Wine-tasting:  Wines from Brazil's Vinicola Salton winery

By Graham Hicks
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
First posted Nov. 7, 2016

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Edmonton wine stores have shelves upon shelves of Canadian, American, Italian, New Zealand, Australian and French wines.  There’s fewer Chilean, South African, German and Spanish wines, but still some choice.

But when it comes to Brazilian wines, you’ll be lucky to find a few brands on a back shelf.

Which is why Mauricio Salton and Cesar Baldasso, of Brazil’s Vinicola Salton winery, found themselves 11,000 kilometres away from home, tucking into tapas at the  Bodega Highlands tapas bar and kitchen on a cool November evening.

Producing 1.25 million cases of wine annually, Salton is one of the biggest wineries in Brazil and definitely the oldest, started by Mauricio’s great grandfather and his great grandfather’s brothers in 1910.

Brazil likes its home-grown wines, especially sparkling wines that dominate domestic consumption. But the country has barely scratched the surface of its wine production potential. 

Alongside the major vineyards in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, in a region bordering Uruguay, vast tracts of potential grape-growing land lie untouched.

Brazil is also a Johnny-come-lately to the international wine trade.  Rio Grande do Sul was remote and undeveloped until the late 19th Century. It was only in the early decades of the 20th Century that Italian immigrants began to grow grapes suited to the climate and terroir for commercial wine production. Even at that, Brazilian wines were not considered of export quality until the 1970s and 1980s.

So if Salton can grow its international markets, the sky is the limit for its wine-producing potential. Hence Baldasso and Salton were working their way across Canada, building relationships with distributors like Nelson Gomes of Edmonton’s FineVine Wine Imports, introducing their wines through wine-tastings for the media, restaurants and liquor store buyers.

And excellent wines they are, mostly retailing in the $17 to $22 range.

A constant characteristic of almost all Salton wines is the creative use of oak barrels in both fermentation and aging.

Its Paradoxo Chardonnay is mostly fermented and aged in steel tanks, but 20% of the wine is diverted to French oak barrels, and then mixed back into the final wine for just a touch of oak aroma.

 The Salton vintners add more steps for the Virtude Chardonnay – half is fermented in oak, half in steel tanks. Once mixed, all the wine is poured back into oak barrels for aging. The result is a fragrant, rich white wine blending the oak with crisp tropical fruit notes.

The Salton Paradoxo Pino Noir is all oak, 100% fermented and aged in the barrels. Its Cabernet Sauvignon fermented in steel, aged in oak.

One of the most interesting red wines was made from the Tannat grape, originally from southwest France and now prominently grown in neighbouring Uruguay. The Salton Tannat Intenso is considered so flavourful unto itself that it avoids the traditional Salton trip through oak.

Also interesting – something I’ll buy – was the Salton Talento- a reserve blend of Cabernet-Sauvignon, Merlot and Tannat. Certainly it’s highly regarded within Brazil, named the country’s best wine in 2004 and deemed the pope’s wine for the Brazil papal visits of both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

And so Cesar Baldasso and Mauricio Salton soldier on in the name of Vinicola Salton and Brazilian wines, living out of suitcases, perpetually on the move, building customers and relationships the old-fashioned face-to-face way, through the ancient rites of sharing good wine and good food.

Salton wines are available in Edmonton at Wine & Beyond, Everything Wine, Hicks Fine Wines in St. Albert, Bin 104, Select Liquor and Royal Imperial Liquor.