Cooking With Wine

Learn the three main functions of wine in cooking as well as key food pairings

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Wine can be an important ingredient in cooking. Used in marinades, sauces and to simmer foods, it can impart wonderful flavor and help you achieve a wonderful balance in your dishes. Read on for more reasons to pop that cork! 

WHY COOK WITH WINE?

When it comes to cooking, wine is used in three main ways – as part of a marinade, as a cooking liquid and as a flavoring agent in a finished dish. Wine intensifies and enhances the flavor of foods, but should be used conservatively because, like any seasoning, it can be overpowering. During the cooking process, the alcohol in wine evaporates but its concentrated flavor remains. Wine needs time to reduce, therefore, it should be added early in the preparation of a dish or it will give a harsh quality to foods. 

Wine should only be used in cooking when it really compliments and elevates a dish. Beef Bourguignon, a classic french stew, is a wonderful example. Beef is braised in red wine (usually from the region of Burgundy), flavored with vegetables and then finished with pearl onions, mushrooms and bacon. Risotto is a classic Italian dish that calls for white wine to lend acidity and mussels soaked in white-wine broth are beloved. 

The best red wines to cook with are medium-bodied and low in tannins, like merlot. When it comes to white wine in cooking, crisp and dry varieties like pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc work well. Generally, you want to avoid wines that are significantly aromatic since their flavor will become more concentrated during cooking, as mentioned. Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to cook with premium wines. Save those to enjoy with your meal but do only choose wines in cooking that you would also enjoy drinking.  

Of course, there are those who do not wish to cook with wine and there are always alternatives. Red wine is often swapped out for broths, lemon juice, and flavored vinegars and white wine for broths, apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar. It all depends what recipe you are using but, when in doubt, use water!

During the cooking process, the alcohol in wine evaporates but its concentrated flavor remains.

HERO GRAPES

Two of the most popular winemaking grapes in the world are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Cabernet is most often associated with Bordeaux wines from France, where it is blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It is also grown in California, South Africa, Australia, and Chile. Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be full-bodied, with high tannins and acidity.

Chardonnay is grown around the globe, from the United States to New Zealand. This grape is very malleable and tends to be neutral-flavored, with the resulting wine being influenced by the terroir and oak. As such, the taste profiles change based on the winery or style of wine. 

Two of the most popular winemaking grapes in the world are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

MORE GRAPES AND PAIRINGS

Originally from the Bordeaux region of France, the sauvignon blanc grape gets its name from the french words for ‘wild’ and ‘white.’ It is grown in France, Chile, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States. The flavor of sauvignon blanc is typically crisp and fresh and, when served cold, pairs very well with fish and cheese.

Riesling is a white wine that tends to be highly influenced by its terroir, meaning it is very influenced by where it is grown. Typically, it is high in acidity with flowery aromas and apple notes. The wine is almost never aged in oak, which means it tends to be lighter and suitable for a wide range of foods. It is commonly eaten with white fish and pork and is one of the few wines that can stand up to stronger flavors like those found in Thai or Chinese cuisine.

The flavor of sauvignon blanc is typically crisp and fresh and, when served cold, pairs very well with fish and cheese.

Merlot is made across the world; however, there are two main styles. The New World style (such as wines from California) creates a full-bodied wine with intense fruit flavors, whereas the Old World style (such as wines from Bordeaux) produces more acidic, medium-bodied wine with softer fruit or leafy vegetal flavors. New World merlots pair well with heavier foods such as grilled meats, whereas Old World wines pair best with lighter foods, like fish.

When pairing food and wine, similar flavors can work well together. For example, lobster and chardonnay are a match made in heaven, but opposites may also pair well in some instances. Drinking a sweeter riesling wine is a wonderful contrast to a salty dish such as an Asian stir fry. When in doubt, go with wines that are known for their versatility; both sauvignon blanc and pinot noir are noted for this.