Salton, Brazil's Oldest Winery, Looks To Make A Mark In The United States

Before sitting down recently with a member of the Salton family to taste some of their current releases, I hadn't sampled any of their wines. And, in fact, I hadn't spent much time exploring or thinking about Brazil as a wine-making country.  There was no particular reason for this lack of attention on my part, except that there's too much wine and too little time. However, after tasting some wines from Salton, I not only plan to make a point of tasting more of their offerings, but also more Brazilian wines in general.

Salton's history dates back more than 100 years. In its earliest days, wine wasn't the primary focus, and quality wasn't looked at the way it is today. Over the years, many things have changed. First of all, Salton is now first and foremost a winery, and has been for a long time. Throughout that time there have been many changes in the organization, and its focus is now on making high quality wines that genuinely represent Brazil. The Salton portfolio, which represents 9 percent of Brazil's wine production, includes a wide range of both sparkling and still wines. The offerings are produced from fruit sourced in several Brazilian wine growing regions. The winery uses a combination of their own fruit and grapes purchased under long-term contracts with a host of small growers. Salton has been exporting a small part of its portfolio into a handful of U.S. markets for the last several years, and that area of its business stands to grow as the wines gain an audience. Here's a look at some of that wines I tasted that are currently available in the United States.

Salton Intenso Sparkling Brut ($16)

This sparkling wine was produced using the Charmat method. It's a blend of chardonnay (90 percent) and riesling (10 percent). This everyday sparkling wine leads with a fresh nose loaded with white flowers and hints of citrus. Tropical fruit flavors dominate the lovely palate, along with hints of lemon zest. A nice bit of yeasty biscuit goodness leads the finish, as well as just a hint of creaminess. For around $15, we should all be looking for excuses to pop this wine open regularly.

Salton 2013 Classic Tannat Reserva Especial ($10)

This wine was produced entirely from tannat. After fermentation in stainless steel with select yeasts, it spends some time in American oak. A nice hint of tar leads the deep and dark nose here. Red cherry, bits of thyme, and other savory herbs appear on the palate. Rhubarb, raspberry, and hints of sour fruit emerge on the finish, along with a dusting of dark cocoa. If you're looking for a house red to pair with burgers, ribs, mushroom-based dishes, and more, look no further.

Salton Intenso 2012 Tannat ($15)

This 100 percent tannat wine sees no oak at all: it was fermented and aged in stainless steel. As the name of this tier indicates, this wine is a bit more intense than the entry level tannat. It begins with a powerful nose laced with black raspberry and other dark fruits. Blackberry characteristics and plum pudding spices dot the full-bodied palate. Espresso, black pepper, and dusty dark chocolate notes are all part of the solid finish. Tasting this alongside the classic tannat, if you're not already familiar with this hearty grape, makes for a fine (and recommended) introduction.

Salton Intenso 2012 Cabernet Franc ($15)

This entirely cabernet franc wine was fermented in stainless steel, with select yeasts, over 15 days. Like the rest of their Intenso line, it sees no oak. Leather and red cherry aromas abound on the expressive nose. Savory green herbs and continued cherry flavors, both red and black, dominate the palate. Raspberry and black peppercorn are both in evidence on the finish, which has good length. 

Salton 2009 Talento ($26)

This wine has been produced in exceptional vintages beginning in 2002. It's a blend of cabernet sauvignon (60 percent), merlot (30 percent), and tannat (10 percent). It was aged in French oak for a year, followed by a year of bottle aging prior to release.  Cherry, tobacco, and mushroom aromas fill the welcoming nose of this red blend. The proportionate and even-keeled palate is stuffed with red and black fruit flavors such as raspberry, cherry, and blackberry. Earth, spice, bits of sage, and dark chocolate notes are each part of the really long and impressive finish. Soft tannins and firm acidity lend to the refreshing nature of this wine. Talento will pair well with an exceptionally wide array of foods. Red blends showing this level of quality are usually priced much higher.

The wines that Salton is exporting to the United States are the same as the ones sold in Brazil. Thankfully, Salton is not crafting offerings specifically for some concept of the U.S. palate. Instead, the winery is offering up a slice of what Brazilians drink on a daily basis. Right off that bat, that makes these wines interesting.  Each selection I tasted was balanced, loaded with varietal character, and food-friendly. Without exception, they are each good values to boot. However, the Red Blend Talento is easily the best value of the bunch. While it has a retail price in the mid $20s, it tastes like a wine that would come with a $50 price tag. I heartily recommend this whole batch of wines, but I can't recommend the Talento strenuously enough. It would be an excellent case purchase, and you'll blow your wine loving friends away with a killer find.  Just do it; you'll thank me later.