Red wine, eaux de vie, and sugar are the basic ingredients for this wonderful warm aperitif from the walnut regions of France. Other ingredient most commonly mentioned in recipes, including oranges zest and cloves are optional. The bottle of vin de noix pictured above was given to me by Nina, the Parisians émigré from Belarus who I interviewed about rye bread. The walnuts are ones I picked around Saint Jean’s feast day as specified by French tradition which instructs that you pick green walnuts between Saint Jean’s feast day and Bastille Day. I picked them near my home in Santa Cruz, California, an area with
a Mediterranean climate similar to that of southern France. There is quite a lot of Internet discussion of the merits of the “noix de Saint-Jean”, whose saint day is June 24, and walnuts picked closer to Bastille Day, July 14. I don’t have the experience to offer an opinion on one day over another except to say that those who make claims for the noix de Saint-Jean seem to feel very strongly about the subject, and to say that it seems to me better to pick the walnuts younger if for no other reason that there is then no risk that you will be too late for the year. Once the walnut shells harden it can no longer be quartered with a knife and it is too late in the year to make this infusion.
There are many variants to this recipe. The one I give here is close to the recipes I found in cookbooks in my library, including Mireille Johnston’s recipe in The Cuisine of the Rose, however, I decided to go with the ingredient proportions that seem to be most often called for in Internet recipes. Repetition on the Internet is, of course, not necessarily a sign of anything but copying, however, vine de noix is a favorite French beverage and I am therefore assuming that the dominant Internet recipe is a good one. I am currently making a vin de noix using the recipe I give below. The next time I return to Paris I will ask Nina for her recipe, and I will add that to this page.
In my recipe I specify 40 walnuts for 6 liters of alcohol –5 liters wine and 1 liter brandy. This is 6.66 nuts per liter. Recipes tend to range from 4 to 10 nuts per liter. If you want to experiment, add as many nuts as you wish. If, in the end, you find the finished drink is too strong then dilute it by adding more wine.
French recipes usually call for wine plus a distilled alcohol. Some recipes call for pure alcohol and specify its purity. In the US, the closest we can get to buying pure alcohol is buying vodka at 80 proof, or 40 percent. Many recipes call for an eau de vie, or for marc, which is a form of brandy. Brandy will give the drink a deeper taste than will a neutral grain spirit, like vodka.
When buying alcohol and wine for this recipe, keep in mind that vine do noix is a simple drink with its home in the countryside. Don’t buy expensive ingredients — I use wine from a box and alcohol I have distilled myself from fruit.
Lastly, on the subject of timing, many of the recipes I read were very precise calling for the nuts to macerate for exactly 40 days or exactly 52 days or 3 months. A few recipes called for macerating the nuts in the alcohol first, then called for adding wine after a few weeks. As so many people make this infusion there are countless individual variations and many distinct traditions. Whatever you do, your drink will taste good.
Vin de Noix
40 young walnuts that can be pierced with a needle, rinsed and quartered
1 liter alcohol such as brandy, marc, eau de vie, or vodka
5 liters red wine
1 kg sugar (2 pounds)
One or more of the following are often added, but are optional
12 walnut leaves
Zest of 1 orange
4 to 8 cloves
1 vanilla bean
1. Pick the walnuts in late June when the walnuts are well formed, but can still be pierced with a needle. Place all of the ingredients in an 8 quart (8 liter) non-reactive container with a lid. I use a large glass jar. Store in a cool dark place for 6 to 8 weeks, shaking occasionally.
2. Strain through cheesecloth into a bowl. Taste, and adjust the sugar if you want the drink to be sweeter. Bottle and store in a cool dark place until the cold weather.