Dry Red and White Wines for Cooking

silversword(9A)May 12, 2009

Hi, someone just asked me which wines would be good for cooking, and they don't drink wine. Do any of you have any recommendations/brand names?

Thank you!


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The rule is if you would not drink it, don't cook with it.
Don't put cheap wine in your food. They have chemicals added
which will alter the taste. There are any number of medium to ultra
premium wines that are in a reasonable price range. Sauvignon
Blanc is an excellent dry white wine that enchances most foods
and is well priced. Merlot, Pinot Noir are nice dry red wines.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2009 at 4:20PM
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It sort of doesn't matter. I use whatever is left over and in the fridge. Obviously if you don't want your dish to be dark, you don't use a red wine, but besides that, you can simply find almost any inexpensive wine for your cooking. Remember that something that has been aged in wood may affect the final flavor, so it's better to use a younger, fruitier, wine as a general rule. some of the greatest kitchens in New York use Carlo Rossi because it's cheap.

Sauvignon Blanc, depending on where it comes from, may have pronounced flavors of grass and grapefruit. If you are interested in that, it can work well. Basically the wine is contributing acidity, which is why you can use a white wine in your spaghetti sauce and it will be just fine. In fact, crisp dry whites tend to be the safest choices.

Something that is essentially tastless, like a cheap pinot grigio, could work, or a musdadet from the Loire, or a semillon or pretty much anything fermented completely dry, without any residual sugar.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 12:54PM
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If a wine is "essentially tasteless" why would you even bother
to cook with it? And I am truly astounded to learn that "the greatest kitchens" in New York cook with Carlo Rossi. On the west coast, we use
wine to give greater flavor and complexity to the dish. You can
not do that with a cheap wine. Think about it.

A premium wine has about a third of the grape crop cut off ( "dropped") to intensify the flavors of the remaining grapes. The vineyard is hand narvested to make sure every vine picked is at a state of perfection, usually at night.

The grapes are not crushed they are lightly tapped to release the juice which is called "free run." The resultant wine is a true reflection of the grape varietal.

A cheap wine will be irrigated before harvest to increase the tonnage
in the grapes at harvest and they will pick everything machanically,
ready or not. The grapes will hit the winery where they are crushed to
smithereens, releasing every impurity, skins, stems and seeds.
The wine won't taste so good of course, but wait, add a few chemicals and
you will have something the uniformed call "drinkable" which
means it won't kill you on the spot, but wait until the next morning.

A lot of people think they get hangovers and headaches from sulfites in
wine but it is actually from the other addtions put in wine to stabalize it, add color and so forth.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 12:39PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

Ramona.....where did you get your information?
I have witnessed the crush as a couple of California's premium wineries...yes crush! Not "tapped to release the juices".
A wine that has had soem of the fruit cut off to increase the flavor of the remaining grapes, likely will cost well more than $50 a bottle....I very VERY rarely drink a wine that expensive, let alone slop some into the sauce for the chicken!
You state a medium to premium white wine as being desirable as well as a merlot etc.
You are naming grape varieties, not wines. I can buy a $2.99 bottle of Sauvignon blanc....and a $30 bottle....similar things exist with Merlot and Pinot Noir.
If you are drinking Mad Dog 20-20 you deserve the hangover you get....sulfites are added to wines to increase stability....NOT to counteract the tannin from thec rushed skins.
How do you think sauvignon blanc becomes cabernet sauvignon??
Linda C

    Bookmark   June 14, 2009 at 8:03PM
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I think lindac is correct. The point of adding wine is essentially to bring in some acidity. You are not going to get the complex flavors of a great wine in your stew - it will be cooked and transformed. That's why great restaurants don't use great wine in their cooking. And if you're doing a reduction, taking a bottle of wine down to maybe a cup, there is no reason to use anything great.

That's the reason I suggested something fairly tasteless. For example, if you are cooking some mussels with garlic and shallots and wine, and you were to use a really grassy Sauvignon Blanc from Rueda say, you may find notes of bell pepper and grapefruit, and if you were to use a muscat or gwertztraminier, you would have floral and fruity notes and neither would really be great with the mussels. Sauvignon blanc from the Loire is a classic wine to use in that dish, but most of those, from Sancerre say, do not have the pronounced green flavors that some of the others do.

With red wine it's a little more complex because many red wines are aged in wood. That is generally not something that enhances the flavor of a dish. As a matter of fact, whenever someone has done a little study of the issue, the simpler, fruitier wines were preferred.

But your information on wine is very mistaken. "Cheap" can result from many factors, which could include the relative strength of the economy where the wine was made. Consequently, we can find bargains in the US that come from Argentina, whereas if their economy were stronger, the wines would be more costly.

Lightly tapping grapes to release juice? Each individual grape? I promise you that nobody in the world does that.

Some wines are made via carbonic maceration, in which case the weight of the grapes in the container crushes a few and the juice starts fermenting. The grapes at the bottom of the tank start fermenting inside their own skins in some cases. The new Beaujolais is made like this and it's also used in other areas to produce light, fruity wines that aren't meant to age and that are in fact good for cooking.

In other cases, the grapes are in fact crushed and allowed to macerate with the skins. The juice is then drawn off. This is what is called "free run" juice. If the mass of skins, etc., is gently pressed, there can be additional juice that is squeezed out. That is no longer free-run juice, but is is not low quality. There are many ways of pressing the skins. For example, you can have an inflatable bladder that gently presses out the remaining juice. Incidentally, one of the wineries that uses this charges over $100 a bottle for their wine.

And yes, sometimes the stems and seeds are crushed too. Some winemakers feel that the tannins and flavors that are obtained that way add complexity to the wine. Guigal in the Rhone for example, uses whole cluster fermentation, which means that he does not de-stem the grapes before making wine. Then when the juice is pressed, you get some of the flavors and tannins from the skins and seeds. His la Landonne goes for about $270 a bottle and it's entirely whole cluster fermentation.

Dropping 1/3 of the crop is called "green harvesting". in that situation, bunches are cut off while still green so that the remaining clusters ripen more evenly and supposedly have more concentration. People around the world do it and people around the world debate whether or not it's actually useful. The idea is that lower yields produce more concentrated flavors. Well, you can accomplish low yields in many ways, including the density of your planting. But don't assume that all expensive wines are from vineyards that have been green harvested. I assure you that is not true.

As far as headaches - that comes from alcohol. Sulfur is present in the grapes themselves as it is a component of some amino acids. THere is no science whatsoever supporting the claim of sulfites causing headaches, although there is an urban legend that won't die.

Since I cook almost daily and have been doing so for many years, and since I always have open bottles of wine in the house, we've been cooking with all kinds of wine. I promise you that if I use a white or a red in my spaghetti sauce, you will most likely not know the difference.

As far as not drinking it and not cooking with it - that's not a bad rule. However, I would even hedge there. Someone gave me some Yellow Tail shiraz. I certainly wasn't going to drink it but it did make a great marinade with some soy sauce, star anise, ginger, honey, and garlic.


    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 6:45PM
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Well I got my information about how premium and ultra premium
wines are made because I am a grower and a vintner. I sell grapes to
some of the top wineries in the world. (Ratings 94 to 97 in Wine
Spectator.) My own wine was chosen the Editor's Choice of the other
top wine mag.

If you cook with very good wines your food will be much more flavorful, including desserts. ( I am talking about a half cup or less usually) and because it is more flavorful, you can use less butter, etc and end up with more satisfying food that is less caloric.

I agree that marinating is a different story, that is where you might want a wine for acidity to tenderize the meat. But even then, i would not put
bad wine into a marinade.

I also cook a lot with cognac and other liquers. I would not use anything
but a very good quality of these either. That is the rule taught to
me by my grandmother.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 7:55PM
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Ramona - what is your vineyard? I import wine and taste a few thousand a year. Congrats on your wine.

But whether you use good or indifferent wines, it isn't necessarily going to make your food more flavorful and wine has nothing to do with butter. Before I was in this business I was a pastry cook and butter is entirely unrelated to wine. Butter adds texture and mouthfeel and richness. Wine makes a completely different contribution.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2009 at 2:10AM
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A good wine will enhance the flavor of the food, hence you don't need to add or can cut down on other more fattening things such as butter, cream etc.

We don't have a distributor in NY although we are in several states
on the eastern seaboard and the Virgin Islands. Crinella is the name.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2009 at 6:08PM
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Just noticed a lack of mentioning one of the greatest cooking wines ever... Marsala.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2009 at 11:29AM
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That's different entirely. It's a flavored and sweet wine and wonderful for making any number of things. But it's not one you simply swap out with another, because unlike those, its flavor is very marked and very distinct. It's more similar to a sherry or a Port. The other day when I made mussels, I just dumped in whatever whites I had - I think there was some verdejo, some albarin, and maybe some sauvignon blanc. The fortified wines wouldn't have worked at all although maybe a light fino sherry could have.

BUT! Tonight I was going to make some mushrooms and some pork and the marsala sounds like a most excellent idea! Thanks for reminding me. I'm going to use butter instead of olive oil now.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2009 at 7:15PM
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