Choose the right wine: Foods cooked in wine or served with wine-enriched sauces can be lifted to another plane. For a long time though, it was believed that any old plonk could be poured into a beef stew to make a boeuf bourguignon. Wines that lay in half-drunk bottles or wines that were undrinkable often found their way into stewed fruit or sauces. But sophisticated cooks say that using the right wine in your cooking is nearly as important as choosing the right wine to drink. Sure, you won’t be pouring your best vintage Bordeaux to deglaze a pan, but quality is important while cooking with wine.
What you can do with wine: Wine can be used at various stages of the cooking process. Steaks, for instance, can be marinated in red wine and seasoning for several hours before being grilled or tossed on the barbecue. The wine tenderises the meat. The remaining marinade also makes an excellent sauce for the meat. Most frequently, wine is used to deglaze a pan in which meats have been sauted and the resulting mixture forms the base of a sauce to be served with the meat. Wines reduce quickly, and the reduction process intensifies the flavour rather than the alcohol content. In fact, the alcohol content is considerably reduced when wine is ‘cooked’ down.What reduction also does is to intensify the colour of the wine in the food, so you end up with a rich, brown rather than the purple or cherry red you might find in a wine glass.
What to cook with: Find a couple of basic reds and whites you enjoy drinking and incorporate them into your cooking. As you get a hang of the flavour range you are looking for and the effect that wine has on various ingredients, you can experiment some more. If you are, for instance, making a seafood risotto and plan to drink it with a Californian Chardonnay, consider using the same wine for the risotto. All sorts of combinations are possible. You can use a Sauvignon Blanc, with its herbaceous qualities, in a dish that highlights herbs. Zinfandels have a berry or cherry character, which would be a nice background to a fruit sauce for duck or pork. A buttery Chardonnay is the perfect base for a beurre blanc. The more you learn about the characteristics of your favourite wine, the more creative you can get with your cooking.
There are also fortified wines which are used for cooking. These are fortified with alcohol which adds complexity and herbs and condiments which impart their fragrance and flavour to the wine. Sherry and port falls into this category and since they are sweet, it works well in fruit desserts. Sweet vermouth with its herbal flavour works the same way. Wines can also be used at the very end of the cooking process. Marsala can be used to finish a sauce and sherry can be added to a cream soup for extra flavour.