Cooking with Wine

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The late, great Julia Child proclaimed in the 1970s that you should never cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink.  Her reasoning was that as the wine reduced in your food, flavors concentrated.  If the wine you cooked with had a good flavor, it would taste better as it reduced.  If the wine you cooked with had a bad flavor, the bad flavors would concentrate as the wine reduced.  Things seemed to make sense.

Of course, another aspect to this good wine / bad wine debate involves the tannins in wine, as well as general balance of flavor.  Thus, contrary to what Ms. Child advised, it may not be a bad idea to cook with cheap wine, either.  The idea is that as a good wine reduces, so do the tannins (besides the good flavors of the wine).  Too high a concentration of tannins and you potentially have bad tasting food on your hands, despite how nice the wine was that you used.

On the other hand, if you used a cheap wine, the flavors could potentially get better as things reduced and reached a better balance of flavors and tannins.  This has the added benefit of the fact that if you screw up the dish, at least you’re not wasting all that good wine for bad tasting food.

This all seems to make sense, despite the two schools of thought being at odds with each other.  So which camp should you choose to side with?

I say drink the good stuff and cook with the cheap stuff.  Not just because I’m poor (low level government employees/chumps like me don’t make a lot of money, despite the corruption that is the whole of New Jersey).  Note that I did not say that you should cook with bad wine.  Bad wine is bad wine, no matter how you look at it.  Not much can be done to improve a bad wine.  But there are plenty of cheap wines out there that don’t taste too bad after some cooking — especially if you’re cooking something already heavily flavored with it, like a well-seasoned beef stew or braise.

Likewise, there are plenty of good-tasting wines out there which you could potentially ruin by cooking it.  Besides, if it’s the good stuff, wouldn’t you want to drink as much of it as possible?  That way, you’re getting the pure flavor of the wine, without having all the tastiness get masked up by your food.  Flavorful dishes, like red wine braised short ribs, can hide the more subtle qualities of a good wine more than other foods cooked with wine, so it seems like there is tremendous potential for tremendous waste here.  If you want to cook with wine, I say you’re better off finding something less expensive with a similar flavor profile.

Experiment.  Try different wines.  If you find a wine you like to cook with, keep it in mind.  Stick to that wine if you’re really happy with it, but I say always leave your options open.  Try everything.  Be objective.  Taste your food.  And enjoy it.  Especially that fancy bottle of red you’ve been aging for ever.

But maybe with those braised short ribs, rather than in those beef short ribs, yeah?

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One Response to “Cooking with Wine”

  1. The Editor Says:

    i like it, but maybe a quick definition of tannin bc i sure dont kno what that is. and maybe a future blog on red wine vs white wine or what types are good to cook with what meats.

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