Cooking with wine is a fun way to add some new flavors to your recipe, or just to try something new. It shouldn’t be scary and is a particularly fast way to add instant flavor without having to spend hours in the kitchen, and as long as you follow these general rules of thumb, you’ll do just fine.
Using the wine from the vinegar aisle at the grocery store- Don’t. The first major rule of cooking with wine is to only cook with wine you’d drink. You’ve probably seen those little bottles of “cooking wine” at your grocery store but do not be tempted. This is not a product that will enhance your recipe. Cooking wines in the vinegar section are usually extremely high in salt, sugar, or acidity and too low in the flavors you want in your recipe to be worth it.
Using specialty wines to cook- Don’t. The purpose of cooking with wine is to add flavor, acid, and in some cases, a little bit of sweetness. You reduce it to the point that there’s no alcohol left, just the flavor characteristics of the wine. If you have a showcase bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir and are looking to impress your in-laws or friends by cooking with it, you might want to reconsider simply serving that showcase wine in a glass instead.
Using wine that’s been open for a few days- Do! This is a great way to use up that last glass of wine in the bottle that you haven’t gotten around to drinking (if there is such a thing). Using wine that ‘s been open for a few days is actually preferable in some recipes because it will have a slightly higher acid content- something you want while cooking.
Using super old wine- Don’t. How do you tell if your wine is just too old to cook with? 1. Give it a sniff- if it smells like anything you wouldn’t want in your mouth (wet dog, mold, nail polish remover, natural gas…) then you need to dump it. 2. If it smells okay, give it a taste and, again, if it tastes like anything bad or inedible, toss. If it passes the smell and taste tests and doesn’t give you any inclination that you want to dump it then you’re good to go!
Image via VinePair, click here to read more about how to smell and taste if your wine has gone bad.
Using wine in place of water- Do! This is a great place to get started. The next time you come across a recipe that calls for water, especially something you’d make in your slow cooker or Dutch oven, try using wine instead! A perfect example of this is Tyler Florence’s pot roast. In this recipe, you’d sub 1 cup of whatever red wine you have on hand for the water and serve the dish with the rest of the wine. See how easy this can be?
Image via Food Network
Using champagne too cook- Don’t. I hate to be blunt here but using champagne in your next risotto or pasta is a close as it gets to committing a wine crime. Why? It’s simple. Champagne/sparkling wine is just white wine that has gone through a second fermentation just to create the bubbles. Before champagne is champagne, it’s white wine. And it takes years, yes years, to make those bubbles. It would be like spending all day in the kitchen making dinner only to have someone douse the dish in hot sauce, destroying all of the flavor you’ve worked so hard to create. Don’t do it. See a recipe with champagne (we’re looking at you, Pinterest!)? Simply use white wine instead.
Using Port to create a reduction- Don’t. Now, to some, this might be quite a bold stance to take but hear us out. Port wines are not cheap. Well, port wines worth drinking aren’t, at least. Ports are a fortified wine, meaning they have alcohol added to them, in most cases, brandy. So if you cook all of the alcohol out of your port, yes you might have a yummy tasting sauce or reduction at the end of it, but you can achieve the same delicious flavor with a lower-end dessert wine and save your ports as you’d save your showcase Pinot Noir- for drinking.
For dessert reductions, sauces, glazes etc. you’re better off going anything classified as “late harvest,” a gewurtztraminer (different than dry gewurtztraminer), or a Sauternes, Madiera or Marsala wine.
Again, as long as you follow these general guidelines, you’ll add instant flavor and depth to your next dinner or dessert. Cheers!