Cooking with wine

This was originally posted on Thursday, January 24th, 2008. Even though this blog had very few readers back then, it did generate a decent discussion. I thought it was worth reposting now that there are many more of you winos hanging around.

cooking with wineThe conventional wisdom is that you should always cook with wine that you would drink. I think that is complete nonsense. The aforementioned conventional wisdom probably sprang from the days when folks would buy bottles labelled 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 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 abhorent 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 sugar, 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.

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