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5 Tips for Cooking with Wine

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Wine is wine, whether you drink it or cook with it. However, cooking with wine is not as simple as adding wine to your favorite dish. Wine can be produced from over 10,000 different types of grapes. The wines they create can be used to cook many different types of foods using many different cooking techniques. Here are five suggestions for cooking with wine:

Know Why Wine Is Added

To know how to use wine, you must understand what wine does in dishes. Wine can be added for many reasons, many of which overlap:

  • Increase acidity;
  • Increase astringency;
  • Increase moisture;
  • Replace water;
  • Carry aromatic scents; and
  • Enhance alcohol-soluble flavors.

For example, a cook can replace the acidity of lemon with the acidity of wine in a dish. Similarly, the aroma of a dessert sauce, such as a caramel sauce, may be enhanced with the addition of alcohol.

For certain flavors, alcohol carries and enhances flavors in a way that water or fat cannot. These alcohol-soluble flavonoids are found in tomatoes, onions, apples, berries, and grapes, which is why a splash of wine makes tomato sauce better.

Choose a Wine

There is an adage that you should only cook with a wine you would drink. While this is true, it is not the entire story. This does not mean you should cook only with expensive wine. Rather, this adage means that you should avoid “cooking wine” which includes salt and other additives.

High-quality wines for cooking can be found without breaking the bank. Shopping for wine online can reveal many sources of high quality, yet cheap wine online. By comparison shopping for wine deals online, you may even be able to find your favorite wine online at a great price.

Importantly, online wine sellers and online wine shops often offer wine ratings and descriptions of flavor profiles to help you choose a wine online. Remember, not every wine matches with every dish. Generally speaking, more robust red wines match stronger flavors, such as red meat. However, red wine can also match delicate flavors such as strawberries. Similarly, while white wines match poultry and fish without overpowering their subtle flavors, white wines can also match with and enhance stronger flavors such as smoked bacon, smoked ham, or grilled lamb.

Know When to Add Wine

In deciding when to add wine, you must consider the role of wine in the dish. Dishes in which the wine is intended to permeate the dish, the wine may be used as a marinade or a braising liquid. For example, the flavor of wine is integral to marinated and braised dishes such as sauerbraten, pot roast, and coq au vin. In other dishes, such as tomato sauce, wines are added during cooking to merely enhance the flavors without overpowering them.

In adding wine, two principles must be kept in mind. First, the longer the wine is cooked, the more intense the flavors can become. For example, a red wine that is high in tannins will tend to become more astringent the longer it is cooked and a sweet white wine will tend to become sweeter. Second, the alcohol in wine will never completely cook off. Therefore, some “alcohol” flavor will remain even in stews and braises. On the other hand, some dishes benefit from some alcohol tinge, such as desserts, and thus are only lightly cooked or not cooked at all after alcohol is added.

Know How Much to Add

There is no hard and fast rule about how much wine to add to a dish. Rather, this suggestion is directed to understanding that wine is a literally a volatile ingredient. Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water. Thus, alcohol will boil before water will boil. This means that alcohol is different from other water-based ingredients and should be added judiciously. The alcohol flavor can overpower other flavors, but can also disappear. Thus, by tasting the dish as alcohol is added and adjusting accordingly, the flavor of the dish can be enhanced in a controlled way.

Reduce Other Flavors

Because wine tends to increase acidity and can add bitterness or astringency, other flavors must be adjusted. For example, more wine often means reducing acids like lemon or other citruses. Similarly, adding wine often means reducing bitter flavors, such as bitter herbs, or adding something else to counteract the bitterness and astringency.

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