Salt is probably the last flavor element you’re looking for in a good glass of wine, but to me, a healthy dose of salinity or brine can elevate a wine to an entirely new place. Some people describe salinity in wine as “minerality” and others employ the term “savory,” but no matter how you slice it, there is something extremely intriguing about wines that have the ability to echo the salty or savory elements that run through most of what we eat, be it a plate of grilled squid, a roasted rack of lamb, or a simple bowl of cured olives.
A very important function of salinity is bringing about balance in wine, what most winemakers consider the holy grail. Achieving a perfect equilibrium between fruit, tannins, acidity, and alcohol is no easy feat, and salinity is oftentimes the golden ticket. Salinity has the unique ability to bring a very ripe wine into balance by tempering the fruit and offsetting the wine’s sweetness. Briny accents can also bring depth and complexity to a wine—qualities that are highly sought after by wine critics and the like.
So where do salty or savory notes in wine come from? For starters, wines that are grown in close proximity to the ocean benefit from what wine geeks call maritime influences: cooling winds that blow off the water, spreading salty gusts of seaspray over the vineyards. A few examples of noteworthy wines that are cultivated in this type of environment are the spritzy Txakolis of Spain’s Basque coast, or the briny wines of Muscadet in France’s Loire Valley, which also benefit from the nearby Atlantic.
Savory notes can also present themselves in wines that are grown inland. In those cases, the salinity most probably results from a combination of things including the soil type(s) in which a wine is grown, the natural characteristics of a particular grape variety, and the use of wild versus commercial yeasts, which grow on the skins of grapes.
A few savory wine standouts: