Cooking With Wine


[Snooth is pleased to welcome its newest contributor, Gute Essen about the meals he cooks for himself and his friends. ]

Lets be honest — the world of the oenophile is a frightening one to an outsider. When it comes to that holy grail of consumption, the wine/food pairing, this seems to especially ring true. High-end restaurants make a killing with tasting menus accompanied by a specifically paired wine list (for only $90 extra!), but this isn't necessarily beyond the reach of hoi polli.
But when it comes to cooking with wine, many of us don't even follow the simple rule of “If you don't want to drink it, you don't want to cook with it.” I've seen more than my fair share of bottles of supermarket cooking wine in pantries (which is low-quality wine shelf-stabilized with a ton of salt) which strikes fear into my heart.

Not that I'm a wine snob; in fact it's the opposite. I'm not a master vintner; I've yet to meet a rioja I didn't like and I don't spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine unless I'm in a restaurant, but there are some simple rules you can follow for cooking with wine.

First: As I mentioned above, if you can't drink a glass of it by itself, you shouldn't cook with it.

Second: The stronger the flavor when you start, the more that flavor will come through when you're finished. Since heat will boil off most of the alcohol and a bit of the water, you'll be concentrating flavors when you cook with wine. If there's a huge oak flavor out of the bottle, the more you cook it, the more oak you'll taste.

Third: This goes true for any alcohol you cook with, always add it off the heat. When the wine hits the hot pan, the alcohol can atomize and if you're cooking over a flame at the time, there's a chance it can ignite. Sometimes you want this effect (flambe), but it's something you should always do on purpose in a controlled manner.

Fourth: I'm a believer in the concept of terrior – the concept that foods from the same region will taste better together than mixing foods from disparate regions. Say you're making the classic French dish Coq a Vin. You're going to want to use a good French red wine with this; an Australian Shiraz would just be out of place.

Now that we've got some basic rules down, it's pretty much free game. Since tastes are all personal it's hard to define a fast set of rules as to what sort of wine you should use when you're cooking a certain type of food, so your best bet is image a wine as a set of flavors and think about how they compare and work with the food you're cooking. Lets say you're cooking with lamb. Think about the flavors and cuisines you most frequently associate with lamb: dried cherries, apricots, raisins, mint, rosemary, garlic, fennel, and mint all immediately spring to mind, as do North African, Italian/Sicilian, Israeli, and New American (I'm gonna go out on a limb and group New Zealand and Australian in here) cuisines. When I think of wines from these regions I immediately come to Shiraz/Syrah, Malbec and Pinot Noir. Each of these wines goes pleasantly with lamb and depending on what else you're serving with with it, you'd want to choose characteristics that will compliment the final dish. Cooking with lamb and cherries? A decent Malbec would be perfect.

One of my favorite things to make is a simple braised lamb in the style of Morocco. Take a pound of lamb stew or shoulder, cut in 1″ cubes, season it with salt and pepper, and brown it in olive oil in a large cast iron. When it's well browned, remove from the pot and add two diced, peeled carrots, a medium onion, diced, and a medium fennel bulb diced. Caramelize these vegetables over high heat — when they've got some color, deglaze the pan with a half bottle of a nice Malbec. Reduce the liquid by half and add the lamb back in. Add 2 bay leaves, 1/2 cup of chopped dried cherries, 1/2 cup of dried chopped apricots, 1/2 cup of rinsed pitted black olives, and a half cup of whole, unsalted almonds. Place in a 250 degree oven for 2 hours, stirring every 10-15 minutes. Serve over couscous or rice.

Mentioned in this article


  • todd

    @mark: that's for drinking. which maybe the sole reason you always cook with what you'll drink. The chef can always use a drink.

    Jan 22, 2008 at 1:05 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    Kudos for sneaking the word ‘atomize' into a post and welcome!

    I think the second point is vital here. Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water, and anything else in the wine is always left behind, so cook it too hot and you just end up with some super oaky/tannic water. Mmmmm - tasty!

    Jan 22, 2008 at 1:10 AM

  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 5,324

    @todd: And the guests as well!

    Jan 22, 2008 at 8:17 AM

  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 5,324

    Welcome to the blog, Todd.

    I'm going to give myself one guess as to what you do with the half bottle of Malbec that doesn't go in with the lamb.

    Jan 22, 2008 at 12:51 PM

  • Annie

    why do supermarkets even stock “Cooking Wine”? It seems like a waste of grapes and salt to me.

    nice blog. welcome.

    Jan 22, 2008 at 12:57 PM

  • Monty

    Love the braised lamb recipe. Thanks a billion!

    Jan 23, 2008 at 7:09 AM

  • Snooth User: amour
    Hand of Snooth
    218530 2,203




    Nov 13, 2009 at 2:23 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    Amour, bad wine is still good for the vinegar cask, unless it's so-called 'cooking wine'. *That* is the proverbial n'er do well....

    Dec 30, 2009 at 6:47 PM

  • Snooth User: amour
    Hand of Snooth
    218530 2,203

    I LOVE YOU dmcker !
    By the way......Have you ever savoured people's home-made wines....made from oranges or other fruit and with rice added for fermentation etc. and of course, RICE WINE (SAKE) ??

    Some are quite pleasant....!

    I have cooked a great casserole with a ripe banana added towards the end and some home-made orange wine!!

    Dec 31, 2009 at 10:26 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    Glad you're living up to your name, Amour! ;-)

    Today, as part of New Year's celebrations (fortunately no hangover from last night), I'm going to crack the first of three jars of kumquat liquor I bottled a year ago. Distilled (from buckwheat, with kumquats and rocksugar added), not fermented, I'm afraid. Am thinking of having it after some coconut milk/chicken/banana/etc. curry... :-)

    Dec 31, 2009 at 9:05 PM

  • There is continuing debate about whether or not you need to cook with good wine. In our ebook on Wining & Dining we quote several authorities, ie people who both know and cook a great deal more than us. Julia Child, for example, said that “If you put rot-gut in, you’ll get rot-gut out.”, which is the best explanation I have found for the cooking of my fellow author.
    But the chef Rowley Leigh, of London’s Le Café Anglais, says, “Whereas there’s no point cooking with really awful wine, I see even less point in cooking with anything really good. Winemakers spend a great deal of effort to arrive at a harmonious balance of sweetness and acidity, of fruit and tannin, which is dissipated practically the minute you put the wine in the pot …I could as easily pour Côte Rotie into the oxtail as give caviar to the cat.”
    Jeremy Lee, who cooks at the London restaurant Quo Vadis, says that “Quality does show. Even in a casserole that’s slow-cooked. If you use the thin, cheap stuff you have to use twice the amount to get any flavour. Of course, there is a cut-off point… and you want to cook with a bottle you can have a glass of, that’s for sure.”

    Dec 11, 2012 at 1:17 PM

Add a Comment

Search Articles

Best Wine Deals

See More Deals

Snooth Media Network