People cook with wine for the same reason they drink it out of a glass: they enjoy its unique taste. But as any wine lover will tell you, that’s only part of the tale. Every bottle of wine tells a story: about where it was cultivated, how it was stored, how long it was aged and what kind of life it had on the vine. Cooking with wine brings those same qualities to food, adding nuance and flavor that the dish would otherwise lack. Here are a few tips to cooking with wine that will add to the experience.
Selecting the right wine to cook with need not be a difficult choice. My first rule is not to cheat your dish—or yourself. You wouldn’t buy an inferior cut of meat to serve your guests, don’t cook with low-quality wine. Remember that your goal is to enhance your meal; adding less than ideal ingredients will predictably produce less than desired results.
I haven’t yet met a cook who would use a $3,000 bottle of Burgundy to make Beef Bourguignon, but I wouldn’t hesitate to incorporate a $20 bottle of Bourgogne to bring the authenticity of the meal’s flavors into balance. Start with mid-range wines you would consider serving in a casual, at-home setting, and let the region of your dish guide your selections.
Also, keep the wine you’re serving with the meal in mind when making your cooking wine selections. A light wine sauce of Sauvignon Blanc is perfect for preparing fish or chicken and it makes an ideal complement when served with the meal. If you plan to share your favorite $30 Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon, see if the winemaker makes a less-expensive bottle of Pinot, or select another Pinot from the same region to cook with.
When cooking with wine, care should be made to incorporate it at the right time. Wine should be brought to a boil, turned down to a simmer, and then reduced for optimal results. Boiling concentrates flavor, acidity and sweetness. That’s why when I’m making sauces or soups, I add it towards the beginning of the recipe—usually just before I add the stock, so that it can both concentrate in flavor, and burn off most, though not all, of its alcohol as it cooks.
The hardest part is getting started. The more you cook with wine, the more skilled you will become in predicting which wines work best with your favorite meals.
Taste, explore and enjoy.