Wine can enhance the flavors of a dish and even bring out flavors you never expected, but if you don’t know what you are doing when you cook with wine, you can easily ruin your whole meal. Thankfully chefs are generous in sharing some very simple tips for cooking with wine so that home cooks like us don’t have to learn the hard way.
If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it
- If a wine isn’t great to begin with, heat will only magnify the negatives.
- In the same vein, heat also kills the subtleties in a fantastic vintage, so don’t waste a fabulous bottle in the stew.
- Stick with a bottle you enjoy, but one that doesn’t break the bank, and your dish will be just fine.
- It doesn’t matter if your wine is a rose’, red, or white. Young, fruity wines add the most flavor.
- Use dry white wines with higher acidity: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sémillon, and dry sparkling wines for their bright citrus and green apple notes.
- Fuller whites with lower acidity & strong, oaky or buttery flavors, like some Chardonnays, don’t work as well. When reduced they can turn bitter and can ruin a dish.
- Use White wine to deglaze the brown bits for a pan sauce for sautéed fish, chicken, pork, or mushrooms. Use it in risotto for a good touch of acidity. Add it to a pot of shellfish just before you put the lid on for steaming. Pour a splash into a court bouillon for steeping salmon, bass, or flounder.
- Moderate tannin reds like Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and lighter-style Cabernet are all good. A young red’s berry-like, red-fruit flavors add depth if there’s not too much tannin or oak to overshadow those flavors. Full-bodied reds—big Cabernets, Syrahs, Barolos with big tannins can leave an almost chalky taste when the wine is reduced.
- Add red wine to slow-cooking stews or tomato sauces. Use it for pan sauces for seared lamb, duck, chicken, or beef.
When to add the wine
• For stews, braises, or long-simmering tomato sauces, add wine early in the simmering stage, after you’ve browned the meat and vegetables. Let the wine reduce a bit and then add the other liquids. Some cooks add a small dash of red wine near the end of cooking to deepen a slow-simmering tomato ragù, but only if the wine is top-flight.
• For pan sauces, add the wine after you’ve set the meat aside to rest. Reduce the wine to a syrupy consistency, scraping up any browned bits. Add any other liquid, such as cream or stock, and reduce again. Whisk in a tablespoon or two of butter, if you like.
• For marinades, add the wine with all the other marinade ingredients. The marinade can also be used as the base for a sauce. Make sure the sauce is brought to a boil and cooked down thoroughly.
• In risotto, add the wine after the onions are soft and the rice has been added and lightly toasted in the butter. Make sure the wine is almost completely cooked off before you start adding broth.
• For a sauté of shrimp or scallops, add the wine after the initial searing but before the fish is cooked through, so there’s time for the wine to reduce.
Use raw wine, but prudently
You can’t usually add wine to a dish without cooking it down. That said, there are a couple of exceptions.
Raw wine works best in cold preparations, where the chill softens the alcohol’s edge. Raw wines work well in marinades, too, of course, where the marinade can then be used as the base for a cooked sauce.
Sweet wines should rarely be cooked: the sugars will intensify, and the fruity nuances will be killed. A dash of Sauternes, late-harvest Riesling, or other sweet wine can be a delicious flavoring for custard sauces, sorbets, and even fruit salads. When you’re cooking with sweet wine, add it toward the end of cooking to preserve its subtleties.
A final tip: skip the gross, salty grocery store “cooking wine.” A bottle of drinkable wine only costs a few dollars more and you can drink the leftovers with the dish you’re making! #GirlsGoneWine