Cooking with wine

By
[ 16 ] Comments
Share




red_wineThe conventional wisdom is that you should always cook with a wine that you would drink. I think that is complete and utter nonsense. The aforementioned conventional wisdom probably sprang from the days when folks would buy bottles labeled cooking wine. I don’t even know if they sell such a thing anymore. I typically have a few open bottles of wine on my counter that I use when I cook, and no way would I consider pouring a glass from any of them. If there starts to get to be too many I combine them by color, with little or no regard to the style or grape. If they really start to accumulate I usually cook them down into a reduction and save them that way. Where do these bottles come from? If I open a bottle that I won’t drink, whether due to a flaw or a matter of taste, it becomes cooking wine.

If a bottle is completely cooked or is severely corked it won’t get used, and if I paid much for the bottle it is going back to the store, but in most cases it ends up in a sauce of some kind. Minor flaws that ruin the drinking experience are imperceptible once they have spent time in the pan.

In other cases I buy cheap wines with the intent of using them in the cooking process. Nothing works better in a turkey brine than the cheapest, flabbiest bottle of over-oaked chardonnay available. I wouldn’t drink that swill on a bet, but the very things that make it so abhorrent to my palate as a drink add a wonderful buttery richness to the flavor of the turkey, especially if it is being smoked.

Many a bottle of cab, zin or syrah that were deemed undrinkable in my house have been transformed into fantastic BBQ sauces. Reduced with some jalapenos, onions, garlic, spices and maybe some tomatoes and/or brown sugur, and there isn’t much better on a brisket or a slab of ribs.

Sure, there are times when a dish requires a reasonably decent wine, but for everyday cooking in most cases there is no reason to sacrifice a perfectly drinkable wine.

  • Papa Lou

    A hearty amen to this. I’ve heard this tidbit yammered out of the mouths of Food Network creatures for years, and I’ve never bought into it.

    Your sentiment also goes for unfinished bottles of wine that are getting long in the tooth (hey, it happens). If I have a third of a bottle of cabernet that I opened last week sitting in my fridge, you bet your ass I’m going to use it boost my marinara sauce or deglace a pan of sauteed veggies instead of throwing it away.

    Now, you still want to pay attention to your flavor compatibilities when determining whether an old/flawed wine will go with your dish (i.e., don’t dump a super sweet wine into a savory recipe unless you want the dish to have a hint of sweetness and likewise, don’t pour a tannic red into a crock of chocolate fondue, etc.), but by and large, the subtleties (and flaws) burn off during cooking.

    There’s a reason why God made $4.79 bottles of Yellow Tail, plentiful at every supermarket in the U.S. Because it’s absolutely ludicrous to pay more for a wine that’s going to be cooked with.

  • Steve

    Well.. let’s take this a step further… I completely understand the concept of not buying “cooking wines”…I believe they are still on the shelves…but they are collecting dust.
    But are you saying you wouldn’t cook with a wine that you WOULD drink? Are you denying that what you said earlier confirms your aforementioned thesis? (Okay…I’m joking) But seriously, do you simply wait for a bottle that you deem ‘unpalatable’ and then set it next to the stove? Personally…I’m with the bumper sticker people…”Sure I cook with wine….sometimes I put it in the food” And if I’m cooking Italian…(which is what I do best…) then whatever bottle I’m drinking at the moment, be it a Montepulciano, a chianti or maybe even a dolcetto…(or maybe a mixture of the three…I’m crazy like that) be sure that some of that is going into the food. So yes, I only cook with wine I drink.

  • Papa Lou

    A hearty amen to this. I’ve heard this tidbit yammered out of the mouths of Food Network creatures for years, and I’ve never bought into it.

    Your sentiment also goes for unfinished bottles of wine that are getting long in the tooth (hey, it happens). If I have a third of a bottle of cabernet that I opened last week sitting in my fridge, you bet your ass I’m going to use it boost my marinara sauce or deglace a pan of sauteed veggies instead of throwing it away.

    Now, you still want to pay attention to your flavor compatibilities when determining whether an old/flawed wine will go with your dish (i.e., don’t dump a super sweet wine into a savory recipe unless you want the dish to have a hint of sweetness and likewise, don’t pour a tannic red into a crock of chocolate fondue, etc.), but by and large, the subtleties (and flaws) burn off during cooking.

    There’s a reason why God made $4.79 bottles of Yellow Tail, plentiful at every supermarket in the U.S. Because it’s absolutely ludicrous to pay more for a wine that’s going to be cooked with.

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Joe Power

    Papa Lou: Unfinished bottles of wine? I’m confused…

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Joe Power

    Steve: I don’t wait for a bottle that I don’t want to drink, but those tend to pile up now and then. I’ll go buy a bottle for cooking if need be, but I rarely waste any of what I am drinking. ;)

  • Steve

    Well.. let’s take this a step further… I completely understand the concept of not buying “cooking wines”…I believe they are still on the shelves…but they are collecting dust.
    But are you saying you wouldn’t cook with a wine that you WOULD drink? Are you denying that what you said earlier confirms your aforementioned thesis? (Okay…I’m joking) But seriously, do you simply wait for a bottle that you deem ‘unpalatable’ and then set it next to the stove? Personally…I’m with the bumper sticker people…”Sure I cook with wine….sometimes I put it in the food” And if I’m cooking Italian…(which is what I do best…) then whatever bottle I’m drinking at the moment, be it a Montepulciano, a chianti or maybe even a dolcetto…(or maybe a mixture of the three…I’m crazy like that) be sure that some of that is going into the food. So yes, I only cook with wine I drink.

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Joe Power

    Papa Lou: Unfinished bottles of wine? I’m confused…

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Joe Power

    Steve: I don’t wait for a bottle that I don’t want to drink, but those tend to pile up now and then. I’ll go buy a bottle for cooking if need be, but I rarely waste any of what I am drinking. ;)

  • Papa Lou

    Unfinished meaning stuff I opened but didn’t like enough to make a priority out of drinking. Or that second or third bottle that got opened over a dinner with friends and ended up forgotten in a corner of the fridge after we cleared the table.

    Those of us in cold-weather climes are also big on mulling leftover/not-that-great red wines in winter time, too. (I believe the term for this stuff is Glogg, with an umlaut over the “o”). Round mulling spice baskets are available at your local kitchen-supply store for $4 (the mesh is similar to a flour sifter). Load ‘em up with a few broken-up cinnamon sticks, some whole cloves, orange zest and a couple small pieces of apple (optional) and simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the wine is piping hot and the flavors from the basket are imbued throughout. I like to add a couple teaspoons of sugar at the end, and if I’m feeling adventurous, a small pinch of curry powder.

    I realize this is not really “cooking” with wine, per se, but it’s a great way to finish an opened bottle of red that you weren’t crazy about.

  • Papa Lou

    Unfinished meaning stuff I opened but didn’t like enough to make a priority out of drinking. Or that second or third bottle that got opened over a dinner with friends and ended up forgotten in a corner of the fridge after we cleared the table.

    Those of us in cold-weather climes are also big on mulling leftover/not-that-great red wines in winter time, too. (I believe the term for this stuff is Glogg, with an umlaut over the “o”). Round mulling spice baskets are available at your local kitchen-supply store for $4 (the mesh is similar to a flour sifter). Load ‘em up with a few broken-up cinnamon sticks, some whole cloves, orange zest and a couple small pieces of apple (optional) and simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the wine is piping hot and the flavors from the basket are imbued throughout. I like to add a couple teaspoons of sugar at the end, and if I’m feeling adventurous, a small pinch of curry powder.

    I realize this is not really “cooking” with wine, per se, but it’s a great way to finish an opened bottle of red that you weren’t crazy about.

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Joe Power

    I was kidding, Papa. ;)

    While it is rare that a good bottle ever has anything left in it at my house, the same things you describe happen here, as well. While I’ve never been able to develop much of a taste for mulled wine, around the holidays there are few things that can make a house smell as festive as a pan of it warming on the stove.

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Joe Power

    I was kidding, Papa. ;)

    While it is rare that a good bottle ever has anything left in it at my house, the same things you describe happen here, as well. While I’ve never been able to develop much of a taste for mulled wine, around the holidays there are few things that can make a house smell as festive as a pan of it warming on the stove.

  • Pingback: How to perfectly brine a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner | another wine blog

  • Pingback: Perfectly brined Thanksgiving turkey. | another wine blog

  • Tracy

    Our neighborhood is doing a wine tasting party and I have the main entree to cook. I have to pair my dish with a Swanson Vineyard ’06 Merlot. I picked braised beef short ribs, but I am now worried that most of the recipes call for a red wine in the braising. Can I use a different red wine? Will the cooking wine compete with the wine that we are taste testing? I don’t want to ruin the overall experience by picking the wrong wine or entree!

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

      That should be a very good pairing. Don’t sweat the cooking wine. I would suggest using a Chilean Cab for the braising wine. Decent ones can sometimes be had for under 10 bucks. The old adage about only cooking with wine that you would drink is nonsense anyway, so go even cheaper if you’d like. When cooking with wine, particularly using techniques like braising, using a somewhat similar taste profile to what you will be drinking, provided it had no off flavors or flaws, is just about the only thing you have to worry about. Never cook with any wine you couldn’t drink if absolutely had to makes more sense. Let some other fool sacrifice their Swanson to the cooking pot. I’d rather drink it. Good luck with the ribs! I’m coming some up tomorrow myself (and probably using whatever is open on the counter as the braising liquid). Cheers!