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.

  • What kind of food do you have in mind that might require a quality wine for cooking? I'm having trouble thinking of something–but then you know a lot more about food than me. ;)

    • When I braise lamb I usually use a decent Côtes du Rhône, or something similar. Nothing really good, but drinkable. The same with something like a port/cherry sauce. Go too cheap with port and yur sauce can taste like cough syrup. About the only thing I can think of off-hand that I use really good stuff in would be a sabayon.

  • I guess I really have a lot to learn because although I know there are many dishes that can be enhanced with wine, I have a hard figuring out what type of wine works best – not just red or white but what kind of red wine and should the white be dry, fruity, etc. You have a great blog with really great information.

    • Thank you! I think that sometimes we make too big of a deal out of what works with what. There are way more “ok” pairings than there are terrible ones. It is a lot of fun experimenting.

  • Well said, sir. :D And I believe cooking wine *does* still exist. If I catch a glimpse of such a creature, I'll send you a picture immediately.


    • Be careful if you find one! ;)

  • I too was under the impression (or influence!) that you should never cook with wine you wouldn't drink… and faced with that standard, well, I'd rather drink the wine! Thanks for clearing that up.

    Coming up with recipes for 2 buck Chuck may be goldmine!

    • That's my opinion as well. Good wine should be in a glass.

  • mariakeepwinesimple

    averagebetty made me laugh, but she has a great point. If the choices are “cook” or “drink”; well, there is no contest. It seems like such a shame to use half a bottle of a favorite wine on a sauce. I agree that it is fine to use wine that is “imperfect” for drinking, it will fulfill its highest calling in a lovely marinade!

  • Jay

    When I used wine for cooking, I've always used drinking wine.

  • Jay

    When I used wine for cooking, I've always used drinking wine.

  • Jay

    When I used wine for cooking, I've always used drinking wine.

  • I often use cheap bottles of Pinot Noir to reduce and make BBQ sauce, add a little molasses and red wine vinegar and you will be happy.

    Another over looked cooking wine is port. Any cheap bottle of Ruby Port will do…makes a delicious glaze.

    Nice post!

  • Pingback: Leftover Wine Bottles on the Counter? Recyle; Reduce! | another wine blog()

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