If a recipe calls for dry white wine, the best all-around choice is a quality American Sauvignon Blanc.
This wine will be very dry and offer a fresh light herbal tilt that will enhance nearly any dish.
If the dish has bold or spicy flavors, go for a more aromatic white wine.
Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Viognier all have dynamic fruity flavors and exotic floral aromas that counterbalance heavily spiced dishes.
If a recipe calls for dry red wine, consider the heartiness of the dish.
A long-simmered leg of lamb or beef roast calls for a correspondingly hearty wine, such as a Petite Syrah or a Zinfandel. A lighter dish might call for a less powerful red―think Pinot Noir or Chianti.
Get to know Port, Sherry, Madeira, and Marsala.
These are among the best wines good cooks can have on hand. They pack the most intense flavors and―because they're fortified with a little more alcohol than table wine―have the longest life on the pantry shelf.
- Port has a rich sweetness and depth that's especially good in meat-based casseroles.
- Sherry's complex roasted nutty flavors can enhance just about any soup, stew, or sautéed dish. Two styles of Sherry that work best are Amontillado or Oloroso.
- Madeira can be mesmerizingly lush with toffee-caramel notes. Use the medium-rich style known as Bual, a touch of which will transform ordinary sautèed mushrooms. And Marsala's light caramel-like fruitiness is an integral part of Mediterranean sautès, many of which bear the wine's name in their titles.
Do not use the so-called cooking wines! These wine are typically salty and include other additives that my affect the taste of your chosen dish and menu. The process of cooking/reducing will bring out the worst in an inferior wine. Please promise yourself never, never to stoop to such a product
Avoid using cooking wines.
Clearly there are far better choices than so-called "cooking Sherry" or other liquids commonly billed as "cooking wine." These are made of a thin, cheap base wine to which salt and food coloring have been added.
An expensive wine is not necessary, although a cheap wine will not bring out the best characteristics of your dish. A good quality wine, that you enjoy, will provide the same flavor to a dish as a premium wine. Save the premium wine to serve with the meal.
A poor quality wine with sour or bitter flavors will only contribute those flavors to the dish. Julia Child once said, "If you do not have a good wine to use, it is far better to omit it, for a poor one can spoil a simple dish and utterly debase a noble one." It's worth the investment to buy a quality wine. Just don't forget to sip a little as you stir.
Wine has three main uses in the kitchen - as a marinade ingredient, as a cooking liquid, and as a flavoring in a finished dish.
The function of wine in cooking is to intensify, enhance, and accent the flavor and aroma of food - not to mask the flavor of what you are cooking but rather to fortify it.
As with any seasoning used in cooking, care should be taken in the amount of wine used - too little is inconsequential and too much will be overpowering. Neither extreme is desirable. A small quantity of wine will enhance the flavor of the dish.
The alcohol in the wine evaporates while the food is cooking, and only the flavor remains. Boiling down wine concentrates the flavor, including acidity and sweetness. Be careful not to use too much wine as the flavor could overpower your dish.
What Happens to the Alcohol?
Conventional wisdom holds that after a few minutes of cooking, the alcohol in wine evaporates. That's not exactly the case. Research from the USDA shows that 85 percent of the alcohol remains after wine is added to a boiling liquid and then removed from the heat. The longer a dish is cooked, however, the less alcohol remains. If a food is baked or simmered 15 minutes, 40 percent of the alcohol will remain; after one hour, only 25 percent remains; after 2 1/2 hours, just 5 percent. But since wine does not have a large amount of alcohol to begin with (generally 12 to 14 percent), the final amount of alcohol in a dish is not a problem for most people.
For best results, wine should not be added to a dish just before serving. The wine should simmer with the food, or sauce, to enhance the flavor of the dish. If added late in the preparation, it could impart a harsh quality. It should simmer with the food or in the sauce while it is being cooked; as the wine cooks, it reduces and becomes an extract which flavors. Wine added too late in the preparation will give a harsh quality to the dish. A wine needs time to impart its flavor in your dish. Wait 10 minutes or more to taste before adding more wine.
Remember that wine does not belong in every dish. More than one wine-based sauce in a single meal can be monotonous. Use wine is cooking only when it has something to contribute to the finished dish.