By: Jill Veader
Most people don’t even know how to pronounce Verjus, let alone what it is. Verjus (pronounced vair-ZHOO) translates to “green juice” in French. It is a middle ground between vinegar and grape juice, made from the juice of unripened wine grapes.
Winemakers will often thin out the grapes on their vines just as the grapes are starting to ripen. This period called veraison in winemaking. Unripe grapes are tart, acidic, and not great to drink on their own.
These pucker inducing grapes are usually tossed aside. But some winemakers choose to turn what’s usually waste into a sustainable product. The sour, acidic grapes are then pressed and bottled before fermentation occurs. But if the grapes are unfermented, is it considered wine?
Is Verjus Wine?
Well, sort of. Fermentation is what makes wine alcoholic — no fermentation means a 0% ABV. But this “green juice” is made from the same varietals as familiar wine.
There are red and white versions, with different purposes we'll discuss in a moment. You will commonly see chardonnay used for the white verjus, or cabernet sauvignon and merlot to make red verjus.
What is Verjus Used For?
White verjus is often used for deglazing and cooking French-style dishes like foie gras, while its red counterpart makes a killer vinaigrette dressing. But if it is really is the hidden gem of cooking wines, why isn’t it flying off the shelves? Originally, it was used in Medieval European kitchens for deglazing, sauces, and other recipes that required an element of acidity. But once the modern lemon arrived in Europe, verjus was largely forgotten in favor of the exotic fruit.
The resurgence of verjus is growing stronger as winemakers realize they can bottle what’s usually vineyard waste into something tart, acidic, and delicious. Much of it is made in the US, but it’s also largely produced in France. Just like typical wines, the qualities of the verjus will vary depending on soil, climate, and winemaking techniques. It's quiet subtlety of is probably why it was dubbed the darling of non alcoholic drink makers by the Washington Post.
One of the most popular ways to use verjus is in salads and light dishes being served with wine. Particularly popular as a replacement for vinegar. Harsh on the palate, vinegar can drown out the wine being served. Verjus typically has more flavor than vinegar.
In comparison, the green-apple tartness and sharp acidity of verjus will compliment it beautifully. Once opened, verjus can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 months.
Here are some of our favorite uses in the kitchen or home bar:
- Deglazing, salad dressings (especially the red version), and sauces
- Substitute for lemon juice or vinegar in recipes
- A non alcoholic cocktail companion (here is one of our favorite recipes from Edible San Francisco)
- Winemaker’s lemonade (coined by Navarro Vineyards). Pour over ice and mix with tonic water to drink as a refreshingly tart apéritif!
Is Verjus Natural Wine?
Photos from Old Westminster and Martha Stouman of drinks linked below
While verjus is a natural biproduct of the winemaking process it's not technically a natural wine because it does not go through fermentation. But because the process is naturally sustainable and promotes a zero-waste philosophy in winemaking, it is an environmentally sound (and tasty) solution to vineyard thinning.
Thus, this is why we are seeing more natural wine producers leaning into the practice and making verjus-style beverages with very low-ABV. For example Martha Stouman has the 3.5% Jus Jus and Old Westminster has Ver Juicy. So, don't be surprised if you see one of these styles the next time you're at your local natural wine bar!