A recipe that calls for wine may create doubt for home cooks who don't know the fruit of the vine all that well. Will you ruin your chicken dish if you use red when the recipe calls for white? (Perhaps, and you'll definitely turn the meat red.) And is your favorite sweet white zinfandel appropriate for shrimp scampi, too? (No.)
There are other examples that make some of us scratch our heads, or even search for another recipe:
The arroz con pollo recipe specifies "dry white wine."
Asian-inspired stewed mussels includes "fortified wine."
A favorite steak marinade is flavored with a "full-bodied red."
And a yummy-sounding red sauce recipe lists a "young, robust red" as an ingredient.
Will the bottles of merlot and pinot grigio you have on hand suffice?
Maybe, but the accompanying information should help you conquer the technique of cooking with wine, giving you the confidence to splash with abandon.
Why cook with wine?
Primarily, wine enhances the flavor and aroma of dishes. Heating it concentrates the flavor of the wine, which is why it's important to match the right one to your dish. The wine should meld with other ingredients, not stick out like a cracked cork.
Does alcohol burn off during cooking?
Yes, but it may take longer than you think. After 15 minutes of cooking, the alcohol content is still about 40 percent. There is even a little left — about 5 percent — after a stew has simmered for 3 hours. Wine, in general, is lower in alcohol than other spirits, and the amount divided by the servings won't yield much per person. However, if it's a concern, substitute unsweetened apple cider, grape juice or even broths when they are appropriate.
How to store wine
The enemy of wine is air, so the half bottle of wine that you keep by the stove, even though it's tightly stopped, is deteriorating in quality. Use a wine stopper system that sucks the air out of the bottle or drink the remainder with your meal. Some people even combine like wines (red with red, white with white), keeping the bottle full for cooking but not drinking.
How much to pay?
"Don't cook with wine you wouldn't drink" is a well-worn kitchen saying. While it might be true, we would add don't spend $50 on a bottle of wine for cooking. There are plenty of wines for about $10 that will do. Seek them out. And if you like them for drinking, so much the better.
When to use wine
Wine enhances a dish when it is simmered for a while with other ingredients, so add it when there is still plenty of cooking time. If it's stirred in at the end of cooking, it may impart unwanted harshness, and its flavor will outshine everything else. You don't want that.
Can I use cooking wine?
Please don't. Inexpensive cooking wines have high salt content, which alters the flavor of your dish. The cook should control the saltiness. Cooking wines are stocked by the vinegars in many grocery stores, which gives you an indication of how they taste.
What if the recipe isn't clear on the kind of wine?
When a recipe lists "red" or "white" wine, use a medium-dry to dry wine. (In wine parlance, dry just means not sweet.) For red, that means a pinot noir, and for white, go for pinot grigio.
If the recipe calls for …
The wines listed are stocked mostly at big-box discount stores and some grocery store chains. Wine shops will also have a wide variety. If you can't find these exact wines, ask for help. There is a multitude of wines from other winemakers that will suffice.
If the recipe calls for a Full-bodied red wine
Reach for cabernet, Bordeaux, syrah, zinfandel
n Example: 2009 Green Bridge Zinfandel (about $10)
If the recipe calls for a Young, robust red wine
Reach for Rioja/tempranillo, Beaujolais nouveau (seasonal and best from Thanksgiving to New Year's)
n Example: Paso a Paso Tempranillo ($11 to $13)
If the recipe calls for a Medium-bodied red wine
Reach for merlot, shiraz, Chianti
n Example: Stump Jump 2008 Shiraz (about $10)
If the recipe calls for a Dry white wine
Reach for chardonnay, chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc or dry Riesling
n Example: 2010 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($8 to $10)
If the recipe calls for a Fruity white wine
Reach for gewurztraminer, Riesling or viognier
n Example: 2008 Anything Goes Riesling (about $9)
If the recipe calls for a Fortified wine
Reach for Marsala, vermouth, sherry, port or Madeira. (The recipe should give you some guidelines, since these wines are not necessarily interchangeable.)
n Example: Hidalgo Manzanilla or Osborne Amontillado sherries (about $10)
If the recipe calls for a Sparkling wine
Reach for Champagne or prosecco
n Example: La Marca Prosecco (about $15)
Information from Times files, Cooking Know-How by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough (Wiley, 2009), webmd.com and whatscookingamerica.net was used in this report.