Wines pair with meals. Wines also pair with cooking meals.
Foundational understanding—bad wine is not good cooking wine. If you do not like the wine, why mess up a meal with the same bad wine? Sure, avoid using high quality wine in cooking, but that leaves an ocean of very drinkable, affordable, widely available wine to abet your gastronomic adventures.
For braises, stews, long-simmering sauces, add wine early in the simmer stage after you brown the meat and vegetables. There is an abundance of flavors in the juices in the pan. Add wine, garlic, and shallots, let it simmer—reduce—to create great sauces. Wine also is a marvelous marinade to tenderize and enhance flavors. Here are common wines and ideas for cooking pairing:
• Cabernet sauvignon as a marinade softens the meat and adds flavor at the same time. It is ideal for braising meats. When the braising is done, use the liquid left behind to make a glaze. Cab also works if you want to deglaze a pan. With its low sugar content, you will not have an issue with cab caramelizing in the pan.
• Merlot is ideal for pan sauces and reductions. Combine merlot with other ingredients like broth or spices, then simmer. When reduced, you will have a versatile, thick sauce for your meat dish.
• Pinot noir, with its lightness, goes best with lighter dishes, including chicken. Because of its lightness, pinot does well with dishes that ask for a lot of wine. It will tenderize the meat while not adding excess flavor. It also can be added to a hearty beef stew to generate elegance that flirts with decadence.
• Zinfandel. Not “white zinfandel”—we are talking about big, fruity, sometimes-jammy, often-high-alcohol zin. That zin easily will overpower lighter dishes, but it will work well with steaks such as ribeye, curries, burgers and other full-flavored meats.
• Boxed wine. We are not talking about louche plonk of your college days. Today, there are many respectable bag-in-a-box wines. They are more than quaffable and reasonably priced, which makes them ideal candidates for cooking wines. Tap into that resource.
• Baron Philippe de Rothschild Escudo Rojo Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile 2018: Polished, easily approachable. $15-18 Link to my review
• Ritual Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile 2017: Wonderful pinot noir value. Good fruit, excellent acidity. $17-21 Link to my review
Last round: Why should you never use “beef-stew” as a password? Because it is not stroganoff. Wine time.