Ancient Greeks and Romans alike valued walnuts highly. The latter attributed the nut’s trees to Jupiter, the king of Roman gods, which gave rise to the common walnut’s scientific name, Juglans regia, translating roughly to “royal nut of Jupiter.”
Now, walnuts often play second fiddle to more assertive ingredients, but they have a distinct personality that deserves a showcase. Earthy and astringent, they’re like the refined cousins of peanuts and almonds. They can develop off flavors quickly, however, so be sure to purchase from a trusted source and store in the refrigerator. Remarkably versatile, a focus on their less obvious characteristics will help you to discover the perfect pairing.
Just like red wine, the papery skin that coats walnuts contains tannins. They’re responsible for the gentle astringency that some people perceive as bitterness. The bold tannins in a red wine like Montepulciano will mute the comparatively more subtle ones in walnuts to let their other flavors shine.
The high fat content of walnuts provides a creamy quality and a taste akin to browned butter. Aged for a minimum of three years on the lees, vintage Champagne has hints of a similar flavor that gains further nuttiness with age. Even better, its bubbles cut the walnuts’ richness.
Walnuts have an interesting sharpness akin to just-mowed grass or tilled soil. Spanish Verdejo will help tease out this quality. With a grassiness comparable to Sauvignon Blanc, it also features refreshing notes of citrus and fresh fennel that show off the greener flavors of the nuts.
Try with: Naia 2019 Verdejo (Rueda)
When freshly shelled, walnuts have an almost-sweet fruity quality that’s fun to highlight with a sweet wine. Vintage Port boasts concentrated flavors of dried fruit and chocolate that are gorgeous matched up with this characteristic.
Try with: Dow’s 2011 Vintage Port