Kitchen Tips

Your ultimate guide to cooking with wine

Wine enhances the flavour of food and there are a few easy tips for adding the glorious grape to your gastronomic endeavours. Discover our ultimate how-to guide for cooking with wine.

By Bob Campbell
Celebrated comedian WC Fields famously quipped: “I love cooking with wine – sometimes I even put it in the food.”
I vividly recall the first time I tasted food that had been cooked in wine. I had recently joined a wine company as an accountant and was developing an interest in the wine-making process. A workmate who knew much more about wine than I did invited my wife and myself to his home for dinner. When we arrived, we were handed a glass of a wonderful French white burgundy called Drouhin Clos des Mouches. I knew enough about wine to know it was a chardonnay. Our host explained that ‘Clos des Mouches’ translates to ‘field of flies’.
Despite its unflattering name, the wine was delicious: crisp and dry with the gentle scent of salt sea air and a seductively silken texture. I was horrified when the host poured the sensational wine into a cup then dumped it into a pan full of plump scallops. The scallops were quickly poached in the wine and served. We savoured the wine as we ate the scallops; the sea salt tang in the wine was echoed by the flavours in the dish. It was a lightbulb moment.
Since then, I try to cook with wines that I plan to enjoy with the meal. The wine acts as a conduit between what’s in the glass and what’s on the plate. A good rule of thumb is to only cook with wine that you would happily drink. That makes sense; when you reduce a wine in a pan, for example, you concentrate its flavours. If the wine is faulty, you may be concentrating bad flavours.
It should be noted that certain volatile components in wine will be lost when it is reduced. The alcohol, for example, boils off into the atmosphere so you can cook with wine and still have an alcohol-free day. Alcohol does take time to dissipate; if you add a wine with 14 per cent alcohol to a sauce before reducing it, the sauce will still have 5-6 per cent alcohol after 15 minutes.
Some people believe they get a reaction from sulphur, a preservative that has been used in wine for centuries. If you do get an adverse reaction from sulphur you can still cook with wine because the sulphur quickly disappears when it is heated.

Why you should try cooking with wine

Consider the three benefits wine brings to cooking:
  1. Wine is a marinade that can enrich and tenderise meat, fish and vegetables.
  2. Wine is a cooking liquid.
  3. Wine adds flavour.

How to choose the right wine for cooking

Red wine with red meat. White wine with white meat, fish and vegetables. The guidelines for cooking with wine match the guidelines that we’ve all used when choosing a wine to match a certain food. It’s not exactly rocket science but if you like to experiment it can be fun breaking a rule or two.

Dry versus sweet

If a dish needs a little sweetness, you can add it by choosing a sweet wine. The same principle applies to acidity. Choose an acidic wine (riesling, sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc) to boost acidity in the dish and a low-acid wine (pinot gris, gewürztraminer) if you’re after the reverse effect. If you think a dish might be improved by a squeeze of lemon juice, consider using a high-acid wine instead.

What's the deal with sympathetic flavours?

If you have a choice of wines to cook with, you might like to use wines with similar flavours to those in the dish. For example, I often use Marlborough sauvignon blanc to flavour vegetable dishes because the wine has a pronounced vegetal, grassy, capsicum character that complements vegetable dishes nicely.

How much wine should I add while cooking?

A rough guide for adding wine to your cooking:
Soup 2 tsp per cup
Sauces 1 Tbsp per cup
Gravies 2 Tbsp per cup
Stews & meats 1/2 cup per kilogram
Poaching liquid for fish 1/2 cup per litre

What type of wine should I choose?

When the recipe says...
White wine
I choose pinot gris.
Red wine
I choose pinot noir or merlot.
Crisp, dry white
I choose sauvignon blanc or dry riesling.
Fruity white
I choose gewürztraminer or sauvignon blanc.
I choose a dry prosecco.
Light red
I choose pinot noir.
Full-bodied red
I choose syrah or cabernet/merlot.
I choose Madeira (which keeps for months after being opened).
Photography via : Getty Images.
This was first published in Taste magazine.
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  • undefined: Bob Campbell