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Finding Tempranillo’s true potential

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Bodegas Roda has always done things a bit differently in Rioja. Their prestige cuvée Cirsion is a perfect example, proving the top wines of the region don’t have to be dominated by oak

Bodegas Roda has always strived to be a modern force in Rioja – not dictated by tradition and the region’s strict requirements when it comes to ageing. The estate was founded as recently as 1987, by Mario Rotllánt Solá and Carmen Daurella de Aguilera, who enlisted the help of Rioja expert Agustín Santolaya. Since then it has quickly risen up the ranks and is today regarded as one of the region’s top producers. From the start, their philosophy has been centred around sourcing the finest clones of Tempranillo. It has proven to be remarkably successful in producing very pure expressions of Rioja, not dominated by oak, but that also age beautifully. These wines are some of Spain’s most exciting, sitting amongst a cohort of producers dedicated to finding the true potential of the country’s indigenous grapes, with old vines and top terroirs.

Only made in the best vintages, Cirsion is Bodegas Roda’s top wine – a wine that defies the notion that the best wines should see the longest oak maturation. On the contrary, Roda’s Cirsion sees the shortest time in oak of all its cuvées – just six to eight months, depending on the vintage. The wine was first made as an experiment in 1997, with just 3,000 bottles. The aim was to celebrate Tempranillo’s character by using fruit from only the oldest vines and best clones. Each vine would be individually assessed and picked at optimum ripeness. The result is a wine with seamless tannins and exceptional fruit purity.

Cirsion’s appearance on the wine scene challenged the idea that highly concentrated Tempranillo required significant oak ageing to tame its astringent tannins. Roda proved that if the grapes are good enough, the fruit could shine without a cloaking of oak.

Despite the shorter time in barrel, tasting through older vintages proves the wines’ ageability. Winemaker Agustín Santolaya remembers at the release of their first vintage that the critics found it so accessible they thought it wouldn’t age well. Tasting the 2004 today is proof they were wrong. The wine is still maturing, full of life and all the more complex for it, as the tertiary notes mingle with beautifully fresh fruit and fragrant heather notes. At the heart of the wine is a core of pristine fruit, something that is retained even with age. It is a wine of great purity and elegance.

Tasting through older vintages of Cirsion shows how the balance and quality of fruit in a wine is essential, and sometimes more important than oak ageing, when it comes to producing red wines that will age effortlessly.

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The wines

2004 Cirsion

There is a real brightness to the 2004 and today it sits firmly in its drinking window, although the overall balance and concentration will see it hold here for some years yet. It has a really inviting nose of red aniseed and dark spice alongside more tertiary moss and forest floor notes. The fruit is on the darker black berry spectrum with vibrant acidity making it feel so lively on the palate. There is lovely volume and weight to the wine, the tannins now fully resolved and melded with the fruit. (100% Tempranillo, 14.5% alcohol)

2009 Cirsion

A key principle of Cirsion’s philosophy is to show the imprint of the vintage, the wine made entirely from that vintage – not such a common practice in Rioja. This is abundantly clear when tasting the 2009 and 2010 side by side. As Santolaya admitted, the ‘09 is a lot more tannic and less resolved than both the ’10 and ’04 – likely, he believes, the result of water stress in what was a very warm and dry (Mediterranean) vintage. The ’09 is texturally layered with lots of lovely ripe fruit and still silken, but with a bitter twist on the finish. It is a less typical vintage for Cirsion and, versus the exceptional 2010, a little more ordinary, but still very good. (100% Tempranillo, 14.5% alcohol)

2010 Cirsion

The 2010 today is still very youthful – but the balance is fantastic – the tannins are plentiful but silken, the wine full of energy, with mouth-watering acidity and a dense, coiled-spring-like tension to the palate. At 11 years of age, the tertiary flavours are only just beginning to show. It has years ahead of it and will be wonderful to taste with another five years in bottle. The 2010 really captures the Cirsion philosophy of fruit purity above all else. The 2010 has proved to be a great vintage for Roda all round. (100% Tempranillo, 14.5% alcohol)

2018 Cirsion

The 2018 is the latest release and while its tannins are nicely ripe and resolute, tasting alongside the 2010, you feel Cirsion (despite its youthful approachability) really benefits from at least five to 10 years in bottle. Its puppy fat stage is still quite oak laden, but again, the refined tannins are impressive and rare to find in Tempranillo of this concentration and richness. It will no doubt blossom with more time in bottle. (90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, 14.5% alcohol)

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