Nocino & Vin de NoixJun 26th, 2015 | By jdixon | Category: Blog
Green walnuts in grain alcohol in the garden
Nocino & Vin de Noix
Italians make nocino, the French vin de noix; you can make either or both. But you need to get out soon and find a walnut tree. The green, immature nuts get soaked in alcohol flavored with citrus and spice, and when winter comes you get to drink the results.
I learned to make nocino long ago from Renato, a Tuscan attending grad school in Portland. When he came to harvest walnuts from the tree in our yard on June 24, St. John day and the traditional date in Italy, he took a look and said, “Too early.” So I pick the nuts during the first couple of weeks in July (the French tradition is harvesting between the feast of St. Jean and Bastille Day); you’ve still got some time to get yours.
Most recipes call for quartering the green nuts, and I used to but now just leave them whole without any noticeable change in the results; it also keeps your hands form getting stained. The ration of nuts to alcohol vary as well, but I’m not convinced that a few more or less makes any difference. For nocino, I fill a gallon jar with green walnuts, add a half gallon of grain alcohol (often called Everclear, a brand not available in Oregon, but you can buy another brand at the liquor store; 180 proof grain alcohol works better than vodka). After macerating outside in the garden (Renato said that’s where his dad left his) for at least 2 months but usually longer, I strain and dilute with simple syrup.
There are lots of recipes with additional ingredients online, but Douglas Derrick, former bar manager at Nostrana, makes some of the best (I’ve been supplying him walnuts for years). Portland Monthly published his recipe, and it’s a good one to start with.
Vin de noix combines red wine with grain alcohol to soak the walnuts, and the result is fortified wine I call poor man’s Port. You’ll find a number of recipes online (William Rubel’s is nice and basic, and I first learned about vin de noix from Francophile blogger Abra at French Letters; her version is my model).
Last year my vin de noix included a Rhone-style red wine from AniChe Cellars in the Columbia River Gorge, grain alcohol (my usual ratio is 9 parts wine to 1 part grain alcohol), green walnuts, walnut leaves, split vanilla beans, and an orange and lemon, each stuck with a dozen cloves. Instead of sugar, I sweetened it with vincotto, fresh wine grape juice boiled down to about 25% of its original volume.
I let everything macerate for several months, then start drawing off the vin de noix around Thanksgiving. And I give thanks that picked a lot green walnuts, so I didn’t have quite so many to sweep off the sidewalk in September.