English walnuts can be be added to the list of English things that are not English just like tea, fish & chips and the royal family. English walnuts – Juglens Regia are probably from Persia, adopted by the Greeks then Romans and can be found all over the world including England.
Iran is not that big on wine making but there are various uses of green walnuts in liqueurs like Italian Nocino or Orahovac from Croatia with almost every European country having a variant on it. The French make Vin De Noix again with green walnuts but in red wine rather than a spirit base. Mature walnuts can be used for amaretto/frangellico like liqueurs. There are several black walnut bitters from America to add a deep smokey tobacco-esque taste to cocktails and finally the leaves can be used to make wine. Walnut trees really do seem to be the unsung hero of DIY drinkers.
Many leaves can be used to make wine with oak, grape, bramble, maple, beech, lime or birch. Walnut leaf and particularly black walnut leaf wine are meant to be the best of the lot and I have been wanting to make it for a while. Finding walnut trees is tricky in Britain – English walnut trees are rare and American/black walnut trees (Juglens Nigra) even more so. Around Vintner HQ there happened to be a tree that was sadly next to Walthamstow’s busiest road. I don’t really want to make walnut & diesel soot wine. As if to rub it in there was a tree on common land that was too small to harvest leaves from. I want 6 bottles of wine but do not want to kill a tree in the process. Then there was a black walnut tree in a park so off limits… Mother Nature seems to be bit of a tease it seems. It has taken over a year to track down trees that are both suitable and possible to forage. Sadly these are just English walnut trees… but they are walnut trees!
Walnut trees are wide stocky lads with stout trunks and large canopies. Early in the year there have distinctive catkins and small walnuts start to form in late May. The leaves are pinnate with Ameican and English trees having slight variation in size and shape but they both have a very distinct scent. Rub the young leaves and they will smell like a lime flavoured nail polish… mmmmm!
These pungent leaves are far stronger than others that make wine. Oak leaf wine needs 3 to 4.5 litres of leaves picked to make 4.5 litres of wine, walnut only needs a fraction of that at ¾litre so picking is far easier. There are spring and more tannic autumn harvested oak leaf wines but walnut leaves should be harvested only when they are young and fragrant in May or June. The recipe is essentially the same with oranges and lemons adding some acid with their juice and also flavour with the zest. I have chosen to use raisins to add body though some prefer to leave this out for a more esoteric brew suited as an aperitif, while others use white grape concentrate or even a malt extract. If you do want the more aperitif like wine use light brown demerara sugar instead of regular white sugar to the same amount.
Spring time oak leaf wine is herbal and light but with the young walnut must there is currently a smooth caramel like taste that is certainly richer. I am hoping the walnut leaf will be a stronger with a warmer nuttier taste coming through. Using my oak leaf wine as a guide I will need to let this mature for at least 18 months or possibly even two years. Six months from now I will have four bottles sealed and aging and the remaining 1.5 litres will sit in a small demijohn to oxidise. The idea is that this will make a fino like sherry as they often have nuttier tastes – there is no way I am investing in any flor yeast or moving to Jerez so lets agree to call it a Faux-no.
Before you start cover every surface that might come into contact with the leaves. Walnuts stain and were a traditional source of dyes and the leaves have the potential to stain wood and clothing.
WALNUT LEAF WINE – 4.5 litres
Suitable yeasts – white wine like CL23, SN9 and others
Up to 1L freshly picked walnut leaves
1kg-ish sugar to 1.09SG
Juice of 4 oranges and zest of 2
Juice of 2 lemons and zest
Pick and then rinse the leave to remove any hitch hiking spiders. Pour over the 3.5L of boiling water and leave for 24 hours. Any longer than one day soaking will release far too much bitter tannin that will dominate.
As the leaves steep boil the roughly chopped raisins and lemon and orange zest in the remaining litre of water.
Sieve the leaves out of the water once the 24 hours has elapsed and combine with the raisins and zest. Add the sugar, lemon & orange juice and stir till the sugar has dissolved.
Add the yeast & nutrient according to its instructions. Leave to ferment in primary and then transfer to an air locked demijohn when fermentation slows after five to 10 days leaving the raisins and zests behind.
Rack if sediment builds and certainly at one then two months to remove the settled yeast.
Leave to bulk age in a demijohn for as long as you can – six months at least.
Bottle and open a minimum 18 months after starting.