Friday’s French – bernache

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beaujolais_nouveau_5Today I learnt a new word – bernache – used in Touraine and particularly in Anjou, to designate what is known in other parts of France as vin nouveau, i.e. grape juice at the beginning of its fermentation.

I’ve already recounted our experience with vin nouveau in Alsace and the famous beaujolais nouveau tradition that is sadly dying out in France, but I had never heard of bernache.

Like any vin nouveau, bernache is only available for a short period at the end of the grape harvest (vendange), that is, from about the end of October to mid-November and is usually served with roasted chestnuts (marrons grillés).

It is mainly produced in Montlouis and Vouvray. Cloudy, a little sweet and sometimes very bubbly, it can’t be transported very far. It’s a transitional stage of traditional vinification.

In the Saumur area, further along the Loire, where Jean Michel grew up, it’s called beurnoche.

barnacle_gooseBernache has another meaning – a barnacle goose (from the benus Branta . Not that I have ever seen a barnacle goose! Unfortunately, my Robert etymological dictionary is currently in a carton in Paris waiting to be moved to Blois or I might have been able to find out if the two words are connected.


In any case, I am going to try and find a vineyard where I can try some bernache vin nouveau!

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5 thoughts on “Friday’s French – bernache”

  1. I get told off by my Aged Orchard Neighbour if I refer to chestnuts as marrons. For him, chestnuts are chataignes and marrons are inedible, what we call horse chestnuts in English. I haven’t quizzed him about how come candied chestnuts are marrons glacé if his distinction is correct.

    Shame you couldn’t comment on the etymology. That was our question too when we first encountered bernache — what the heck was the connection to a goose!?

    You forgot to mention that the bottles of bernache are not sealed. They do not have corks, only the plastic that goes over the top. These plastic covers have 4 tiny holes in them — just enough to release the gas that is coming off the bernache. In the supermarkets the bernache always has a sign reminding you to keep the bottles upright (and a big bright sign announcing that la bernache est arrivée !) .

    You also failed to mention that the stuff is lethal — not in terms of alcohol content, but in terms of its effect on your digestive system if you drink more than a glass or two. All that active yeast continues to be active after you’ve drunk it, shall we say.

    1. You’re perfectly right – it should be châtaignes grillées but most people say marrons grillés!
      Did you read my post on vin nouveau d’Alsace? We nearly had a sealed bottle explode on us. I should have repeated the information I gave on that occasion about the holes in the lid and what it can do to your insides. Thanks for the reminder.
      I had no idea that you could buy bernache in a supermarket. You certainly couldn’t in Alsace when we were there. I’ll have to look out for it.
      When our cartons arrive and I can identify the right one, I’ll check the etymology.

  2. Did we visit the winery in Vouvray, is that the place near Blois? That was a fascinating place – the dark, black fluffy walls of the cellars.

    Good luck with the moving, it’s the second most stressful event in people’s lives.

  3. Yes, Karlfest, it was Vouvray. What a wonderful time we had that evening!

    I knew that moving was pretty high on the stress list but didn’t realise it was second. I feel better already!

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