A reader asked me a to write a blog outlining the types of wines to use when cooking up favourite recipes. I’m only too happy to oblige since I have had the privilege of working with top chefs across the country and learned a trick or two from them!
The reason wine is added or used in cooking is to enhance and add flavour without using extra salt or fat, and to add an extra dimension of flavour. The good news for people with a low tolerance for sulphites is that simmering removes sulphites from wine. Also simmering a dish with wine removes alcohol from the wine; after 30 minutes of simmering about 35% of the wine’s alcohol is all that remains.
Wine is used as a marinade or as a cooking liquid but beware of cooking wines sold in supermarkets, they contain a high amount of salt and other additives you may not want in your dish. Do not add wine to a dish at the end of the cooking process, it needs to cook at least 5 to 10 minutes to blend into the dish, otherwise the wines’ strong flavour will overwhelm the recipe.
The general rule to use when purchasing wine for cooking is don’t add anything that you would not drink by itself. Cheap, poorly made wine will not help in adding flavour to a recipe, it is better not to use any at all. That doesn’t mean that you have to buy an expensive bottle, a well thought out $15 bottle will work out nicely, and you can drink a glass while cooking or enjoy it with your meal.
White wines are generally used for cream and cheese sauces or poultry and fish dishes. Reds are used for brown sauces and red meat recipes.
If a recipe calls for a dry white wine, consider a Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps a Carmen or Sendero from Chile. If you are cooking a spicy or bolder dish a Riesling/Gewürztraminer from Hardy’s of Australia will work well. Sauvignon Blanc works well with fresh herbs as it accents the flavours found in herbs. Avoid heavily oaked Chardonnay as this can overwhelm lighter dishes.
When the recipe calls for a dry red wine consider a Shiraz, Grenache or Merlot for full flavoured, longer simmering dishes. I suggest Las Rocas Garnacha, Spain, Nero del Nago, Italty or Rosemount Shiraz, Australia. To deglaze a pan or for pasta sauces look to lighter styles of wine. I love cooking with Chianti from Italy; it brings pasta sauces to life. I use basic Chianti such as Cecchi, or search for La Bastide from France.
Fortified wines are a great way to add intense and bold flavours to your sauces. They have a longer shelf life than table wines but make sure that they are still sound before adding them to your recipe. Many are available in 375 ml half sized bottles, ideal for cooking. Meat based casseroles and slow cookers are making a comeback and Ports are perfect for these types of foods. I use a LBV (Late Bottle Vintage) Port; any producer from Portugal will do just fine. Use an authentic dry Sherry when sautéing or adding to stews; a dry Olorosa Sherry works well. If you desire the flavours of the Mediterranean when sautéing use a splash of Pellegrino Marsala, its light fruit and caramel flavours will add punch to these dishes.
Remember that your meal is only as good as the ingredients, so use the above guidelines and bon appetite!