Cooking with wine is not actually as straightforward as a recipe might suggest. It needs to be the right wine, the one that will contribute something special, and that will turn a particular dish from good to great.

The first and most important thing, which hopefully everyone knows, is that you should not cook with a wine that you wouldn’t choose to drink – a faulty, corked, aged wine can spoil a dish completely, no matter how good the quality of the main ingredients. This basic a rule applies to the quality of the wine and not to individual tastes – a particular wine that is not one of your favourites may still be the idea mate in a certain recipe. And if you don’t drink any of the surplus wine from cooking for a few days, you can pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze it.

Some say that cheap wines are good for cooking, but this is not the case. Only use cheap wine if you are preparing a dish that requires a long simmering time. A beef casserole, or coq au vin are perfect examples. But sauces and soups – lighter dishes – are better friends with more expensive, characterful wines. Pears in red wine is one dessert that benefits from the best.

The old rule that red meat goes with red wine and white meat goes with white wine, is out of date now – not only for food and wine pairing, but also for cooking. You will not go wrong with a dry, fresh chardonnay or a sauvignon blanc with light character from the white wines, and from the reds, a merlot can be a safe decision.

As a reliable guide when choosing a wine for cooking: fresh whites go well with poultry, citrus dishes, and salads, while deeper, wooden-barrel whites are best with cheeses, seafood, and spicy Asian dishes. Reds, where the emphasis is on acid, are ideal in fish soup, or with beef or pork dishes, while wines in which the tannins dominate go well with venison and stews. Choose a sweet wines for desserts, and rosé for wildfowl and lighter dishes made with pork.

Three ways
Typically, wine is used in three ways in the preparation of food. The first is the marinade, in which the food (meat, in general) is seasoned. Marinating in wine softens the texture of the meat and it will cook through faster; if you leave it in the marinade for long enough, a new taste reminiscent of game meat emerges.

The second method is when the wine goes straight into the pot, as an ingredient. Here, a little patience is needed, as the alcohol must evaporate – food is not supposed to taste like alcohol. Also, pay attention to the amount of wine you use: if you overdo it, the wine will cancel out the overall flavour. If, however, you underplay it, you can always correct the balance later in the cooking process. If the recipe lists a large amount of wine, and the wine itself forms the basis of a sauce, for example, always add some other liquid; it could be stock, cream or somethng like tomato puree.

The third is when wine is used as a reduction or sauce over low heat so that it is well-bodied, and ideal to accompany fatty meats such as ribs.
And if you’re thinking of flambéing with wine, don’t. It’s not a good idea. For this you want cognac, cachaça or whiskey –whosw high alcohol content is what makes the difference.

Which grape variety to choose?
For those who want to delve further into flavour combinations, you need to do more than pay attention to whether a wine is white, red or rosé and sweet, semi-sweet or dry. You need to focus on the type of grape as each variety has its own personality and very different sensory characteristics, and it’s important to know what to expect from the combination.

Among the white wines, the most suitable to cook wth are Chardonnay (great to make your dish more full-bodied, as it adds denser texture to dishes), Sauvignon Blanc (ideal in preparations based on fish and seafood or vegetables due to its striking aromatic profile), and Pinot Grigio (more neutral and a wildcard for dishes that call for white wine).

In the case of reds, it is best to choose those that present more delicate tannins and are more fruity, without passing through the wood, to avoid the flavour being too strong and masking the other ingredients. Good examples are Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet.

One vital factor, is that you serve the same type of wine that you used in the dish you have good so that food and wine pair together well.

Words: Lívia Mokri

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