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Jun 5, 2008 09:33 AM

Chardonnay Salt

I keep seeing this wonderful chardonnay salt at Williams Sonoma, and instead of paying $20/oz, I'd like to see if I can make it myself. I believe it's made by smoking the salt with the oak from chardonnay barrels, but I'm not entirely sure. I'm imagining that such a thing would be difficult to come by, though I'm not far from Napa so I'd be willing to make a pilgrimage. Should I just call a winery and ask?

Also, how could one go about making it in other ways? I'm curious about a non-smoked chardonnay salt, which would involve chardonnay in its liquid form, therefore dissolving the salt. Does anyone have a method for making flavored salts with liquid ingredients?

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  1. o.k. so now I'm totally curious about chardonnay salt... and could you tell the difference if it was french oak vs. american??? I doubt my palate could pick it up, but it would be fun to try.

    I'm sure if you called around to a few wineries someone could help you... especially since you probably wouldn't need a ton of wood.... and since you are close to napa, you might also try one of the barrel cooperages... some of the re-furbish used barrels for a second go around... or since some of the wineries only use a barrel for a few vintages, so you might try a winery that gets it barrels on the secondary market....

    good luck! sounds like fun!

    10 Replies
    1. re: withalonge

      thanks! what are the barrel cooperages? I looked on google and found nothing... is there another term that is used? or maybe a specific name?

      1. re: morphone

        a barrel cooperage is just the place where they are made. I think in napa there is Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage, Demptos Napa Cooperage... and a place in Calistoga.. I'm blanking on the name.

        and yes, all this might just be marketing... but it still sounds like fun to try... and better than paying $20 an ounce.

        1. re: withalonge

          Of course, you'd have to pay $800 for a new French barrel. Or $600 for an American oak barrel.

          The cooperages sell only new barrels. Besides, the OP was looking for a barrel that once contained wine, specifically Chardonnay. Those could only be found if you knew of a winery that was selling its used barrels.

          In any case, the oak exposed to wine will have no effect on the flavor of anything you smoke with the oak barrel pieces.

          The OP should just get some pieces of oak -- any pieces of oak -- and smoke some things, including salt. It's ridiculous to pay the premium for oak barrel staves, and to think there's any effect from the wine the barrel once contained.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              oh come on maria lorraine, isn't this for fun and satisfying curiosity?

              I was not implying the OP should go buy a new barrel. Some cooperages re-furbish used barrels... and might be a potential source. plus a new barrel would also lack the pre-requisite chardonnay soaked wood.

              another option, perhaps cheaper (and possibly free) is to see if you can get a used oak "mummy"... which is basically a cheesecloth type sack of oak chips that is thrown in to white wine to impart a little oak flavor but without the cost of a whole barrel. lots of wineries still use these, but you may have trouble getting them to admit it.

              1. re: withalonge

                "oh come on maria lorraine, isn't this for fun and satisfying curiosity?"

                As long as the OP isn't misled. Either into foolishly spending money on a new or used barrel as your earlier posts may have done, or into thinking that the used Chardonnay barrel will have more effect than it will on the smoked salt's flavor.

                Smoked salt is wonderful. The Williams-Sonoma product is fleur de sel crystals that are smoked over oak chips. That's the important part. The idea that those oak chips are from used chardonnay oak barrels...well, that's the romantic marketing part that seems special but doesn't add to flavor.

                I'd recommend the OP make two smoked salts, since it's easy to do, and then compare the two. One with oak chips soaked in cheap chardonnay and one with oak chips soaked in water. (Allow both woods to dry after soaking to simulate a barrel.)

                That's enough to satisfy curiosity, be a legitimate experiment, and the OP won't have to lay out the major chunk of change s/he would for a new or used barrel, or traipse around Napa burning up $4.35/gallon gas to find one and haul it. Plus, s/he will have the smoked salt to use!

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  thanks, I'll try this. yes, as gas eeks towards the $4.50 mark here (yikes) driving around napa isn't really affordable. though I may be sure to ask wineries if I happen to end up wine tasting at all this summer.

            2. re: morphone

              barrel cooperages are just the place where barrels are made... local to where you are I think there is Sequin Moreau, Demptos Napa.. and another in Calistoga that I'm blanking on the name of. A lot of the barrel staves are imported (from france, hungary, etc)... but made locally.

              Barrel making is a pretty cool process (especially hand made)... I think Sequin has tours... might be a good segue to procuring some wood.

              1. re: withalonge

                Thanks! I'm back on my quest to find barrel wood for smoking salt. I wonder if the champagne caves would sell me any?

          1. This is silly. It's just marketing.

            The barrels are made of oak pieces. Once the barrels have lost their useful life, they're used like any wood for smoking -- you build a fire, you smoke something over it. That's it.

            The idea that the barrels once held Chardonnay and that makes the oak "special?" Ridiculous. There's no flavor that the wine will give the oak that it will in turn give the food being smoked.

            So, you can just smoke sea salt anytime you're smoking something else.
            Here's an easy method:

            4 Replies
            1. re: maria lorraine

              well if that's true, perhaps soaking the oak in chardonnay, drying it, then using it to smoke the salt would impart a chardonnay flavor? with this in mind, I'm suddenly thinking of champagne salt, which would be DIVINE.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  perhaps, but I'm still wondering if soaking the wood in something before using it to smoke salt would impart any special flavor at all. :)

              1. re: maria lorraine

                Right. By the way I've got some delicious Brooklyn Bridge salt.........

              2. have you tried it? What is it like? I've never heard of chardonnay salt. It's not the most distinctively fragranced wine.

                3 Replies
                1. re: 512window

                  it's not very wine-y, more smokey. so re: the comments above, I'm going to try it with plain old chardonnay soaked oak and see how it goes.

                  1. re: morphone

                    But if the product is essentially smoked salt...why not simply purchase smoked salt? How much difference does the chardonnay soaking make to the end product - and could any (read:ordinary or unschooled!) palate discern the difference? Chef's Warehouse (I think) sells smoked salt and smoked pepper online for around $9 a hallf poind or so.

                    1. re: Alice Letseat

                      Good point about the smoke being the important variable.

                      Morphone had the price wrong -- the WS smoked salt is $18/5.7 ounces, but that's still precious.

                      Chef's Warehouse is even better. The smoked salt they sell ($7.50/1.5lbs) is made by Dairyland, and you can order it from them if you wish:

                      For any smoked salt, the only thing I'd want to check is if the smoke flavor came from real wood, rather than smoke flavorings or a "liquid" smoke product. Certainly, a smoked salt may claim to be smoked over wood, but then the list of "smoke" chemicals in the ingredients reveals this is only partially true.

                      But smoked salt would be very inexpensive to make...especially when you're not wasting money on Chardonnay!