DECANTED: TOP 10 TIPS ON COOKING WITH WINE
With the festive season just around the corner, you may find yourself having more half-empty bottles of wine leftover than you know what to do with. In the spirit of avoiding wastage, why not consider incorporating wine into your dinners in the weeks to come? With an abundance of wine in the kitchen, you can now experiment with rich stews, sweet syrups and much more!
Join us as we share our top ten tips on cooking with wine to give you a headstart in the kitchen.
Know that you should always use ‘good’ wine.
Firstly, and without a doubt, most importantly, only use wines that you’d be happy to drink. That doesn’t mean breaking the bank, and it definitely doesn’t mean raiding your cellar for that 20-year old Barolo you’ve been saving. But you should spend as much as you would on a bottle for everyday drinking. Ordering the cheapest bottle in the store isn’t always the greatest idea.
By the way, we’re not saying that you can only use wines and grape types you love to drink. All grapes have their place in the cuisines of the world, so if you don’t fancy drinking Tempranillo, for instance, you should still be confident using it in your cooking.
Know that wine needs to be drinkable.
The wine you use in food should still be good for the glass, more or less. You can undoubtedly use wine on the ‘turn’ (losing its fruit and getting sour), but if it tastes of vinegar, then it’s time for the bin.
So if you’ve kept the opened wine in your fridge only for a few days, it’ll be sufficient for the pot – anything more, and you may need to buy something else.
If you’re looking for a few tips on storing wine (especially in Singapore’s heat), check out our recent article.
- Know what “cooking wine” is, and avoid it.
Trust us. You don’t want anything that wasn’t meant to be drunk in the first place. Cooking wines can be full of added chemicals and sugars that are hiding the wine’s deficiencies. Avoid these if possible.
However, as we’ve mentioned above, we’re not suggesting that only the best wines can be used in dishes. But anything labelled “cooking wine” isn’t going to do your Beef Bourguignon any favours. Stick to reasonably-priced bottles from where you usually buy wine.
- Know how to make the most of your open wines.
Most wine-lovers have a bottle opened in the fridge, whether leftover from yesterday’s dinner or something experimental you’ve meant to finish. If you’re cooking today, definitely use that opened bottle as a priority (even if it doesn’t quite match the recipe). The flavours are unlikely to be far off, and it’ll save on wasting precious wine!
Similarly, if you don’t enjoy a particular bottle you opened – perhaps it’s a little sweeter than you expected, or more fruity than you usually enjoy – pop it into the fridge for future culinary use. The flavours you don’t care for will be mellowed in the dish you cook.
- Know your cooking techniques.
How you use your wine in a dish will determine the flavours that come through. Ensure you balance the wine with flavours that counteract acidity, sweetness and tannins to ensure your wine adds to your dish and doesn’t overpower it.
Long, slow braises can incorporate the wine’s character into the dish. You can also add a splash of wine at the end of cooking to boost the flavours. On the other hand, a quick deglaze of a frying pan lends a concentrated shot of flavour. Reducing the wine (cooking until the wine’s volume is halved) will also intensify the flavours, whether sweet or acidic – a great technique to add flavour to dressings or syrups.
Alternatively, use the wine as a marinade to soften meats before cooking. Remember not to leave the meat for too long in the marinade though, as you’ll find the flavour can become overpowering. It is best not to consume the marinade or turn it into a sauce or gravy unless you cook it well.
Dishes containing wine are safe for children and non-drinkers. Just make sure to simmer dishes for around three hours to be sure all alcohol is removed.
- Know that wine isn't always organic and vegan-friendly.
Don’t forget that when cooking with wine, the wine is an ingredient. So if you’re creating a dish for your vegan friends, or your meal is entirely organic, you’ll want to ensure that your wine matches up to that too. Vegan-friendly and organic wines are becoming more and more popular these days, and are available to buy across Singapore.
For more details on what makes wines vegan-friendly, organic, natural and everything in between, check out our educational articles here.
- Know that “what grows together, goes together”.
The old adage rings true here. Wines that grow in the region your recipe originates from are usually an excellent choice to cook with. Just think of the centuries of co-evolution between the kitchen and the vineyard, both carefully designed to complement each other.
If you’re serving a bottle with your dinner, say a Chianti with your tomato-based pasta, use a glass of that same wine when cooking. The flavours will match, and it’ll cost you less if you’re opening the bottle anyway.
Don’t feel bound by tradition, though. Rules are there for breaking, which leads us to...
- Know when to experiment.
Don’t feel that you should be tied down to a ‘traditional way’, whatever a recipe tells you. It’s always good fun to experiment with different flavour profiles. Perhaps a Tuscan Sangiovese in a French-style cassoulet will be a great match, or an aromatic Gewürztraminer in an Asian braised pork may lend a new edge. Let your creative juices run wild to find some interesting new combinations.
- Know your bankers.
It’s good to have some dependable wines to rely upon, however. The most versatile wines to pair with food tend to be the most versatile to cook with. Clean, crisp whites like Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc work in lighter dishes, whereas medium-bodied, less tannic reds like Merlot are great in braises and stews. If in doubt, it’s good to know what’ll work in most cases.
- Know how to use sweet and oxidised wines.
Sweet wines make a delicious partner to desserts, whether syrup-soaked sponges or fresh fruits. The sugar levels in the wines will match the recipe much more naturally than a dry wine will, so you’ll find you need to adjust sugar levels much less. Think deliciously ripe peaches in Sauternes, perfect pears poached in Port, spiced pineapple caramelised in Tokaji – all great uses for the sweet wine in your fridge.
Similarly, oxidised wines, like Sherry, Madeira and Marsala, can bring a nutty and complex edge to many dishes – you’ll often find a bottle or two around the house at this time of year. Dishes from the Iberian Peninsula often work well with these wines, like tender lamb’s kidneys in a fino sherry sauce.
There you have it: ten top tips for cooking with wine, from reduced sauces to delectable desserts. With these in your repertoire and a good bottle or two in your fridge, your next dinner party will be a smash hit
Visit our collection of organic and sustainable wines to start your culinary adventures with. If you’re looking for something in particular, or need a few friendly recommendations, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
- Bonné, Jon (2017). The new wine rules. Ten Speed Press.
- Puckette, Madeline & Hammock, Justin (2018). Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide. Penguin Random House.
- Robinson, Jancis (2017). The 24-hour wine expert. Penguin Random House.
Also in Sustainable Wine Blog
We love any opportunity to appreciate great wine here at Brown Bag Wines, even if it means finding ways to sneak it into other drinks! So we've put together a top ten list of our favourite wine cocktail recipes to impress party guests – with a unique (and sustainable wine-centric) spin on some all-time classics. Cocktail shakers at the ready!