What wines should I use for cooking? by John Gerum

wine cooking
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.
cooking wine
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!


Do you drink Cabernet Sauvignon? by John Gerum

The Cabernet Sauvignon vine has its origins in southern France. It is a chance crossing of two other vines; Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Cabernet Sauvignon can be found in most wine producing countries around the world including the Okanagan valley. The northern area of the Okanagan is too cool for the growth of Cabernet but the southern end of the valley between Oliver and Osoyoos and into the Simikameen Valley is ideal for this vine. The key to good Cabernet in this part of the valley is to keep yields low so the subsequent fruit is more concentrated and fully ripened.

Drinking cab

The vine produces small berries with tough skins. It results in the vine being very resistant to disease and mildew. Top quality cabernets’ contain higher levels of tannin, a natural preservative found in red wines, therefore these wines can be aged for decades which add complexity and develop new flavours. The textbook aromas, bouquet and taste of Cabernet Sauvignon can include black currant, cassis, black cherry, mint, leather, cigar box and cedar. The vine produces better fruit and fruiter wines in a warmer climate such as California and Australia. In cooler climates the resulting wines can often be less fruity and more vegetal with flavours of green pepper.

Many winemakers will age Cabernet Sauvignon in oak barrels to add extra dimension to the wines resulting in smoke, spice and cedar bouquets. These barrels are charred on the inside to add smoky and meaty extracts found in top quality examples. The wine is also used extensively in higher quality blended wines. Bordeaux wines, which can command prices of thousands of dollars per bottle, are a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and some lesser known varietals. The term Meritage is used in North America to denote the blend of wines used in the Bordeaux fashion. In Australia the preferred varietal to blend with is Shiraz especially in the Barossa valley region of South east Australia.

Whichever manner in which it’s used, Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the best varietals in the world and is worth exploring at your local wine store.

Do you find wine reviews confusing? by John Gerum

There are many questions when it comes to how wines are reviewed and scored by wine critics. When reading a wine review some people become more confused. If you’re not familiar with a few basic wine terms then the task of deciphering a review is made even more difficult.


A basic question may be, “How do you get all those smells and flavours in the wine?” Many think that the winemaker adds all these flavours to the wine like a cocktail recipe where you add pineapple and lemon juice to vodka and stir. Flavours are not added but are a result of the type of grape used, the fermentation and aging process, and whether it is aged in an oak barrel or the bottle itself.

When a reviewer states that the wine smells and tastes like black cherry, does that mean it tastes exactly like a black cherry? The short answer is no, it is the closest flavour that the reviewer can describe to the reader. A hundred years ago this system of describing wines by associating them with fruit, flowers, and woodsy flavours did not even exist. Wines were either feminine or masculine; now don’t ask me how that system came about! At least now you have some idea about the written descriptions of wine

The more confusing aspect of some wine reviews is the number score. You have probably seen a score between 80 to 95 points assigned to some wine reviews. This scoring system was developed by Robert M. Parker Jr., the most influential wine critic in the world. A lawyer by trade, he devised a scoring system that was based on the perfect wine obtaining 100 points. All wines have points taken away from them according to balance, colour, smell, aging potential and taste. The wines are all given 50 base points, so the worlds’ worst wine would score 50 points. Wines scoring 70 to 80 are below average to average in quality, wines scoring 80 to 90 points are above average to outstanding, and wines over 90 points are in a league of their own as the worlds’ highest priced and most sought after wines.

There are certain problems with this system. One of them is what is the real difference between an 89 point wine and a 90 point wine? Probably not much when you consider that the scoring depends on the exactness of every reviewer. That is why you will see the same wines scoring 86 points from one reviewer and 90 points from another. It is for that reason that I don’t put a lot of stock on wine scores, it is a tool to the general quality of wine but I believe a thorough description of a wine is more helpful to the reader. The last but most important factor is how does the score matter to someone who does not like a full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon? Even if that wine is given 95 points that person will not enjoy it. So the score is up to you, if you think it is a great glass of wine feel free to give it 100 points.

Pope receives surprise answer from 92 year old Grandmother

Yesterday in St. Peters Square the Pope stopped his motorcade to talk to an excited Grandmother. He asked her the secret of her joy this late in life and she replied, “I make homemade Ravioli”.


Now I don’t know about you but this struck a chord, sometimes the simplest things in life are the best and food made with love that spreads joy is definitely one of them.

Along with pasta wine adds pleasure to meals and this made me think of what types of wines I would pair with grandma’s ravioli. The wine match will depend on the sauce and the filling. Red tomato based sauce with meat filling would work well with Chianti or a light Brunello. Cream and butter sauces with cheese filling are best with whites, perhaps a Pinot Gringo or Pinot Blanc.

Slowing down and cooking a homemade meal, thoughtfully pairing it with a good but simple wine and sharing it with friends and family is the way to enjoy life to its fullest. If you don’t believe me ask some grandmas in Italy, they’ll set you straight.

What type of vegetarian dish is perfect with Chardonnay? by John Gerum

I found this recipe a perfect match to a good New Zealand or BC Chardonnay with just a touch of fresh oak.The clean,fresh taste contrasts the creamy potatoes perfectly.You can refrigerate this dish and warm it up with a glass of Chardonnay during the week for a treat. Also experiment with different cheeses for the topping.
qg chard
Scalloped Potatoes recipe for Chardonnay pairing
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 1-1/2 teaspoons smoked sea salt
• 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
• 2 cups homogenized milk
• 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded medium aged cheddar cheese
• 5 cups thinly sliced peeled russet potatoes (about 6 medium)
• 1/2 cup chopped onion
• 2 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until smooth. Gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir 2 minutes or until thickened. Add potatoes, onion and garlic
2. Transfer to a greased 2-qt. baking dish. Cover and bake 45 minutes. Remove from oven and add cheese, return to oven for 15 more minutes.

Two whites for the glorious summer of 2015 reviewed by John Gerum

Two new Okanagan Crush Pad selections are being released this summer. This winery is in the forefront of experimentation with different vineyards, winemakers and fermentation techniques. These wines are always interesting as they never see oak and are generally fermented in concrete giving them a unique profile not found in commercial wines. Only a few hundred cases of each are released, and are available at private wine shops and directly from the winery. If you happen to be in the Summerland region in the Okanagan this summer don’t miss out on visiting this architecturally stunning winery and tasting their full line up.

How do you improve Sauvignon Blanc and create an exciting new style that may be the answer to the question, “Does the Okanagan have a signature style?” You produce the 2014 Haywire Waters & Brooks Sauvignon Blanc. This white adds another dimension to Sauvignon Blanc by adding a creamy, polished body and contrasting it nicely with an attractive racy, tartness. Aromas include stone fruit with a predominate peach essence followed by lime zest, gooseberry and a slight, fresh grassiness. This intense white wine is clean and bright and reveals green apple, lemon and grapefruit on the palate. A one up on Marlborough style Sauvignon Blanc as it adds a unique body and creaminess not found anywhere else. Well done. 89 points. $24.90

I have never been a fan of un-oaked Chardonnay but this is an exception. The 2014 Samantha Canyonview Chardonnay adds flavor and complexity to this grape without the use of oak barrels. Wafting from the glass after a quick swirl is a lovely buttery, yeasty aroma with ripe stone fruit, melon and citrus. A sip uncovers a full, voluptuous, fleshy, creamy palate, complex yet approachable. This is a Chardonnay that you could enjoy before dinner but would be incredibly versatile in matching to a wide range of menu items. 90 points. $22.90

Explore local, eat and drink local

local beer
I love the local farmers, brewers and winemakers in my community. There is nothing better than driving or walking a short distance to connect and purchase groceries, wine or craft beer.
In Maple Ridge, BC we have a local craft brewer Carlo who make the beer and sells growlers (beer filled into a large resealable bottles). He is also brewing fresh seasonal natural beer that excites the taste buds.

At the local Haney’s Farmers market local farmers sell their tasty wares with a sense and pride and passion explaining the way that their foods are grown and cared for, with the environment in mind.
In Langley, Patrick from Vista D’oro winery ferments small batches of delicious wine and his wife Lee produce jams, jellies and preserves from their own farm.
There are so many more examples as the numbers increase every year, be adventurous and support and explore your local area, you will never know the hidden gems to connect you to the land if you don’t.

Wine is all about fun

There has been some discussion among wine educators and wine industry members about the benefits of wine education. The idea put forward was that the average consumer does not need any education to appreciate or enjoy wine. I agree to a certain extent, a large majority of consumers will enjoy wine without any formal education or training. However if you are curious and want more out of your wine then a class or two may work for you.
lucy wine

The main point is that wine should be fun and therefore learning about wine should be entertaining. Learning about the people who make wine, why, and the story behind the winery is a lot more pleasurable than endless facts about soil types, fermentation methods and barrel management.

Discovering a wine that you enjoy at a tasting or workshop that you would probably never tasted outside that setting can give you a life time of pleasure. We have too many formal classes for subjects so it’s always fascinating to learn and sip at the same time.

In the spirit of discovery I have put together some suggestions for summer styles of wines that are often overlooked when most wine consumers are shopping. It can get dull drinking the same old Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay during the summer months when relaxing with friends and family.

The first white style to discover are Vinho Verde wines from Portugal. They are for the most part dry, crisp and bursting with citrus flavours. These wines are first-rate and inexpensive; usually around $12 or less for a bottle. To reduce the alcohol and keep you hydrated during hot summer days add a splash of soda to the wine and a wedge of lime or lemon.

Another wine style that has been around for a long time is Riesling. Riesling has received a bad rap because of the overly sweet versions that flood the marketplace. Avoid the cheap German sweet versions and try a BC Riesling which does not have too much sweetness and balances the acid and sugars. St. Hubertus and 8th Generation wineries are good bets.

Other white wines to enjoy are Pinot Blanc from BC, especially Lakebreeze Vineyards’ version if you can find it and to add a bit of fizz try a Prosecco from Italy. There are many different brands at your local wine shop which are all refreshing, bubbly and a bit off dry.

You don’t need a Sommeliers diploma to enjoy these summer selections, but if you get hooked on these new wines and want to discover more you may want to attend a tasting or workshop in the near future.

Secret of choosing the right summer white

Summer has arrived and white wines will appear on patios throughout the province. You can grab any white from the shelf or you can experiment with some fabulous underrated picks that will sure to bring you a season of pleasure and refreshment.

My ideal summer white is clean, crisp, refreshing, and full of citrus and orchard fruit flavours but lower in alcohol, as on a hot sunny day your thirst levels may lead you to drink more than a glass or two. A little bit of fizz always helps so my first pick hails from Portugal, the land of Port, where Vinho Verde is a white that includes all the criteria above. There are at least three or four different brands offered in BC all which are recommended and best of all are priced under $12 a bottle.
mountain wine
Riesling has always been a classic choice for the summer heat. Citrus, orchard fruit, and minerality offset by a balanced sweet to acid combination makes for an ideal thirst quenching beverage. Look for Hardy’s Riesling/Gewürztraminer, Bree Riesling, and Dr. L Riesling for a selection under $16. If you are up for a treat, BC produces some outstanding choices with 8th Generation and Intrigue wineries leading the way. Intrigue’s winemaker Roger Wong is known throughout the valley as a master at crafting outstanding Riesling.

Don’t forget sparkling wines this summer; in the last decade the quality of sparkling wines has improved and the prices have come down. Prosecco and Cava from Spain leads the way with consistent quality regardless of the producer or brand. One of the reasons for Prosecco’s quality is the strict regulations that Processo producers must adhere to by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture. A large majority of these wines are well under $20 and are more widely available than ever before. Eastern European, Australian, and Spanish producers present some interesting choices under $15. Look to the sweetness levels to find one that suits your taste.

Armed with all this information your summer get together will never be boring and you will find yourself enjoying wines you may have never drank before, who knows drinking these summer whites might stretch the summer out a few weeks longer.