Wine & cooking

Cooking with wine often is misunderstood. Major myths:

  • If you have leftover wine, pour it into Alfredo sauce, beef stew, whatever to enhance the dish.
  • Wine adds alcohol to the dish; I’m all for that.
  • Best use of bad wine is for cooking.
  • Pouring wine into a sauce or dish as it cooks is the way to go.

None of the above are true. Revealed now for “On Wine” readers, wine’s real role in cooking:

  • Wine adds flavor, not alcohol; the quality, flavor, and style of the wine matter.
  • You extract wine flavor by reducing it (boiling it down). Typically, a cup of wine reduces to two or three tablespoons in a few minutes. Alcohol and water boils away. Long-cooked dishes, such as beef Bourguignon, are a rare exception; even then, the alcohol cooks away.
  • Reducing wine concentrates flavor, acidity, sweetness, and tannins. Off-dry and sweet wines get syrupy; avoid using them in cooking. High-tannin wines can become bitter. Acidic wines can become puckering (experienced cooks add a pinch of sugar to modify this). In any event, taste the reduced wine before adding it to your dish. If you don’t like the taste, it will not improve your dish.
  • After reduction, add the extracted flavor to your dish to taste. Start with a little and work toward your flavor goal.
  • Save leftover wine for cooking. Pour unconsumed wines in covered jars, one for reds and one for whites. They will store in the refrigerator a week or so. Save wines you enjoy. If you disliked the wine in the glass, it is unlikely you will enjoy it in your dish.

Tasting notes:

  • Don Miguel Gascón Malbec Mendoza 2013: Plum, dark cherry, blackberry, mocha; oak, round tannin; touch jammy, low acidity, easy drinker. $15
  • Bridlewood Central Coast Blend 175 2012: Plenty of dark fruit, sweet oak, soft tannin; plush, superb balance and complexity for price. $15
  • Conde de Velázquez Estate Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 2011: Solid, fresh, smooth, balanced; restrained fruit, berry, cherry; easy drinker. $18
  • Clos du Val Chardonnay Napa Valley Carneros 2011: Apple, stone fruit, pineapple, citrus, oak, vanilla; tasty, rich, bracing. $22

Last round: A balanced diet is a glass of wine in each hand.