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Walnut Wine (Vin de Noix)

The apéritif of choice in the Dordogne (and in many parts of France) is this sweet dark liquor called walnut wine, but there's nary a grape in site.

The vin de noix is made from young green walnuts harvested between La Fete de St. Jean (June 24) and Bastille Day (July 14), when the shells are still soft and green.

Walnut wine is a typically home-brewed concoction. Think moonshine, with a sophisticated French flair. Though I have found it commercially, the best accompanies a good meal with friends around a kitchen table or at the region's numerous Fermes Auberges (Farmhouse Inns), where all products are made on site. Walk in to any home and you'll likely be offered a sip.

There are hundreds of family recipes for this elixir, each claiming to be the best, bien sur! But most agree, the longer it sits in the cupboard, the better (6 months to years). But it's worth the wait. Recipe: green walnuts, dry red wine, sugar, and some patience. Et Voila!

I've often been asked what it tastes like, and my description usually results in a nose wrinkle. A blend of port and prune juice---and it's delicious.

My friend Roland, knowing my love of the apéritif and the memories it summons, sent me these two glasses he'd found in an antique shop in Perigueux, along with a small bottle of his homemade walnut wine. I set the glasses out on my terrace, poured in the chocolate-hued liquor, and toasted to the memory of my beloved Dordogne, and the people from there who have flavored my life.

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