How to cook with wine

When cooking use a wine you'd be prepared to drink yourself

When cooking use a wine you’d be prepared to drink yourself

People have been cooking with wine since the ancients first trod grapes and the wine god Bacchus began to imbibe the lovely liquid.

According to Apicius, a classical cookbook compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century AD, Romans relished livening up their dinners with a splash or two of defrutum, a reduced grape syrup  commonly added to meat and fruit  dishes as a sweetening and souring agent.

Today, when using wine to cook, we’re likely to unscrew the top of a table plonk or use a bottle that has been sitting on the side for too long.

“The golden rule is to use something you’d be prepared to drink yourself,” says Fiona Beckett, who runs the website “So not a dinner party leftover you’ve discovered in the back of a cupboard or a corked wine. At the same time, there’s no point in using something massively expensive if you’re going to pour a whole bottle into a stew.”

Beckett recommends an inexpensive, drinkable red (or white) of the same style as the one you intend to drink with the meal. For example, a basic supermarket Cotes du Rhone would work well if you’re planning to drink a Gigondas as they usually share the Grenache grape variety.

“It’s particularly important if you’re adding a final dash to lift the flavour at the end of cooking to use the wine you’re actually drinking.”
Cooking with wine is mostly relevant to French and western cuisines it seems. The late TV chef Keith Floyd famously poured any wine he hadn’t already glugged down into just about every dish.  “Chefs use wine in cooking because it has so much flavour and sweet-savoury elements to it that enhance the taste of other ingredients,” says Henry Harris, chef-patron of Racine restaurant in Knightsbridge, London. “A daube of beef cooked without wine would be very meaty but it would lose so many of its tones without the sweetness and spiciness of a red wine.”

Cookery courses that focus exclusively on cooking with wine are thin on the ground – note to cookery schools: that’s a rare gap in the market – but there is plenty of information on the online ‘grapevine’,  from the Marks and Spencer Wine Club’s tasting notes to this super recipe slideshow on Food & Wine’s website about cooking with red wine.

 5 Top tips for cooking with wine:

1. Choose a wine that you like.

2. Avoid cooking wine because it has a low alcohol content and contains additives and salt.

3. Generally, use dry wine for savoury dishes and sweet wine for sweet dishes, and light wines for delicate dishes such as fish, soups and risottos and full-bodied or aromatic wines for heavier, spicy dishes such as a leg of lamb or beef casserole. But there are exceptions. For instance, sweet wines can also be used for braising meats, seafood dishes and even in baking.

4. Don’t neglect port, sherry, madeira, and marsala. These fortified wines are packed with intense aromatic flavours that work especially well when sauteeing food.

5. Have fun and experiment. You can always drink the leftovers!

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