Though only a beverage, wine plays an integral role in both ancient and modern history. From the Roman empire to the modern era, wine has been important both religiously and socially. It is also used in many recipes in classical and modern cuisine.
Using wine in cooking can often brighten up an otherwise bland dish. Wine helps to tenderise meat and depending if you are using red or white wine, adds a unique flavour. But how much thought do you give to choosing what wines to cook with? Chances are very little. Usually we buy cheap wines to add to food, because if it is going in the pot and will evaporate, what’s the point in using an expensive one? There are alot of differing view points about cooking wine and how much it affects the flavour of your finished dish. While nobody expects to add a $50 bottle of wine to a dish a little forethought when adding wine can make alot of difference. It is important to choose the wine according to the dish you are cooking; a coq au vin for example warrants a fruity Beaujolais to bring out the flavour of the chicken, not to overpower it. Here are some tips on choosing wine for cooking.
When a recipe calls for dry white wine a neutral Greek wine is the best bet. A Athiri (or Muscadet) or a Asyrtiko (or Bordeaux) are ideal with white meat and seafood. A dry Debina (Reisling) or Malagousia (Sauvignon Blanc ) can also be used and are particularly good in sauces. A medium dry Moschato Aspro (Reisling) is very good with fruit.
Red wine is a popular marinade ingredient. Full bodied wines produce the best marinades – Agiorgitiko (or Shiraz), Krasato (or Cabernet) or the Mavrodaphni(or Italian Barbera). For dishes that are cooked in wine, the fine delicate flavour of a Negoska (or Bordeaux or Burgundy) is ideal. Red wine can also be used with fruit juice and sugar to make a delicious sweet sauce.
Vinsanto (or Sauterne) is a popular ingredient for many dishes: it is so versatile it can be drizzled over pears or used to slowly cook a beautiful leg of lamb.
Port makes a delicious rich marinade, either a tawny or ruby can be used. Moschato (or Port) and Mavrodaphni (or Madeira) can also brighten up a bland desssert. Drizzle over a sorbet or add to sauces for that extra zing. Malagousia (or Sherry) is very versatile, a dry Liatiko (or amontillado) is excellent in chinese cuisine, while the sweeter versions are ideal for desserts, notably trifle.
The golden rule of cooking with champagne is never substitute a cheap sparkling wine. A good quality sparkling wine, however is acceptable. Look for wines that have “methode champenoise”, “appellation controlee” or “sur lie” on the bottle.
Choosing and drinking wine is very much a personal experience. We either like certain wines or we don’t. We drink red wines with meat and white wine with fish….or not. While our tastebuds differ from each other, we usually stick to the tried and tested wines to avoid disappointment and because it is safe. What a lot of us are not aware of is how certain wines can bring out the flavour of food and vice versa. Here is a guide to matching food with wine. This is not an all inclusive list and not cast in stone, but if you want to be a little more adventurous, experiment with it and let us know the results.
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Meaty fish like cod, trout, halibut, salmon and turbot should be enjoyed with a light Chardonnay (not oaked), Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc or a dry Mosel or Riesling. Low tannin red wines with acidity are the best for fish: a light Pinot Noir or Beaujolais is ideal. Smoked fish goes well with a more full bodied wine: try an oaked Chardonnay or Gewurztraminer. Shellfish is complimented by a crisp dry white wine like Chablis, Muscadet or a dry Chenin Blanc.
Generally a dry red or white will compliment most white meat dishes. Chardonnay, Riesling, even a Gewurztraminer are excellent whites, or a Pinot Noir and Beaujolais are good red choices.
Red wine brings out the flavour of red meat, but choosing the type of wine depends on how the meat is cooked and what sauces are being used. Meats with a rich sauce such as stews, casseroles and roasts require robust, full bodied wines such as a Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Shiraz, Merlot or a Barolo.
Game is often served with a fruity sauce which demands a certain fruitiness in the wine. Beaujolais or a Burgundy are good reds, while a medium dry Reisling is an excellent choice. Stronger game such as venisen or rabbit require spicy wines: a full bodied Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cabernet or Barbera.
Although it is traditional to serve red wines with pasta, the final choice boils down to the type of sauce used with pasta. A spaghetti bolognese with a tomato sauce should be washed down with a medium Italian red wine, yet a seafood pasta could equally go well with a light Pinot Noir or a Chardonnay.
Strong vegetables can often “kill” a good wine. Therefore, it is best to err on the side of caution and stick to dry whites like Semillon or Bordeaux.
Dessert wines are the great unknown of the wine industry. Yet their delicate sweetness is a perfect accompaniment to a fine dessert. Light desserts such as mousse or a syllabub can be enjoyed with Sauterne. Pies and fruity desserts warrant a sweet Riesling or a Muscat. Very sweet desserts and chocolate can overpower so choose an Orange Muscat, Hungarian Tokay or Madeira.
While most of us enjoy a full bodied red wine or port with cheese, some white wines can also compliment your cheese board. Hard cheeses like English Cheddar and Dutch Gouda are enjoyed with a Merlot, Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon. Soft cheeses require a lighter touch – Pinot Noir or a medium dry Chenin Blanc. A sweeter wine – a Semillon or sweet Riesling – are ideal with smoked cheeses.
Quick Wine Tips
Try not to use wines labeled “cooking wines,” since they often contain salt and other additives which affect the taste of the dish.
Generally speaking, the following foods should not accompany wine because of the extreme contrasts in flavour:
- Ice cream
- Vinegar (in a salad)