"I love cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food." --attributed to Julia Child
Adding wine to your favorite recipe is a great way to build flavor, but too much or the wrong style wine can throw off an otherwise delicious meal. With a few simple tips you can use an addition of wine to make your best dishes even better.
Wine is a solution of alcohol, sugar, acid, and tannin. Each of these will show up in your finished dish so it's important to make sure your recipe accounts for the wine addition: if your recipe is acidic with lemon juice or vinegar in it, be sure to cut back slightly on those to account for the acidity of your wine.
Likewise, if your dish contains a lot of sweet vegetables, like onions, carrots, beets, etc, using a sweet wine will add to that sweetness, while a drier wine will counterpoint it.
Be careful with heavily oaked wines, especially young ones: the rich woody notes can overwhelm delicate flavors from seafood or vegetables and is a little odd-tasting with them. Contrariwise, rich oaked reds work just fine with very rich red meat dishes, especially ones with long cooking times.
When you’re cooking with red wine tannins come into play. When reduced and concentrated into a sauce they can become astringent--unless your sauce contains proteins from meat or dairy, which bind to the tannin and tame it.
Cooking It Down
Make sure you thoroughly cook the wine you use in your dish: the taste of straight alcohol in a dish adds a different kind of sweetness that isn't the same as that from sugar, so it needs to be cooked off. This means you'll need to cook the dish long enough reduce the amount of wine added by about 10-15%. More importantly, wine is more than 80% water, so you'll need to reduce that volume in order to get the flavour from the wine without watering down the other components of your recipe.
Red or White?
This is the easiest question to answer: use the type of wine you’re serving with the dish. For best results, grab an extra bottle of the same wine and cook with it. You may blanch at cooking with your most prized wine but don't use 2nd-rate wine in to cook with: if you wouldn’t drink it on its own, don't cook with it! Instead, turn that 2nd-rater into Sangria or gift it to someone who thinks it's just fine, and use the good stuff.
Remember Vandergrift's Fourth Law of Home Winemaking:
"Your liver can only process so much wine, so don't waste that precious capacity on anything less than the best."
Recipes by Region
If you're stuck wondering what wine to use in a recipe, think of where the dish came from, and pair it with a traditional wine from that region: Bistecca a la Fiorentina wants an Amarone. Lamb loves a good Cabernet Sauvignon. Pasta Al Fredo adores a Pinot Grigio. Food and wine have always evolved in harmony in the places they were made, so they match well.
Don't Be Afraid
Remember Master Vintner's motto on wine and cooking: any wine you want to drink with any food you want to eat is a good pairing, so don't stress out!
If you want to try a very simple recipe to start off with try making a light dessert with peaches and Master Vintner Moscato:
Step 1: Peel and pit a peach and slice it into 1/4 inch slices and place them into a wine glass.
Step 2: Top up with Moscato, cover with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator for an hour.
Step 3: Serve them as-is!
Drink the wine and eat the peach slices, and enjoy the bright, fruity flavors!
Find other recipes in the Wine section of our Bottled Knowledge resource page.