A happy accident from Susana Esteban

Winemaker Susana Esteban, in the northern reaches of the Alentejo, can be relied upon to produce wines that stand out for their originality. She has been making claypot wines for a few years now and it was whilst making a claypot white last winter that she encountered a very happy accident.

Susana is Spanish and although she has never made Sherry, it is the unusual phenomenon known as “flor” in Jerez, Spain, that gives Fino Sherry its unique flavour.

This wine “Tira o Véu” (remove the veil) has naturally benefited from a veil of yeast cells rising to the surface and creating a cap that reacts with both the oxygen above and the wine beneath.

The wine was originally destined to be a premium claypot white from her most prized vineyard made up of old mixed vines dating back some 85 years. But in November 2019, a few months after fermenting and whilst the wine was starting to age on the lees, Susana noticed the “veil” starting to settle on the surface of the claypots and decided to leave it to age for nine months.

The result is something quite unique, very unusual and, for those of us who love a good dry Sherry, very good indeed.

Unlike Sherry, this wine is not fortified (the alcohol content is 13%), but some of the trademark aromas that we expect from a nice Fino or Manzanilla Sherry, such as almonds and baking bread, mingle on the nose with white fruit and grassy notes from a wine of outstanding quality. In the mouth, it is both fresh and flavoursome with great minerality and a firm dry finish.

Only 1,600 bottles were produced from the 2019 vintage, but the winemaker has already seen the conditions replicated this winter and we can expect something similar from the 2020 harvest. This is not a wine for everyone and will appeal mostly to those who appreciate dry Sherry and who are willing to pay the hefty price tag (€32.95 at Apolónia).

It is also not an easy wine to pair with food, but, as an aperitif of excellence, it is an ideal partner for a nice pata negra cured ham and I can see sommeliers pairing it with smoked fish dishes or perhaps a smoked consommé soup.

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