Some foodies won’t cook unless there is a glass of red wine at hand. They say it helps to get creative in the kitchen… Here is some superb advice on cooking with wine. Yes, that’s using it in recipes, not drinking it as you go! 😉

A recipe that calls for wine may create doubt for home cooks who don’t know the fruit of the vine all that well.

Will you ruin your chicken dish if you use red when the recipe calls for white? (Perhaps, and you’ll definitely turn the meat red.)

And is your favourite sweet white zinfandel appropriate for shrimp scampi, too? (No.)

There are other examples that make some of us scratch our heads, or even search for another recipe:

– The arroz con pollo recipe specifies “dry white wine”.

– Asian-inspired stewed mussels includes “fortified wine”.

– A favourite steak marinade is flavoured with a “full-bodied red”.

– A yummy-sounding red-sauce recipe lists a “young, robust red” as an ingredient.

Will the bottles of merlot and pinot grigio you have on hand suffice?

Maybe, but the accompanying information should help you conquer the technique of cooking with wine, giving you the confidence to splash with abandon.

The benefits of wine

Primarily, wine enhances the flavour and aroma of dishes. Heating it concentrates the flavour of the wine, which is why it’s important to match the right one to your dish.

The wine should meld with other ingredients, not stick out like a cracked cork.

Burning off the booze

Yes, but it may take longer than you think. After 15 minutes of cooking, the alcohol content is still about 40 per cent.

There is even a little left – about 5 per cent – after a stew has simmered for three hours.

Wine, in general, is lower in alcohol than other spirits, and the amount divided by the servings won’t yield much per person.

However, if it’s a concern, substitute unsweetened apple cider, grape juice or even broths when they are appropriate.

Storing the wine

The enemy of wine is air, so the half bottle of wine that you keep by the stove, even though it’s tightly stopped, is deteriorating in quality.

Use a wine-stopper system that sucks the air out of the bottle or drink the remainder with your meal.

Some people even combine like wines (red with red, white with white), keeping the bottle full for cooking but not drinking.

Wine pricing guidelines

“Don’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink” is a well-worn kitchen saying. While it might be true, we would add: Don’t spend $50 on a bottle of wine for cooking.

There are plenty of wines for about $10 that will do. Seek them out. And if you like them for drinking, so much the better.

When to use wine

Wine enhances a dish when it is simmered for a while with other ingredients, so add it when there is still plenty of cooking time.

If it’s stirred in at the end of cooking, it may impart unwanted harshness, and its flavour will outshine everything else. You don’t want that.

Using “cooking wine”

Please don’t. Inexpensive cooking wines have high salt content, which alters the flavour of your dish. The cook should control the saltiness.

Cooking wines are stocked by the vinegars in many grocery stores, which gives you an indication of how they taste.

Reading vague recipes

When a recipe lists “red” or “white” wine, use a medium-dry to dry wine. (In wine parlance, “dry” just means “not sweet”.)

For red, that means a pinot noir, and for white, go for pinot grigio.

If the recipe calls for a full-bodied red wine, reach for cabernet, Bordeaux, syrah, zinfandel.

If the recipe calls for a young, robust red wine, reach for Rioja/tempranillo, Beaujolais nouveau.

If the recipe calls for a medium-bodied red wine, reach for merlot, shiraz, Chianti.

If the recipe calls for a dry white wine, reach for chardonnay, chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc or dry Riesling.

If the recipe calls for a fruity white wine, reach for gewurztraminer, Riesling or viognier.

If the recipe calls for a fortified wine, reach for Marsala, vermouth, sherry, port or Madeira. (The recipe should give you some guidelines, since these wines are not necessarily interchangeable.)

If the recipe calls for a sparkling wine, reach for champagne or prosecco.

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