Cooking wine

You’ve been here: second bottle of wine is not up to snuff. Guests taste and demure they’ve enjoyed the evening and must think about driving home. You don’t like the wine either.

“Don’t worry,” you proclaim. “We’ll use it for cooking.”


Rule of thumb: if wine isn’t good enough for drinking, it is not good enough for cooking.

Codicil: if wine is really good to drink, why would you cook with it?

William Rice, highly respected last-century wine critic, conducted tests. He prepared different dishes in different ways using cheap wine, value wine, and fine wine.

Results: quality of wine did not make much difference in dishes requiring long cooking times. Shorter the cooking time, more wine quality influenced dish quality.

Does that mean wine quality doesn’t matter in a long-simmered dish?

No. Rice’s tests and others confirm if the wine is bad, no matter how long it simmers, bad wine taste will come through. In cooking, wine is a seasoning; regard it same way you regard herbs and spices. When herbs and spices are old or bad, cooking time does not improve them. Same with wine.

Additional notes:

• Recipes calling for dry white do not mean buttery, malolactic fermentation, heavy oaked chardonnay. Simple is better. Eschew oak, embrace naked chard or other low-or-no oak whites.

• When recipe calls for “Champagne,” chef is showing off and really means dry white. Cooking eliminates bubbles, so what is point of turning sparkling into still wine? Sip the Champagne/sparkling while cooking rather than cooking with it.

• Never buy or use “cooking wine.” This is swill winery is ashamed to sell as drinking wine.

• Follow the recipe. If it calls for quarter cup of wine, do not fantasize half cup would be twice as nice. Recipe is from professional: consider possibility they know more about what they are doing than you do.

• When recipe calls for red, use a value dry red that scores 80-84 points and costs around $10. When recipe calls for white, use a value dry white that scores 80-84 point and costs $10 or less.

Finally, simple and straightforward in the wine world. As Julia Child said: “Bon appétit.”