Rioja wines with three coming from the 2001 vintage. I know that £135 may not sound like a steal but at just a little over £11 a bottle, I think you’ll agree they are worth it.

Click here for The Oxford Times Wine Club offers.