Wine is known as the drink of the gods in many cultures. Ancient Greeks and Romans had a god devoted to wine. Even Jesus is known to have partaken of this grape juice with a twist. Wine, as good as it is for drinking, is also great for cooking. It adds flavor and depth to dishes as well as bring out the natural flavor of food. Cooking with wine, like drinking it, can be intimidating at first. Some basic principles, however, will make this much less daunting.

The first obvious question that comes to mind is what wine should you be using. Part of choosing what wine to cook with depends on what type of dish you are preparing. A good rule of thumb is to choose a wine that would be served with the meal. Another way to choose a wine is to select one from the same region of the meal you are to prepare. If you are not certain about what pairs well with your chosen meal don’t be afraid to ask someone working in your preferred grocery or liquor store wine department. They are very knowledgeable about these things. If you plan on serving an expensive bottle at dinner, does that mean you have to double your expense by buying a second bottle just for cooking? Not really. You can always find a cheaper bottle of the same variety of wine.  

The old adage states that you should never cook with wine you are not willing to drink. For the most part this is true. If you don’t like the wine on its own, you probably won’t like it in your food. The exception to this is leftover wine.  Most people would not want to drink wine that has been opened for more than a day or two, but it is perfect for cooking. This wine has been thoroughly aerated so its subtle flavors have been ruined. However, you are looking to use the stronger, bolder flavors in the wine. Those will still be there in leftover wine. And whatever you do, stay away from anything labeled as “cooking wine”. These contain added salt and other undesirable ingredients that will affect the flavor.

Wine as a cooking ingredient has uses such as marinades, sauces, and with wet cooking techniques like braising or poaching and there are some things to consider when using wine. First of all, you have to consider the wine’s acidity and sugar content. As with any liquid, as it reduces flavors get concentrated. So if a wine is already tart to begin with it will be even more as it cooks down. Like with any other seasoning or ingredient, you have to find the right amount to use. Use too little and it is as if you had not used any wine at all. Use too much and it can overpower your dish. Lastly, wine should not be added at the end of the cooking process. It takes time for the wine to absorb into your food and impart its flavors without leaving a harsh note.

Wine, like any alcohol used to cook with, has an effect on your food. It helps bring out the flavor of your food like salt does. Alcohol’s volatility helps carry the aroma of food up to your nose, thus enhancing the flavor. The alcohol in wine also helps form a bond between the fat and water molecules in your food. This helps the flavor components that are only fat soluble penetrate your food.

Adding wine to your food is an excellent way to add as well as enhance the flavors of your dishes.  It is also a great way to add flavor without adding extra fat.

Manuel De la Mora


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