The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

On Wine and Cooking

Posted on | September 22, 2010 | Written by Alexandra Hill | No Comments

The start of fall always gets me excited for warm, hearty dishes like osso buco, roast herbed chicken, and leg of lamb. Sometimes recipes for these dishes call for wine in order to marinate, deglaze or balance the dish.  This got me thinking about how to choose a wine to use in a recipe. Usually the recipe says nothing more than white or red, but there are so many other factors when choosing wine.

I’m not alone in this quandary; someone came into the shop yesterday looking for a Sicilian wine to use for cooking, because he was making a Sicilian dish.  It made me wonder if the question of region should matter. All these questions swirling like fall leaves led me to do a little research on the matter of cooking with wine.

The first thing to understand is why the recipe calls for wine. For example, in creamy dishes, wine balances the richness of the cream with a little acidity.  However, in other dishes it can be used to form a thick, rich, fruity glaze.  Therefore, knowing what role the wine is performing can help guide you to choosing the optimal wine for your dish.

The most important thing to remember when cooking with wine is not to cook with a wine that you wouldn’t want to drink.  That’s not to say you need to cook with a 1982 Barolo, but you also don’t want to cook with a wine you were about to pour down the drain.  Second, cooking with wine is similar to wine pairing.  Generally you want to use white wine with fish, chicken, and pork dishes and red wine with steak, lamb, and duck.  The heavier the dish, the heavier the wine you can use.

Third, it is important to understand the qualities of the grape varietal you are using in order to make sure it complements the flavors in your dish.  For example, Sauvignon Blanc is known for its herbaceous notes.  Thus, if you cook with it, all of the alcohol will evaporate and only the flavors of the varietal will remain; this means that if your dish uses a lot of fresh herbs, you’ll be creating a lovely layered flavor.  In fact, the taste is what matters–regarding the gentlemen looking for a Sicilian wine for his Sicilian dish, the region itself is not what matters, but rather the flavor profile of the dish and the flavor profile of the grape varietal.  There are several grape varieties produced in Sicily but only some will work harmoniously with the dish.

Lastly, I recommend making sure to set aside a decent amount of time when cooking with wine.  As with many other marinades and glazes, wine takes time to thicken and meld all of the flavors into a cohesive dish.  While you cook, enjoy a glass of the wine and let the ingredients speak for themselves.

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