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Cooking-with-wine myth exploded


Fat Guy
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I've always meant to find a decent red and a decent white wine-in-a-box I could keep around for cooking purposes.  The thing that's great about the wine-in-a-box delivery system is that the wine is actually inside a bag inside the box.  The bag just shrinks in size as wine is poured out the spigot, which means that no air is actually going into the bag -- which means no oxidation, which means you can keep the box around for months and use a bit of wine here and there for cooking as you need it.

I have done the same thing for a while and I agree, these are great! We always had an opportunity to get a glass of wine (nothing fancy of course) without opening a bottle and to cook whatever quick sauce we wanted.

I experienced one problem though: while my white wines kept well in the fridge, one of my red wine box turned bad after about a month... I kept it in a cool corner of my kitchen but not in the fridge... probably a bit too long.

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i know most of you are way too young to remember, but there was a time when there was a LOT of bad wine on the market--not cooking wine (which was heavily salted to discourage drinking), but wines with significant chemical flaws. in fact, i'd say that the greatest advantage wine drinkers today have is that technological advances have pretty much eliminated these from the marketplace. even wines that were once notorious (reds from teh south of france, certain italian whites ... most anything from california's central valley), are now clean enough to drink.

as for $2 chuck, i don't think that's a contradiction to the "wine you wouldn't drink" rule at all. it's a perfectly clean, simple wine. there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. one might not CHOOSE to drink it, but one certainly could.

eta: in the piedmont, in my experience, risotto al barolo was made with lesser wine (not all barolo is created the same). i do think the use of a conterno single-vineyard in cooking would be not just ostentatious, but sacreligious.

Russ

those wines you remember were expressing terroir! :wink:

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One good way to have wine around for cooking is to buy some inexpensive red (I have never tried this with white) and put it in a sauce pan and reduce it to about 25% of the original...Then put it in small ice cube trays and freeze it. Then to a ziploc..

When you need wine for flavor, put in a cube ,and the wine flavor is there strong and well...

Bud

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i know most of you are way too young to remember, but there was a time when there was a LOT of bad wine on the market

True, but at the same time the good wine was cheap. According to William Sokolin's investing book, Liquid Assets, 1961 Petrus came on the market at $10 a bottle ($120 a case).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Let's not forget that Julia Child's actual recommendations were:

a simple Macon white and a basic Borgogne for the red.

Of course she offered these as examples of style realizing that back then, these French wines were often not available around the US.

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i know most of you are way too young to remember, but there was a time when there was a LOT of bad wine on the market

True, but at the same time the good wine was cheap. According to William Sokolin's investing book, Liquid Assets, 1961 Petrus came on the market at $10 a bottle ($120 a case).

Exactly! Not for nothing am I drinking a botle of Château Haut-Brion in my avatar picture taken back in 19mumblemumble. This was a wine my parents and their friends were drinking at a picnic! Among my family pictures of dinners back in the old days, one often sees bottles of Château Latour, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Margaux, etc. on the table. These were not exactly cheap back then, but they were affordable for young college professors. Nowadays they're too expensive for most college presidents.

--

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Russ

those wines you remember  were expressing terroir! :wink:

no, john, in those cases, i do believe it was spelled "terror". they sure tasted scary anyway.

I remember.

Seriously though, there are a lot of folks who believe many of these wines of yore actually were more "expressive."

:shock:

In fact Micro oxygenation was invented to make some of those awful tannic monsters from the South of France (really the Southwest) more palatable. There are people who consider the modern versions (and M-O) the work of the devil!

Anyway--this thread and the Times piece is a reminder of just how important Julia Child was and still is!

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I think most of us who cook at home learned this when we graduated from overly salted grocery store cooking wine. If I am cooking I usually have a bottle of everyday drinking wine open which I use. If I don't have a 750ml bottle open I have found the Frontera Brand Cab Melot blend from Concha Y Toro in the small bottle 4 pack a good substitute and has the additional advantage of each bottle containing one cup

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When cooking regionally there is much enjoyment in creating dishes that taste of the land, as many who have followed the regional Italian 'Cooking and Cuisine' topic as well as Kevin's magnificent year-long food blog would acknowledge and agree. In such instances, cooking with a wine from a particular region or area is every bit as valid as cooking with other ingredients sourced as authentically as possible. Of course it may be possible to recreate dishes using alternative ingredients (wine included) but that is a separate discourse.

It should be remembered that many classic 'cooked in wine' dishes come from cuisines connected with wine regions: coq au Chambertin (from Côte d'Or) or coq au Beaujolais (from the Beaujolais wine hills), boeuf bourguigonne, brasato al Barolo, sauce bordelaise, beurre blanc au Muscadet, etc.

In such instances, the wines used would be the local wines, the wines that were readily on hand, especially in wine growers' households, and so not necessarily expensive additional ingredients to buy. Of course for the rest of us, using Chambertin to make our coq braised in wine would seem a terrible affectation not to say a waste of good or possibly great wine. However, for me, if I want to make the Burgundian classic coq au vin then it just doesn't feel right not using a Burgundian red wine, whether a simple Bourgogne rouge, a Macon red, or whatever. Yes, I could make a chicken dish stewed in Chilean merlot or California Cab. Or New Zealand Pinot Noir. It might be good or it might be sensational. But for me it wouldn't be the 'coq au vin' that I relate to my taste memories from travels in Burgundy.

The example of risotto al Barolo is an interesting one. I travel to the Langhe often to visit my good friend Mario Fontana, who makes Barolo wines from his vineyard holdings in Castiglione Falleto. Mario's mother usually cooks for us brasato al Barolo. In this instance, she doesn't have to open a bottle of Barolo, she just sends Mario down to the wine cantina below the house to draw off from the vat a big jug of the stuff. The wine is young, usually too young to drink, but needless to say, the result is absolutely sensational, especially when accompanied by a mature bottle of the same wine.

On more than one occasion, however, I have tried to recreate Elda's recipe at home, and have even gone so far as to open a bottle of Cascina Fontana Barolo to cook with - accompanying the finished dish with the same wine. Yes, the result was good; yet somehow it was not ever *quite* as good as one would expect, given the exalted wine that the dish was cooked in, combined with my taste memories of Mario's mother's home version. Perhaps I'm just not as good a cook as Mario's mother. I don't know. Nonetheless, I don't think there is any point at all in cooking brasato al Barolo or risotto al Barolo with a lesser wine. For in such instances, those dishes clearly would not be brasato al Barolo or risotto al Barolo, but something quite different. This isn't just a matter of nomenclature - it's a matter of connecting a dish with where it's come from. Wine is one element that can do this.

When I make risotto-cooked-in-wine, which I do often, I use Mario's much less expensive and less exalted Dolcetto d'Alba. The colour is always far more vivid than Nebbiolo based wines, and as the wine also has considerably lower levels of tannin, it works brilliantly for the risotto. In this case I call the dish risotto al Dolcetto for that is exactly what it is (how can you make risotto al Barolo using a wine that is not Barolo - though admittedly risotto al Two-Buck-Chuck may not have quite the same ring to it).

The point of the article and of this discussion is a very interesting one. The moral, as most all the posts above maintain, is that good food can be cooked with inexpensive wine and it doesn't necessarily have to come from any particular area or region. I'm sure we all agree on this.

And yet, I maintain that there are times when substitutes just won't do, and where the provenance of the wine, allied with its inherent qualities, make it the perfect wine to use for the recreation of a certain dish (notwithstanding that using another wine might well result in a dish that is both delicious and achieved at lesser cost).

As for the 'don't cook with a wine you wouldn't drink' rule, I maintain that it is mainly a valid one. I most usually cook with the same wine that I am drinking while I am cooking. A splosh for the pot, a splosh in the glass for the cook. And then we'll usually carry on with the same wine when we eat. It seems entirely right and natural. Why open something crappy just to cook with?

Marc

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However, for me, if I want to make the Burgundian classic coq au vin then it just doesn't feel right not using a Burgundian red wine, whether a simple Bourgogne rouge, a Macon red, or whatever. Yes, I could  make a chicken dish stewed in Chilean merlot or California Cab. Or New Zealand Pinot Noir. It might be good or it might be sensational. But for me it wouldn't be the 'coq au vin' that I relate to my taste memories from travels in Burgundy.

The question is would that theory survive a blind tasting? I imagine merlot or cabernet would be different enough to notice, but I wonder if a pinot noir from somewhere else in the world would be a detectable substitution. If cooking does indeed remove the subtleties, what we're left with is likely to be the same whether it's California, New Zealand or Burgundy pinot noir.

As for the 'don't cook with a wine you wouldn't drink' rule, I maintain that it is mainly a valid one. I most usually cook with the same wine that I am drinking while I am cooking. A splosh for the pot, a splosh in the glass for the cook. And then we'll usually carry on with the same wine when we eat. It seems entirely right and natural. Why open something crappy just to cook with?

It depends how valuable the wine is. If you're drinking $10 wine, there's probably no reason to open $5 wine for cooking. If you're drinking $100 wine, it seems a waste to pour a third of a bottle into a sauce -- especially if the objective reality is that there is no discernible difference. Were there a discernible difference, the question would become one of how rich one is. If there's no difference, the question is how stupid one is!

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Good points, Steven. I guess I've never been all that good on objective reality.

For what it's worth, my approach to cooking (when I'm in a regional cooking frame of mind, that is, which is not always the case) is to try and put foods in the context of the land from which they come. My approach to wine is much the same. I'm not really that interested in blind tastings, in wine as simply a liquid in a glass, disconnected from the land it comes from, or from the people who make it. Might not matter to some. Dish might well taste the same, whatever wine is used. But it sometimes does matter to me.

As for the 'cook with the wine you're drinking' rule of thumb, you're certainly right to point out that it depends on what you're drinking. For the record, I don't usually drink $100 bottles myself, not when I'm cooking, indeed not often any time at all :sad:. But I do like a glass of something good while I'm in the kitchen, and a splosh or two might well go into the cooking pot. Maybe I'm just too lazy to open another bottle. Or perhaps it's that in using 1/3 of a bottle to cook with, it usually demands that another bottle is opened to finish with the meal.

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It wouldn't pass a blind test.

That, I believe is the point of the Times article.

If a panel of esteemed experts can't tell (or at least have great difficulty) a California Cabernet from a Bordeaux (see 1976) that is a wine made from mostly one varietal and a wine made from a blend from grapes grown thousands of miles apart then....

The great point of the Times article is that with wine we are dealing with the wine's flavor profile not where it was made.

Again the brilliance of Julia who noted that one should look for a "crisp, dry, white."

(the macon) in French cooking.

One can follow the advice and seek out a wine from the region the dish comes from as a sort of safe choice. I would caution that the Burgundy used in most older recipes was likely vastly different in profile from the same Burgundy wine one encounters today.

It is romantic to cook with the wine we believe was used in the original dishes but beyond the romance, there is often little reality.

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this is certainly true in burgundy, where the arrival of wine artistes is fairly recent. as late as the early 1970s, the vast majority of burgundy was blended by negociants. certainly, some of these wines were very good, easily the equal of anything we have today. but many of them were less elevated. and ALL of them were much, much cheaper.

again, i argue that the adage applies not to choosing great wines over good wines, but good wines over those that are flawed (and no, john, i'm not talking about rusticity ... i'm talking about chemical taint).

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I've had pretty good results with the grocery store standard Marsala cooking wine. As long as you account for the added salt, it's OK.

However, I never thought of freezing wine before; next time I make veal Marsala, I'll probably buy a bottle of "real" Marsala and freeze what I don't use.

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It wouldn't pass a blind test....

It is romantic to cook with the wine we believe was used in the original dishes but beyond the romance, there is often little reality.

It's not just a question of romance, John. It's also a question of knowing what you are cooking with. While I don't disagree that good, possibly equally tasty dishes may be able to prepared with inexpensive wines as compared to more expensive (and I'm not talking about using Tignanello or cru classé Bordeaux) wines, what I do maintain is that knowing the wine you are cooking with can be as important as knowing the wine you are drinking.

I don't necessarily want to cook with some cheap rotgut that may be packed full of sulphites or chemicals, or flavoured with oak extract or chips, even if the results come out palatably well in a blind tasting. Naturally made wine from the producers whose wines I know and drink regularly (as well as import) marry well with the foods we cook and eat, and I'm more comfortable through knowing where they come from, whether or not I'd be able to pick out the nuances of their flavourings in your blind tasting.

To be honest, blind tastings are in my opinion overrated: how many of us can trust our palates well enough to identify all the efforts, myriad ingredients and flavourings that skilled cooks bring out in a dish? Yet nonetheless our pleasure is enhanced by the overall effect of well-made foods which are a combination of all those separate elements, whether we can separately distinguish them or not.

I may not be able to discern the difference in a blind tasting of a dish cooked with fleur de sel de Guerande as opposed to the same dish made with ordinary Morton iodized salt, or tell the difference of a soufflé made with freerange organic eggs from one made with battery-raised eggs, but does that mean such differences in the ingredients are insignificant? For me, I get pleasure from knowing the elements that I prepare a meal with, their provenance, their authenticity and their quality.

That does not mean, I hasten to add, that one has always to use expensive ingredients or cook only with expensive wine. I don't. But I do cook with wine that I consider good, regardless of the cost.

And besides, what's the problem with having a little romance with food? Ingredients, their provenance, their history, like words, give 'a local habitation and a name' to fleeting sensory sensations such as taste, touch and smell, and help to define the gustatory world we live in, our tastes and taste memories. Take romance out of food and you might as well have chemists concoct a pill that replicates all our favourite tastes and nourishes at the same time. I'm sure it can be done; I'm sure it will be done.

Meanwhile I'm going to keep stirring my pot of risotto, made with good Dolcetto wine, just the way I like it.

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I'm going to disagree with something up the thread:

corked wine is perfectly fine for cooking. ideal even. and it won't be discernible in a blind taste test. (I don't mean to say that you can't tell that wine is corked in a blind taste test....rather that you can't tell that after it has been used in food.)

but then even experts have great difficulty distinguishing between even whites and reds (at similar dryness levels) when blindfolded. so much of taste is predicated upon suggestion.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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Just gotta chuckle at the wine snobs. I'm perfectly happy to drink Two Buck Chuck (Three Buck in AZ) as a regular dinner wine, so I don't see what the problem is at all.

I always thought the 'myth' was aimed at 'cooking wines' with added salt, anyway.

Edited by KarenSherwood (log)
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What I am still unclear on, having read the article, is this: is the point that one red, or one white works as well as any other (regardless of its variety), barring significant flaws in the wine? Or is the point that when your recipe calls for a particular type of wine, you will get the most for your dollar if you buy at the low end of that type?

One of my favorite recipes, for instance, is for a luxurious chicken pot pie made with a lot of morels. It uses a German Riesling (which, when I can find it, is about $20 a bottle) in the gravy, which had been reduced down from a stockpot full of chicken poaching liquid and the water from the soaked morels. The sauce is reduced again once the Riesling is added (then thickened when added to a roux, then enriched with cream), so I assume that a lot of the subtelties of the wine are lost through cooking or overpowered by other flavors. I guess I could try one of the cheaper bottles of Chardonnay I have around here, but those seem like seriously different flavors and I'm kind of afraid of adding undesirable flavors to something that is already expensive and really time-consuming. So, I continue to buy Riesling not because I even like to drink it (I don't), but because I don't want to wreck a really good dish at the last minute.

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corked wine is perfectly fine for cooking.  ideal even.  and it won't be discernible in a blind taste test. (I don't mean to say that you can't tell that wine is corked in a blind taste test....rather that you can't tell that after it has been used in food.)

corked wine will work as long as it is within bounds. so will overly tannic wines, as long as it's not TOO bad. but brett (barnyard) does not cook off so readily and ethyl acetate (nail polish) really doesn't. there are flaws and then there are flaws.

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It's not just a question of romance, John. It's also a question of knowing what you are cooking with. While I don't disagree that good, possibly equally tasty dishes may be able to prepared with inexpensive wines as compared to more expensive (and I'm not talking about using Tignanello or cru classé Bordeaux) wines, what I do maintain is that knowing the wine you are cooking with can be as important as knowing the wine you are drinking.

Interesting, very. For if the way we see our realities is shaped (as experts claim) not only by the factual reality itself but by what we *think* the reality is, a higher knowledge level can only enrich an experience.

A surface level directive of "you can use a cheaper wine" without any more or less knowledge will leave that subtle perceptive sense upon the taste of the food, the feel of the food perhaps, to the one who made it and who knows - by extension to the ones who eat it?

It's not just about romance, in other words, it's about developing a knowledge that enrichens each experience. It's not just about knowing the "facts" it's about taking the time to be exposed to the wisdom.

It's not about buying because it's cheap enough - it's about buying and using because it is something that makes your mind or heart happy in some way as well as your pocketbook.

And besides, what's the problem with having a little romance with food? Ingredients, their provenance, their history, like words, give 'a local habitation and a name' to fleeting sensory sensations such as taste, touch and smell, and help to define the gustatory world we live in, our tastes and taste memories. Take romance out of food and you might as well have chemists concoct a pill that replicates all our favourite tastes and nourishes at the same time. I'm sure it can be done; I'm sure it will be done.

Beautifully said, Marc. :smile:

....................................................

I hasten to add that I thought the article excellent and yes, myth-exploding. I've generally cooked with wine the way the article advises. But here in Marc's post, is even more (at least for me) to muse on.

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One of my favorite recipes, for instance, is for a luxurious chicken pot pie made with a lot of morels.  It uses a German Riesling (which, when I can find it, is about $20 a bottle) in the gravy, which had been reduced down from a stockpot full of chicken poaching liquid and the water from the soaked morels.  The sauce is reduced again once the Riesling is added (then thickened when added to a roux, then enriched with cream), so I assume that a lot of the subtelties of the wine are lost through cooking or overpowered by other flavors.  I guess I could try one of the cheaper bottles of Chardonnay I have around here, but those seem like seriously different flavors and I'm kind of afraid of adding undesirable flavors to something that is already expensive and really time-consuming.  So, I continue to buy Riesling not because I even like to drink it (I don't), but because I don't want to wreck a really good dish at the last minute.

you don't have Blue Nun or one of the other crap $7 Rieslings? (note: plenty of $7 wines are quite good...just not Rieslings imo.)

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Not the last time I looked, but the selection may have expanded since then. I'm just talking about my local specialty grocery store that has an otherwise big (though overpriced) selection.

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