Abstract Deficit irrigation is increasingly being practiced in water-limited areas to overcome water scarcities. Although, this practice reduces yield losses, there is limited information currently available on how this practice can affect crops when the irrigation water contains elevated levels of salts. An experiment was set up to investigate salt uptake and distribution and salt tolerance of potted Soultanina vines grafted on different rootstocks (41B, 1103P, 110R) and irrigated with effluent containing relatively high concentrations of salts and fresh water at different fractions of evapotranspiration (0.50, 0.75 and 1.00ET). Irrigation with recycled water induced the development of leaf burns, which were more intense in 1998 despite the lower leaf-Na and -Cl content. This may have been due to the more severe water deficit and/or to the more adverse climatic conditions which prevailed during that season. Decreasing the irrigation level induced the development of leaf burns causing only minor changes to leaf-Na or -Cl content. Differences in salt uptake, accumulation and distribution were observed among the rootstocks investigated in this work, suggesting that differences exist in the mechanisms regulating salt uptake and distribution in the shoot. Despite these differences, a distinct superiority in terms of salinity tolerance among rootstocks was only observed at the 0.50ET irrigation level, where vines grafted on 41B developed earlier and more acute leaf burns than the other rootstocks. These findings suggest that leaf salt content alone it is not to classify genotypes according to their tolerance to salinity and that salinity-induced damage is linked with prevailing environmental conditions. Furthermore, it can be inferred that grapevines have additional mechanisms to cope with salt stress which may counteract differences in salt uptake and accumulation in the shoot.