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Salinity is the new buzzword in wine. Tasting notes and bulletins—ours included—can’t help but laud a wine’s saltiness, while vignerons everywhere are quicker than ever to point out the salinité of their own creations—a highly favorable trait, we are led to believe. So what exactly is salinity, where does it come from, and what’s so special about it? Like its cousin, minerality, salinity begs the fundamental question of whether minerals in the soil can be absorbed by the vine and end up in grapes. However, according to geologist Alex Maltman, such a notion should be taken with a grain of salt, so to speak: “A typical wine has only around 0.2% of inorganic matter in total, and it’s pretty much tasteless anyway. Salt, sodium chloride, is an exception, but grapevines try to prevent the uptake of sodium, and hence most wines contain less salt than the minimum required in order for us to detect it even in plain water.” And yet, salinity is often attributed to vineyard soil. Take the example of Chablis: a briny, oyster-like character is its signature, presumably from the famous Kimmeridgian marl terroir and its abundant fossilized oyster shells. Savary’s bottling most certainly expresses this salty sensation that is so typical of Chablis, leaving us positively salivating after each sip. Similarly, in the Gigondas from Les Pallières—a red, this time, also from rocky limestone vineyards in a landlocked region—vigneron Daniel Brunier is keen to point out the salinité on the finish, conveyed here as an almost savory seasoning to the brooding fruit and herbal tones. The two other wines in this sampler hail from coastal regions, where maritime winds have been known to leave a coating of salt on the grapes after storms. Is Mediterranean sea salt ending up in the fermentation tanks, and ultimately in our glasses? The jury is still out, but in the meantime, we can certainly appreciate the brine of Yves Canarelli’s Corsican rosé and the sea-mist finale accentuating the lemony brightness of Punta Crena’s Vermentino. Salt is a condiment, and just like in cooking, it lifts and intensifies the flavors in a glass of wine. These saline selections will make your palate tingle, stimulating the appetite with a pleasant mouth-watering sensation. Their savory, oceanic, or briny properties add texture and tangy zest—another element of mineral complexity that has righteously entered the wine lexicon, and appears here to stay.
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