Cooking with Wine
By: George Balling
There is an adage that says, “Never cook with a wine unless you would also like to drink it.” For most of us though we have a difficult time comprehending cooking with one of our favorite go to drinking wines. I’ll also pass along that in one of my favorite cookbooks from a very high-end restaurant in California they have a picture of one of the chefs pouring a bottle of Cooks Sparkling wine into a pan, put simply I would never drink Cooks. Here are some things to consider when its time to reach for a wine to complete a recipe.
Basic drinkability of a wine to use in cooking is a good idea, but within reason, I agree that pouring a $20 plus bottle into the pan is a tough decision. There are many wines in the $10 range though that can work. You should never use a flawed wine in cooking though. A wine that is corked, has volatile acidity or just bad bottle variation should never be used in cooking, the potential is there to just have your sauce or the meat you cook in the wine come out tasting poorly.
So, the next question is what does wine do and is it really necessary? Another adage I like to follow is that water is the enemy of food, so whenever a recipe calls for wine use it. Wine will add acid to any sauce or braising liquid, therefore it will naturally temper the richness of a sauce or dish. Depending on what type of wine the recipe calls for it can also add fruit character to any sauce.
Another important role for the wine is deglazing. We have all seen it in recipes where the instructions say to pour the wine in to the pan used for browning meat or vegetables and to “scrape up any brown bits” from the bottom of the pan. The acid in the wine is again what helps loosen the bits from the pan and with those solids come flavor of the caramelized meat or vegetables that add depth and complexity to your sauce. As the wine reduces those browned bits will help the sauce thicken, when in combination with the wine reducing concentrates and deepens the flavors of the sauce.
Remember too that color of wine is important, you should always listen to the recipe when it suggests which color of wine to use. If your sauce is going to have cream added at the end you should almost always use white wine for the simple fact if you were to use red the sauce will come out to be an odd pink color. It will likely taste great but the visual presentation in cooking is always important. Recipes calling for white wine will typically say to use a “dry white wine”. I have found that most times a dry white without oak is the best bet, allowing the acid and fruit flavors to come out in the sauce, and not the oak flavors.
If the other ingredients that go into the sauce are broth many times red will be recommended, as the colors will blend together nicely. Beyond the end product color considerations though, you should follow the recipe directions on the color of the wine, the chef who wrote and designed the recipe may be trying to get higher acid levels in the recipe and that is why they would recommend white wine as the base. They may be recommending a red wine for the fuller bodied character a red will deliver when reduced.
Pay attention to the varietal the recipe writer is asking for whenever possible. Most any recipe for Beef Bourguignon for example will suggest using red Burgundy to braise the beef in. Red Burgundy is always Pinot Noir so if you don’t wish to spend the money on a true Burgundy a less expensive Pinot Noir will work fine, however the move to a much more tannic and oak driven Cabernet or Merlot will not produce the result you are going for. Similarly, if the recipe does call for a Cabernet to use in the sauce or braising liquid it is best to do just that.
If you are struggling with the best choice to include in your dish ask for advice. Stop by the shop and let us know what you are making, what the recipe calls for, and what you want to spend on the bottle that whose ultimate destination is your cooking pot. We always have several wines we can recommend that are appropriate for cooking and are more gently priced to make that decision easier. My final recommendation is to have fun with it! When you add the wine to the dish remember to pour yourself a glass it will make your cooking more enjoyable and who knows maybe you find a new drinking wine