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Chão de Sal: A Crunchy, Chillable Red with Volcanic Minerality

Stylized image of Chao de Sal wine

One of this summer’s most exciting chillable reds comes from a very surprising locale.

The Azores are a blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em island chain in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a remnant of Portugal’s seafaring past. Once utilized as stop-off points for whalers and sailors, a booming wine trade quickly emerged on the islands. After all, sailing is thirsty work. Back then, they were making mostly sweet, fortified wines, but today, the output is largely dry, racy, low-ABV whites, and a handful of reds.

If you’ve tasted an Azores wine, it was more than likely made by the Azores Wine Company. It was founded in 2013 Paulo Machado, an Azores native, and Antonio Maçanita, a winemaker from Alentejo; Paulo brought the vines, and Antonio brought the know-how. In time, as the project picked up steam and attracted other grape growers, Paulo was able to utilize his fruit for a very personal project, which he calls Insula Vinus.

Chão de Sal — which translates to ground or earth of salt — is a wild, briny co-ferment, or palhete, of red and white varieties. Arinto and Verdelho are two of the whites, while the reds include Tinta Negra and Isabella, a cold-hardy hybrid. It’s technically “illegal”, as the blending of red and white grapes (not to mention the inclusion of a hybrid), is forbidden, but rules are meant to be broken, no?

We are glad Paulo took the risk, because this wine is unlike anything we’ve tasted before. It’s reminiscent of some Etna wines we’ve loved, like Salvo Foti’s Vinudilice rosato — a little smoky, with lots of juicy fruit and maritime salinity. The unique blend of grapes imparts a range of flavors from light-and-bright citrus to deep berry notes, and the volcanic soils around Mount Pico lend that distinct, earthy minerality we love.

Insula Vinus, Azores Tinto 'Chão de Sal', 2022 $37.99


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