A Guide To Cooking With Wine

What adds a gourmet touch to almost any meal? Correct!—Booze!

Cooking with wine is a very exciting gastronomical adventure. However, it seems like most people find it easier to choose a wine to sip while cooking than to choose one to cook with.

I’m not a professional chef or a wine connoisseur, nor do I think of myself as a culinary arts expert, but I’ve experimented with cooking with wine enough to feel somewhat kinda maybe confidentish that my accumulated “wisdom” could serve as a helpful guide to those of you, darlings, who are contemplating trying out a wine-containing recipe.

So here’s my list of wine-cooking rules 101. You can thank me later.



Avoid using “cooking wines”

The so-called “cooking wine” is made of cheap base wine and contains salt, food coloring, and other nasty additives. Please promise yourself that you will never resort to using this questionable product. Never.

Don’t use the wine you wouldn’t drink…

Once you’ve moved past the “cooking wine” aisle, remember that the rule of thumb for choosing a wine to cook with is to pick something moderately priced but still enjoyable. You wouldn’t enjoy a wine that’s too sour or bitter, and using this kind of wine in cooking only means it will bring these unpleasant flavors to your dish. Cost and palate should be your two main criteria! If you follow this Golden Rule, the wine you choose may not have the most complex “character” but it will sure give you the best bang for your buck.

…but don’t splurge either

Quality comes with a price, they say. This conventional wisdom definitely holds true for the wine industry. Factors that affect a wine’s flavor and aroma—like grape variety, year of the harvest, storage conditions, etc.—are also the primary determinants of the price. So yes, when it comes to wine, there’s “$” in delicious$, $ubtle, and exqui$ite.

But here is the good news: When you use wine in cooking, there’s no need to break the bank! A moderately priced good-quality wine will give your dish the same fine flavor as an ultra-expensive bottle of some exclusive vintage potion. You may pay for a premium wine’s elegant fruity notes and subtle nuances, but as wine cooks and reduces, these pricey subtle nuances will get lost in the blend of other flavors. So don’t dump a bottle of high-class wine into your casserole; save it to serve with the meal instead.

Follow the instructions on the recipe

Usually, the recipe will specify what kind of wine to use. Cooking requires creativity, but not in this case. If it says “dry,” use the dry wine. If it says “sweet,” stick with the sweet.

If the original recipe does not contain wine but you’d like to include it, you need to consider two characteristics when choosing your wine: its sweetness and its acidity. Basically, use sweet wine if you want extra sweetness in your dish. Otherwise, you dry wine.

If you’re not sure about acidity/sweetness of your dish, my advice is simple: Check your recipe. If it already has lots of acidic ingredients like lemon zest or vinegar, you might want to be careful with those and leave some room for the acid that will come from the wine. If you’re cooking lots of sweet vegetables like carrots, beets, tomatoes, there’s no need for any extra sugar, and adding a splash of a dry full-bodied wine (any wine over 13.5% alcohol is considered full-bodied) will make the veggie dish taste like it has been finished with a refreshing squeeze of lemon juice. It’s all about maintaining balance, darlings.

How much wine is too much?

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The amount of wine depends on the food you’re cooking and the intensity of flavor you’re trying to achieve. Think of it as seasoning. When in doubt, remember that you can always add more wine, but you can’t take back what has already been poured in. While adding too little means the delicate wine flavors might get lost, adding more wine doesn’t necessarily mean your dish will taste exponentially better.

Don’t add wine right before serving

Wine requires some time for its flavor to unfold. Allow the wine to simmer with the rest of the ingredients so that it has enough time to blend with other flavors and aromas, and truly transform your dish.

Wine = Alcohol

You’re thinking, #CaptainObvious? I thought it was pretty obvious too, until I realized that many people mistakenly believe that after they’ve added wine to their skillet/pot/saucepan, all alcohol will magically evaporate within a few minutes. Lies! Research from the USDA shows that 85% of the alcohol remains after wine is added to a boiling liquid and then removed from the heat. Of course, the longer you cook it, the more alcohol will evaporate. Mind that “longer” would mean hours if your intention was to “cook out” all of the alcohol. So make sure there aren’t any toddlers attending your dinner party before you pour the wine into that risotto.

Wine can make your dish healthier

If this is news to you, then it’s my honor to be delivering THE BEST NEWS EVER! Wine can serve as a great fat substitute in recipes. Yes, that’s right—less fat, more booze! To name a few examples: instead of sautéing vegetables in lots and lots of oil, reduce the amount of oil by adding some wine for moisture; substitute some of the oil with dessert wine when making cake batter; while most marinades call for a significant amount of oil, you can alter the recipe by replacing as much as 50% of required amount of oil with wine. Told ya, best news ever!

Have been eyeing that recipe with wine on the list of ingredients? Go test it out! And don’t forget to sip while you stir.

Tell us about your experience with cooking with wine in the comments or tweet us @LitDarling!

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