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Tips for Cooking with Wine

16th century wine press

I love to cook with wine.  But I admit it, sometimes, pouring a cup or a bottle of perfectly good wine into the cooking pot can seem a little sacrilegious.  Is using your good wine in your food worth it?

In a word, yes.  Wine imparts a richness and depth of flavor that is simply hard to come by any other way.  When making sauces, soups, or stews, many recipes call for you to deglaze the pan.  This takes place usually after some meat has been browned (cooked at high heat in some kind of fat until the skin is crispy).  The meat is removed, most of the fat is poured off, and the heat is turned up high.  A generous splash of wine is added, and as it boils, the cook swirls and scrapes with a wooden spoon or spatula, getting the little browned bits unstuck from the bottom of the pan and incorporating them into the dish.  Tons flavor resides in those little brown bits, and deglazing the pan incorporates their taste into the finished dish.  You can use stock or even water for deglazing, but wine adds a rich, unctuous flavor that can’t be replicated by anything else.

Wine isn’t just used for deglazing.  A splash of wine added to a reducing sauce gives it that same deep, rich flavor that we desire when we’re cooking and eating.  The next time you make tomato sauce, try adding a splash of wine (usually half a cup to a full cup) before letting the sauce simmer and reduce.  You’ll be amazed at the richness and flavor it adds.

Wine is also great for marinating meat.  A red wine marinade is a natural partner for beef, as the tannins in the red wine interact favorably with the meat’s fats.  The acid in wine really breaks down the connective tissue in meat.  This means that marinating a tougher cut of meat in wine can really tenderize it, as well as adding flavor to it.  One of my favorite cuts to use this technique with is flank steak.  Flank steak is a thin, tougher cut, but it packs a lot of flavor.  Best of all, it’s inexpensive, usually comes in pieces big enough to feed an army, and sliced thinly, the leftovers make great steak sandwiches.  Try seasoning a flank steak with salt and pepper, and throwing it in a large Ziploc bag with a few garlic cloves, a splash of olive oil, and enough wine to thoroughly soak it.  Let it hang out in the refrigerator for several hours, turning every once in a while to make sure the wine is evenly distributed.  Then simply grill and serve.  This steak is great paired with the same wine used in the marinade.

I don’t set much store by those chefs that advocate using only high-quality wine for cooking.  I think that the flavors are so diluted by the flavors added by the food, and changed by the chemical processes that occur during cooking, that spending a lot of money on wine that you’re just going to dump in the pot is kind of a waste.  You do want to use decent wine that you would drink—avoid those cooking wines sold in the grocery stores—they are highly acidic, and have tons of preservatives, which simply don’t taste good.  They are often also highly salty, which can alter the flavor of the food you’re cooking so much that you ruin the taste.

Cooking is a great way to use a good wine that’s been sitting around for a day or two.  Its optimal drinking window has passed, but that doesn’t meant that all those great flavors should go to waste.  Don’t use a wine that tastes vinegary or rancid, or your food will taste that way too.  But something a little past its prime should be fine.

Cooking with wine isn’t just for the experts.  There are lots of simple ways to incorporate it into your dishes.  And when you’ll do, you’ll find that wine adds so many wonderful, subtle flavors that you’ll never want your kitchen to be without it again.

  1. lemsescaf
    May 16th, 2010 at 00:53 | #1

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


  2. Tyson Boesenberg
    May 17th, 2010 at 01:09 | #2

    Incredibly great blog post.

  3. June 1st, 2010 at 21:38 | #3

    […] Cooking with Wine | Wine Storage Blog – VintageCellars […]

  4. Tim Danielson
    June 25th, 2010 at 10:51 | #4

    I am curious about buying wine SOLELY for cooking, As it will be used where Drinking it is not allowed and it will HAVE to remain on site. Also it cannot be left in a unlocked place, so that rules out the fridge.

    Would it be satisfactory to get a bottle of red wine, and another of white, keep it in a room temp closet and used only for cooking? Also I wonder which varietals would make a general all purpose wine of the red and the white. If I cook with it say, once a week will I at least be able to get 1/2 through the 2 bottles before they expire?

  5. Holly
    June 25th, 2010 at 19:30 | #5

    Depends on how much you use at a time. Sounds like you’re at a restaurant or something similar? An open bottle of wine will last a couple days in the fridge and still be fine for cooking. Maybe longer. But probably not for weeks at room temperature–you’re going to end up with vinegar!

    For cooking wines, you’re not concerned so much about them aging correctly and more concerned about them just tasting right in your dish. So keeping the ideal temp is less of an issue, and you could keep them in a regular fridge rather than one meant for wine storage at 55 degrees for aging. It would be a fairly simple matter to drill into the door of a minifridge and add a padlock to it, if keeping it locked up is the major concern. Or perhaps you could keep the bottles inside a locked box inside a chill room or something? a safe in the walk-in fridge?

    Hope at least some of those crazy ideas were useful!

  1. May 15th, 2010 at 05:29 | #1
  2. May 15th, 2010 at 21:36 | #2