Salt: salty wines or wines with hints of saltiness…
Did you ever taste a wine that had a slight touch of saltiness or iodine, sea breeze aromas? If no, well, you surely will. If yes, then you may have been surprised by this rather unusual marine scent and wondered where it could come from. Most of us associate it with the close proximity of an ocean or a sea, but is it really the case?
Some of these wines which present some saltiness or hints of sea breeze on the nose may actually come from an area near salty waters. However, I just tasted a wine from Austria which, in my opinion, presented this unusual particularity on the nose, but also in the palate. I could literally taste a touch of saltiness. At first, I thought that I was wrong, so I asked two of my colleagues to taste it without letting them know what I really looking for in this wine. Strangely enough, they tasted it too, and more especially for one of them who voiced it as his first comment: "There is some kind of saltiness in this wine!"
And here I was, perplex and intrigued, tasting an Austrian wine with salty notes and unable to answer any of the questions in my mind. Austria isn't that close from the Golf of Trieste in the Adriatic sea and mountain chains separate it from the closest seawater. So I decided to research it and asked a few questions here and there to different producers and winemakers.
All the answers and conversations indicated and pointed at the importance of sodium chloride or "Salt" naturally contained in the ground, which could somewhat impart the taste of some wines.
Everybody is acquainted with “Salt”. One way or another, it is impossible to avoid it. Salt is one of the most prominent elements that you can find on earth. It is everywhere and most beings consume a good dose of it everyday (knowingly or unknowingly).
One can naturally find it in his or her drinks (water, soda, beer, cocktails and many other beverages including wine) and all sort of food from meat and fish, to vegetable and fruit, and so much more. Our body contains salt, you can taste it when you sweat or when you cry. It is in our blood and one of the most important and essential "oligo-éléments" (or trace elements).
The trace elements are a class of pure mineral nutrients necessary for the life of an organism, but in very small quantities. Trace elements can also be toxic to the body when present at levels too high. The effect of a trace element depends on the dose intake. When the element is said to be essential, the absence, as an excessive intake, are lethal.
The fact that Salt is a mineral nutrients necessary for the life of our organism is often left out of the picture and rarely discussed, even by doctors. It is surely because, in our everyday life, tones of salt are mostly used for food seasoning, but also for curing meat (and fish) as a preservative. In fact, salt is surely one of the oldest, most ubiquitous food seasonings and, somehow, humans couldn't have barely live so long without it.
Historically, salting is an important method of seasoning and food preservation that has always been part of the human culture and tradition since at least the last 6000 years. In fact, human beings have used canning and artificial refrigeration (also involving the indispensable omnipresence of salt) for the preservation of food for approximately the last two hundred years. However, in the millennia before then, salt provided the best-known food preservative, especially for meat. It has also been widely used in cosmetics for centuries.
Salt for human consumption is produced in different forms: unrefined salt (such as sea salt), refined salt (table salt), and iodized salt (multiple purposes). Salt is a crystalline solid, white, pale pink or light gray in color, normally obtained from seawater or rock deposits on the ground, that can be found pretty much everywhere around the world. Edible rock salts may be slightly grayish in color because of high mineral content. Natural, and non-iodized, Organic sea salt is usually preferred by world-class chefs, restaurants, cooks, and even you and me at home.
My best (personal) experience was to cook beef steaks on the grill over embers of "Sarments" (dried vine's shoots collected during winter), seasoned with a touch of butter, finely diced shallots, fresh grounded pepper and more importantly, Mountain salt from Argentina. It was delightful, and the Argentinian salt was tasting sweet rather than salty. You ought to try it, or you’ll be missing something.
Salt is one of earth most common minerals composed primarily of sodium chloride that is essential for human and animal life. But, and once again because it is important to remind it, can be toxic if used in excess and even destructive to many land plants and corrosive for many objects.
Scientifically speaking, chloride and sodium ions, the two major components of salt, are necessary for the survival of all known living creatures. Salt is involved in regulating the water content (fluid balance) of the body. Yet, and once again, over-consumption of salt increases the risk of health problems, including high blood pressure and accentuation of bone/cartilage problems.
Carefully read the Nutrient facts on the back label of any food packaging to evaluate Sodium content, and always choose the product with the lowest amount it. Also, usually if organic or biodynamic, Sodium should be lower too. Preserve your body and your health, pay attention to this little details.
gustatory palette and presence in the ground
Let’s leave the medical side of it and let’s go back to its “palette gustative”, flavors and origin.
To start with, and most importantly for today’s post, I need to acknowledge that along with “Sweet/Sugar” (sweet flavor on the front tip of the tongue), “Sour” (sour flavor on the side of the tongue) and “Bitter” (bitter flavor on the back of the tongue), Salt flavor is one of the 4 basic tastes (5 if you include “savoriness” also known as “umami”), detected by two areas located on either side of the tongue’s tip (between sweet and sour).
In short, the way your taste buds are distributed on the surface of your tongue, is the reason why when you taste wine (or food or anything else), you usually first detect Sweet (fruitiness, ripeness or residual sugar), then Salt (but it rarely happens in a wine or is very often interpreted by minerality), Sour (if too much acidity or unripe fruit) and finally Bitter (if too tannic, green or unripe tannins, or if the alcohol is too present and non-integrated).
I can already see your bewildered faces…thinking what “Salt” has to do with wine? Vines and wines are grown on land and no addition of salt is involved in the vinification process? Yet, we just said earlier: “Salt is a crystalline solid, white, pale pink or light gray in color, normally obtained from seawater or rock deposits, that can be found pretty much everywhere on earth.” Still don’t get my point?
Well, it is quite simple. Salt is found abundantly in seawater, that is a given! Yet, it is also very much present in the ground mainly because it is a natural mineral, but also partly because seawater used to cover a good part of the actual land, thousands and thousands of years ago.
Sodium chloride or Salt, gradually and slowly deposited over many thousands of years with the lowering of the water levels, in diverse grounds which anciently were covered by oceans and seawater; which explains why this natural mineral can also be found in different type of soils and at different levels, or even abounds in certain areas forming above and underground layers and patches.
Even today, remnant of the ancient oceans and seas, before and after the break-up of the continents and the melting of the glaciers, can be found from hot sandy, flat desert regions to high-altitude mountain chains around the world. Layers of ancient sea beds and ocean levels found in the ground still offer archeological mines of seawater fossilized treasures: shells, stones, fish fossils, and more... and obviously Salt.
Multiple examples of salty areas and water with high salinity surround us in many countries from Oceans and Seas and lakes, to plains and deserts and mountains: Great Salt Lake (Utah, UT); Shalton Sea (California, CA); The Dead Sea (between Israel and Jordan); etc…
Therefore, as we already established it above, Sodium Chloride (or Salt) is a natural mineral element contained in the ground, dirt, rocks, etc…, which can be, found in high quantity on land, in various places with different climates, temperatures, and altitudes.
However, it seems that Salt can be found in higher quantity in regions with hot weather, and therefore moderate to poor rainfalls. Areas where consequently, water evaporation from the ground is higher due to higher temperature or other climatic conditions, rain is minimal and thus Salt can’t be naturally filtered, diluted and/or wash out from the upper and under ground levels and therefore forms layers that can somewhat affect and/or impart the taste of the wine, due to the salty components absorbed by the vines and surrounding plants.
Therefore, like anything contained in the soil and subsoil, Salt affects the wine and its components, and can even somewhat, slightly impart its taste, in some cases (like it can also impart the taste of meat from cows, cheeps and any other animal which pasture near oceans and seas, or high salinity ground areas).
From various conversations, I can conclude that some producers and winemakers are aware of it but not necessarily concern about it yet, because it hasn't been considered as a problem and hasn't been studied or researched enough (that could be an idea to work on for geologists and topographers). However, some producers and winemakers already acknowledge the fact that excess of Sodium Chloride in the soil could create a warm sensation in the palate when tasting a wine affected by it.
More studies on certain effects imparted by sodium chloride in wine could be the next thing to come, especially with global warming and rise of temperatures. When researching this subject, I realized that massive uprooting in addition to deforestation without necessary ploughing and replanting programs could lead to more desert and arid areas with poor soils, barely not plants or animals and higher density of sodium chloride in the soil. (However, this is another fascinating and vast subject that will deserve an entire post to itself, to be continued one day).
Because of all the cited above factors and reasons, we can now assess that by tasting certain wines produced near the seas or oceans, people may discover to their surprise a touch of sea breeze, or iodine aromas in a wine (or flavors in meat); but these particularities seem to mostly appear on the nose, and rarely on the palate (except for meat...).
However, it is possible sometimes to taste saltiness in wine too, and despite the fact that most people believe that is due to sea wind and seawater in the air or airborne salt with evaporation, that slight saltiness mostly originates from the soil and sub-soil, not necessarily from the nearby salty water. Which explain the possibility and high probability for the following Australian wine from a mountainous region far from the sea to present slight hints of saltiness.
Still not convinced? Let me share with you my experience of last week, when I tasted 3-4 completely different white wines that had this sea breeze, briny, almost slightly salty aromas and flavors. You should try them, first because they are fresh and delicious, bright and springy-summery; but also because that “je-ne-sais-quoi” of saltiness makes them intriguing and savory.
Weingut Neumeister Süd-Oststeiermark Straden Austria
Weingut Neumeister is a small innovative winery/restaurant/relaxation center located in Straden, a small municipality in the district of Radkersburg in Styria, Austria. This province represents the most southeastern part of Austria, called Süd-Oststeiermark, bordering the north of Slovenia and the west of Hungary.
Albert and Anna Neumeister, with Christoph Neumeister as the winemaker and Mathias as the Sommelier in charge of the restaurant, own this family run winery. They possess about 24 hectares (60 acres) plus 16 hectares (40 acres) of vineyards under contract, for an annual production of roughly 210,000 bottles.
They produce their wines from mainly 4 single vineyards: Saziani, Moafeiti, Klausen and Steintal, which are quite distinct by their soil characteristics, conferring great earthiness, texture and complexity to their wines.
The vineyards are planted with 25% Sauvignon Blanc, 18% Welschriesling, 10% Morillon (Chardonnay), 10% Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), 7% Muskateller, 7% Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), 5% Traminer; 12% Zweigelt and 6% Pinot Noir.
The family Neumeister is indebt to this unique environment. The delicate relationship with the landscape and nature goes without saying. Every variety is handled in the individual manner demanded by and required for it.
They adopt a close to nature cultivation and organic vineyard management, refraining from herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Natural pesticide methods are employed and the risk of fungi is minimized through vigorous foliage work. Every vine is maintained with handwork.
They produce what are locally called “Steirische Klassik”; meaning typical “Styrian” wines fermented in stainless steel tanks, which are bright, clean and Terroir oriented: Sauvignon Blanc from ‘Moarfeitl’ and ‘Klausen’, Morillon from ‘Moarfeitl’, Grauburgunder from ‘Saziani’, Roter Traminer from ‘Steintal’, and Weissburgunder from ‘Klausen’.
2007 Weingut Neumeister Morillon Moarfeitl Süd-Oststeiermark Straden Austria
Suggested retail price $18-21
Although still in a mountainous region, Straden is located in on of the flattest part of Austria, and far from the Mediterranean Sea, about 270 kilometers from Trieste in Italy (one of the closest beach town). Therefore it is a bit difficult to explain that slight saltiness, yet, as explained in the Salt article above, we may find an explanation in the ground.
Never heard of “Morillon”, well it is not commonly used, but it is just another name for Chardonnay in Austria. This wine was produced from hand-harvested vines planted on gentle rolling hills culminating at about 300 meters above sea level.
The soil of the 3 ha (7,5 acres) “Moarfeitl” vineyard is mainly composed of lime, sandy loam with gravel of schist, quartz and gneiss, which somewhat explains the freshness, minerality and slight salty touch of this wine (the soil high content of sand and minerals).
Behind its pale straw yellow color with green reflects, this wine offers a fresh nose, with floral and mineral notes, and fresh almond hints. The palate is fairly rich, fresh and balanced, elegant and mineral with zesty citrus and stone fruits, hints of blossoms and nuts. The finish is lingering with white fruit and mineral.
The saltiness is mainly appearing in the attack and mid-palate, and integrate fairly quickly. At first, I though that I was mistaken but 2 of my colleagues concurred, and we arrived at the same conclusion: "Great white wine with a slight perceptible saltiness!" Definitely a food wine to pair with fish and shellfish, but also white meat, poultry and cheese.
Try it for yourself and let me know, as always, I'm open to any comments and suggestions.
LeDom du Vin
Winery info partly taken and edited from the winery website at www.neumeister.cc and from an importer website at www.mcselections.com
To be continued ....with more Salty wines... like: Amayna Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from Chile; and Caruso Inzolia Terre di Giumara Sicilia; and more....
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