There are countless rules surrounding wine, but one of my least favorites is the old-fashioned guidance, “Always cook with the same wine you will be drinking.” I remember the first time the rule struck me as one I would not be following in my kitchen. I was making beef stew and the recipe instructed me to add two cups of red wine. It just happened the wine I was serving and had opened for dinner was a beautifully aged Bordeaux. I could not convince myself to pour half of my bottle into the pot. Thus beginning my exploration of wine being used as a cooking ingredient.
Many cooks have experimented using different wines (ranging from the least expensive to super premium) in the same recipe. Generally the results were similar, but with a few notable exceptions. Wines in lowest price range tend to be either slightly sweet or bland and generally imparted these characteristics to the final dish. Premium wines tend to be very flavorful but lose their nuance as they cook. In general the best wines to cook with fall in the middle, $8 to $12 wines with simple flavors and aromas.
Be cautious of using grocery store “cooking wine,” as it tends to have additional additives and excessive salt and likely will change the taste of a recipe calling for red or white wine.
When faced with the typical vague instruction “2 cups dry white wine” or “1 cup red wine,” opt for a dry style unless the recipe is specific in listing a sweet wine as an ingredient. However, if a wine label reads “fruity,” this does not mean sweet. A safe white wine is chardonnay, and for reds, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir are good options.
A wine that is often overlooked is dry vermouth. Most famous for its role in martinis, this dry white wine has been steeped with various spices, herbs and seasonings. It’s known as the chef’s secret because it adds interesting lightly spicy hints to sauces.
The longer the dish is cooking, the more of the wine’s character is lost. For long-simmering dishes, the specific wine is less important than one for a quick saute. Also consider the color. White wine is generally used in most stocks and sauces because the red wine would change the color of the food.
If you are concerned about alcohol, it is important to note that alcohol boils at about 178 degrees, so if you are braising, boiling, or cooking the food for a prolonged period most of the alcohol will evaporate off. In briefly cooked dishes, as much as 85 percent of the alcohol may remain.
My advice is to follow the guidelines, but save your best bottle of wine for your glass and not the cooking pan.
Wine is an essential item in many kitchens. It can add depth and flavor to a variety of dishes as an ingredient in marinades, stews, sauces and desserts. But be careful with what you’re adding to your dishes.
A good example of a wine to avoid is grocery store “cooking wine,” as it frequently contains additives such as preservatives and salt, and using it will likely change the taste of a recipe (and not in a good way).
Also, consider the shelf life of opened bottles. Avoid cooking with half-consumed bottles that have been sitting for weeks next to the olive oil. The same goes for the bottle that’s been in the refrigerator since last month’s dinner party. A general rule for open bottles is two to three days for whites and up to four days for reds. White wine will lose its zip and reds tend to develop a raisin or licorice flavor.
If you are concerned about how much alcohol remains in cooked foods, alcohol boils at 173 degrees and water boils at 212 degrees, so if you are braising, simmering or using another high-heat method where the food is cooked for more than an hour, much of the alcohol will evaporate, leaving only the flavor. However, depending on the cooking method, 5 percent to 85 percent of the alcohol can remain in cooked food.
Often, recipes list only red or white wine in the ingredients, leaving the cook to choose the wine. For the best results, consider how it will be used before grabbing just any bottle of red or white.
Slow cooking or marinades
Wine used as a marinade adds a richer flavor to the dish. Chefs differ on whether the wine acts to tenderize the meat or simply adds a more complex flavor. There’s no need to splurge on this wine because many recipes will call for a half bottle or more for marinating.
- 2007 Jacob’s Creek Shiraz, Australia (about $10 retail)
- 2007 Bodega Norton Malbec, Argentina (about $12 retail)
Sweet wines such as Muscat or Asti can be used in baked dishes such as puddings or simply poured over fresh fruits like peaches, strawberries or raspberries.
- 2007 Michele Chiarlo Moscato D’Asti Nivole, Italy, 375ml (about $14 retail)
- NV Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley, California (about $30 retail)
White wines are preferred for a creamy sauce served with pork, chicken or fish. Wine keeps the cream from tasting too sweet.
- 2007 Rosemount Diamond Label Chardonnay, Australia (about $12, retail)
- 2007 Hess Monterrey Chardonnay, California (about $14 retail)
Gone is the day when the biggest cookout dilemma was whether to serve burgers or brats.
Today, in addition to the charcoal versus gas argument, grilling experts and food writers are busily advising on all of your grilling needs — from basting brushes and smoker boxes to grill size and all of the tasty and unique foods that can be prepared on the grill.
Modern grilling has moved way beyond the basic burger to include such dishes as Chinese-style ribs with guava sauce, lime-marinated mahi-mahi and even pizza.
But no matter if it’s the humble hamburger or an exotic fish dish, one beverage always goes great with grilled food: wine.
- 2006 Jacob’s Creek Shiraz, Australia (about $12 retail)
- 2006 St. Francis “Old Vine” Zinfandel, California (about $27 retail)
- 2006 Cellar No. 8 Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $12 retail)
- 2008 Cline Cellars Cool Climate Syrah, California (about $20 retail)
- 2007 Greg Norman Estates Pinot Noir, California (about $15 retail)
- 2007 Artesa Carneros Chardonnay, California (about $22 retail)
- 2007 Concannon Pinot Noir, California (about $13, retail)
- 2007 Turkey Flat Vineyards Rose, Australia (about $18, retail)
- 2006 Cline Cellars Zinfandel, California (about $12 retail)
- 2006 Gordon Brothers Syrah, Washington (about $22 retail)
- 2007 Montes Classic Series Chardonnay, Chile (about $13 retail)
- 2006 Bennett Family Russian River Chardonnay, California (about $25 retail)