We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: we love cooking with wine. We love wine in general (clearly), but cooking with it always means your dish is going to come out tasting extra special. Some people avoid cooking with wine because they find the process of choosing the ‘correct’ one too intimidating, so we’ve put together this list to help out the beginners and hopefully set them down an exciting and flavourful path.
Step #1: Deciding on Red or White
It’s generally accepted that light coloured meats (like chicken or fish) go best with light coloured wines, and dark coloured meats (like beef) go best with darker wines (curious about pork? It’s a wildcard and can go with either). Once you know what kind of meat you’ll be serving, you can go from there. Another tip is to buy an extra bottle and cook with the same wine you plan on serving with your meal (unless you’re dropping some considerable coin on something rare and expensive).
Step #2: Choosing a Wine
There are hundreds of factors you could consider when choosing a wine to cook with, depending on who you ask. They might ask you a bunch of questions that you never would have considered:
- How is the wine being used? As a marinade, flavouring or finishing?
- What is the dish like? Is it bold? Spicy? Understated?
- What are your dish’s ingredients? Are they high acidity? Do they have lots of natural sugars?
- How much are you willing to spend?
There are so many variable best practices that really, you should just do your own thing and experiment until you discover for yourself what works best for you and your palette. Just remember this cardinal rule: only cook with wine that you would drink. If it’s something you wouldn’t drink or serve, chances are you won’t be happy with the flavour it adds to your dish. As Julia Child once famously said, “If you do not have a good wine to use, it is far better to omit it, for a poor one can spoil a simple dish and utterly debase a noble one.”
If you’re just starting out and want to be pointed in the right direction, you can’t go wrong with a basic white like Sauvignon Blanc or a basic red like a Chianti or Cabernet Sauvignon. Try to familiarize yourself with Port, Sherry and Marsala, too: they’re among the most flavourful wines and fortified with a bit more alcohol than your standard-issue table wine, so they’ll last longer in your pantry if stored properly.
Helpful Hints: Boxed wine gives you the most flexibility when cooking – you can use as little or as much as you like without being under the gun to finish it before it goes bad (not that that’s a problem for us). Also, try to avoid using cooking wines because they’re often salty and include additives that could impact the flavours of what you’re making.
Step: #3: Cooking with Wine
Once you have your bottle(s) in hand, it’s time to head home and get to the fun part!
Depending on your recipe, you could be using your wine in any number of ways, but here are some general tips and guidelines you could consider:
- Be mindful of the quantity of wine that you’re using. Just like seasoning – if you don’t use enough, it was pointless and if you use too much it’s overpowering. Start off with smaller amounts and adding more incrementally – remember, you can always add more wine but you remove it once it’s in!
- Turn water into wine! You can substitute wine for water in basically any recipe – it provides the moisture of water with a way more flavourful punch!
- Try counterbalancing: wines like Riesling and Gewurztraminer are dynamic and fruity so they work well in your dishes that are overly spicy.
- Use wine to marinate your ingredients before cooking. When used at room temperature, wine can tenderize meats and add flavour to vegetables before you prepare them (whether baking, sauteing or grilling – doesn’t matter!)
- You can bake with wine, too! In some cake recipes if you use a nice wine or sherry instead of some fat, it adds a myriad of complementing flavours while lightening the recipe up calorie-wise.
- Gravies made with red wine are loaded with enhanced flavours! Gradually stir in 1 to 2 tbsp until you get the flavour you’re looking for.
- If you plan on simmering a roast for an extended period of time (like a beef roast or leg of lamb), you might want to use a heartier wine like a Zinfandel or Petite Syrah.
- Try using wine to baste meat and poultry for a different spin on a classic meal. Mix it in with melted butter or oil, or use it entirely on its own!
- To bring out the most flavour in your wine, try reducing it slowly over low heat before using. It makes a wonderful sauce!
- You can add wine to your sauteed meat and vegetables, too! Simply mix it in with your favourite oil for some added flavour. Remember though, don’t let the wine boil or it will lose its flavour.
- Consider your dish’s ingredients: To maintain a balance, check your recipe for things with a high acidity (like vinegar or lemon juice) and use less to make room for the acid in the wine. If what you’re cooking is loaded with carrots, onions and tomatoes your dish will be full of natural sugars so you might want to cook with a fuller-bodied red or white for seamless integration!
You might not get it perfect on your first attempt, but that’s all the more reason to try again. Julia Child probably said it best when giving her invariable advice to beginners in the kitchen:
“Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”