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The classic cooking with wine question


jgm
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I attended a cooking class a couple of weeks ago, held by a local chef. Although it's often been said that you should not cook with a wine you would not drink, he has a slightly different opinion on that.

He maintained that if he made beef burgundy with a cheap wine (say about $6 to $7 per bottle) and a somewhat more expensive wine (say about $15 to $20 per bottle), we really wouldn't be able to tell the difference, because the cooking process and the other ingredients will mask the subtleties that can differentiate a cheap wine from a better wine. And he said that making such a dish with a really good wine would be a waste of the wine.

To an extent, what he said made sense. But many, many years ago, when I was in college and didn't know better, not to mention not old enough to purchase wine, I used a supermarket "cooking wine" in a recipe, and ended up with the most godawful concoction I'd ever tasted. Obviously, there's a line somewhere. I would never again purchase a supermarket "cooking" wine. I'm talking about the "cooking wine" that is found in the condiment section. (In Kansas, alcoholic beverages, except for 3.2% beer, must be purchased at a liquor store.) And I would never cook with a "high school" wine (such as Boone's Farm), which would probably be too sweet anyway.

So where do you draw the line? In a fully cooked, long-simmered dish, can you tell the difference between a cheap wine and a more expensive wine? Do you have personal guidelines that you follow?

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With the current market splash of inexpensive wines, most are generally fine for cooking, and many excellent for drinking as well.

Eminently Drinkable Plonk!, All $10 or less and pretty decent.

But you're right about "cooking wine" on the grocer or condiment shelves. Nasty stuff. Generally the guidelines to cook with "a wine you would drink" arise from the misguided idea that when an opened bottle has gone bad that it's still fine to cook with. Yeek. That's basically cooking with vinegar. So open a fresh bottle, whatever the price, and don't forget to pour a glass for the cook! :wink:

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"Cooking wine" labeled as such on supermarket shelves is packed with sodium and should be avoided at all cost.

As an interesting side note to the topic of how expensive a wine, a recent issue of Cook's Illustrated looking at a braised beef preparation actually experimenting with different bottles of wine. The tasting panel preferred the braise made with Barolo over anything else -- hardly an inexpensive option.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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I find it hard to believe that the nuances that make Barolo such a fine wine to drink (in most cases) would remain after hours of simmering in a pot with a piece of beef. Add some browned onion, carrot and garlic to the mix and it becomes even more unbelievable.

I have found it best to use a decent bottle for cooking but anything above that level would be a complete waste. The only time I would use something a bit better would be in a Buerre Blanc or Sauce Bordelais where the wine remains a bit fresher and other then butter is the key ingredient.

This is just my opinion and it isn't based on any kind of scietnific experimentation or deep thought. If you want to use a bottle of Settimo Barolo or Corton Charlamegne to make a sauce have at her.

David Cooper

"I'm no friggin genius". Rob Dibble

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If I'm making a dish for a modest amount of people, (no more than 4 or so) I really enjoy using some of the dinner wine in the dish. Makes for good conversation and I'll pick a moderate to good red that likes to be open for a few hours to allow time for the shanks to braise and the wine to breathe. Also, I tend to not use a ton of wine in dishes,

just accent the stock and veggies to get a balanced braising liquid, rare for me to use more than about the equivalent of one glass.

If I'm making a dish for a lot of people or that calls for a larger dose of wine, I'll get a lesser version of the same wine I'm serving with the meal to use in the pot.

I do generally agree that if it's so nasty you won't drink it, don't put it in the stew.

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"Cooking wine" labeled as such on supermarket shelves is packed with sodium and should be avoided at all cost.

As an interesting side note to the topic of how expensive a wine, a recent issue of Cook's Illustrated looking at a braised beef preparation actually experimenting with different bottles of wine.  The tasting panel preferred the braise made with Barolo over anything else -- hardly an inexpensive option.

They actually tested four Barolos priced from $11 to $40 and in the end found that

their food tasters were very happy with the dish made with an $11 Barolo from Trader

Joe's.

To me that falls within my guidelines for how much I'll spend on wine for cooking.

David

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If any of you have had a braised beef dish in France, chances are it was made with two buck chuck at the mid and below places. Above that better quality wines will be used, but then again beef braised in wine probably won't be on a haute menu.

The aromatic subtleties will dissipate into air with cooking. The flavors that the wine leaves are acidity and sugars mostly. "medium body, dark fruits, honey, tobacco" etc, ya think you'll be able to smell or taste this in a boeuf bourguignon?

At home? If it's more than $10 I'm drinking it. :raz:

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

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One line is drawn like this: if the wine has a bad taste, it will impart that bad taste to whatever you pour it into. Any wine that tastes bad should be poured down a drain, not into a stew.

Another line is drawn like this: if a recipe calls for wine, then add wine. "Cooking Wine" is not wine.

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ID

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I think if you can get a wine you would drink for under $10 that is the way to go. To me, the varietal or region is probably more important than price. There are some dishes that work better with Beaujolais and others that work better with Cotes du Rhone. However, if it is a $10 Cotes du Rhone or a $20 Cotes du Rhone doesn't matter to me unless it tastes horrible.

Unless I need a whole bottle of wine, like in Coq au Vin, I usually take a glass of whatever I am preparing to drink with dinner. I generally cook for 2 and opening a whole bottle of wine means wine will be going to waste (I HATE putting wine in the fridge and my wife only drinks one glass on average, so that leaves me with 4 for myself), so I usually open the bottle, put aside the amount I need in the dish, and decant the rest. For nights that I don't want to drink, I usually keep a couple of half bottles on hand (I find Guigal Cotes du Rhone half bottles are good for most of my red wine dishes).

Edited by mikeycook (log)

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

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Don't forget the glass for the chef...

I agree. If it isn't good enough to drink while cooking, it isn't good enough to cook with.

The hardest thing is finding decent dry not over-oaked, over-fruity, or over-heavy cheap wine! Especially in American wines, this seems to nearly not even exist.

Someone mentions acid sticking around; but, acid mellows somewhat with cooking. It's the tannins (oak!) that really stick around.

Erik

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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For those who have dined out in France, below the level of Fine Dining... you've had a lot of stuff made with the French equivilant of wine in a box. I've read alot of rave reviews of mom and pop bistros in France now and in the "old" days. So don't go putting on airs now. :biggrin: Two buck Charles (say it with a French accent). Anyway, I won't argue that cooking with better quality wines (up to a certain point) won't produce a better sauce in a most cases. But for the slow cooked, braised dishes I wouldn't worry about it too much if budget is a concern. Try some of the new world wines on special at Trader Joes, Pinot Noir. Or use a Rhone or Burgundy red from TJ, can be found for under $10.00.

Someone mentions acid sticking around

I did.

but, acid mellows somewhat with cooking

I know it mellows, especially with extended cooking.

It's the tannins (oak!) that really stick around.

The cheap stuff doesn't have a lot of tannins.

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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The cheap stuff doesn't have a lot of tannins.

The grapes don't but the oak chips do.

I'm not saying you should spend more than $10 on wine for cooking.

My point is that cooking typically calls for a "dry white" or "dry red" wine.

Most US wine makers do not market budget dry white or dry red wines.

They market big, fruit forward, over oaked buttery wines that they hope will appeal to Joe and Josie Soda Pop Drinker. Too much oak is the last thing you want in a cooking wine.

Erik

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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For those who have dined out in France, below the level of Fine Dining... you've had a lot of stuff made with the French equivilant of wine in a box. I've read alot of rave reviews of mom and pop bistros in France now and in the "old" days. So don't go putting on airs now.  :biggrin: Two buck Charles (say it with a French accent). Anyway, I won't argue that cooking with better quality wines (up to a certain point) won't produce a better sauce in a most cases. But for the slow cooked, braised dishes I wouldn't worry about it too much if budget is a concern. Try some of the new world wines on special at Trader Joes, Pinot Noir. Or use a Rhone or Burgundy red from TJ, can be found for under $10.00.

[

Though I can't prove it, I've long thought that French cheap wine tastes better than American cheap wine, perhaps because it's less heavily processed and less systematically denuded of personality, however rustic that personality might be.

A couple years back, my wife and I had an unexpected opportunity to spend three days in Nice, sans kids, one somebody else's dime. With the exception of dinner at a one-star, we lived largely on caraffe wine (and 51 pastisse) for 72 hours. Back in the U.S., and not wanting to let the weekend go, we decided to stop in the airport bar for one last glass of wine. We sat at the bar, fingers interlaced; eys locked lovey-dovily. The bartender set the wine down. We smiled, raised our glasses -- "to Nice" -- took a sip...and goddam near spit the stuff back on the bar.

Jeezus -- nothing ever said "vacation over, take care of the kids" like that glass of American boxwine swill. And the taste stayed in my mouth the whole cabride home, like having a bad dessert after a perfect dinner.

So, Chef, while I'm sure the cooks in France are not pouring Charmes-Chambertin into their Boeuf Bourguignon, their plonk may well be better than ours, and we may have to go beyond Gallo to get a reasonable meal on the table.

Edited by Busboy (log)

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So, Chef, while I'm sure the cooks in France are not pouring Charmes-Chambertin into their Boeuf Bourguignon, their plonk may well be better than ours, and we may have to go beyond Gallo to get a reasonable meal on the table.

French restaurants in America have been known to use this. :biggrin:

Although I do agree with you that the swill in France is better than New World swill. Will I get flamed for saying that? :wacko:

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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The old cliche about Coq au Vin is that you need two bottles of Gevrey-Chambertin- one for the bird and one for the table. Once at Daniel's in New York, we had a disch of turbot braised in a red wine reduction. We had the same wine by the glass for the course, and I remember it was a pretty expensive one. I commented to the waiter that it was generous for Daniel to be using it for the sauce, and he said Daniel wouldn't have it any other way!

When cooking at home, I tend to use whatever bottle we're drinking with the meal. Usually, it's not a prized bottle but sometimes it is... I just use less for the latter.

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I don't know when or why but I think the idea of cooking with more expensive wines got somewhat overblown around the mid-eighties. At least that is when I started hearing it mentioned more frequently. At that point too though, the real cheap wines (with the exception of Gallo perhaps) were often less than undesirable. If one goes back a bit further, to say the later '60's when there weren't that many California wines this may have even been more true.

Today, there are many pleasant cheap wines. I'll even toss 2 buck chuck into that mix and I usually have a case of that around for casual faire. On occasion, for a sauce I'll step to the plateand use a better wine when only a small amount is needed yet I've cooked with 2 buck chuck for the most part and it has worked out fine. If I find a nicer wine cheap enough I'll certainly use that as well.I found a pleasant Sauvignon Blanc that I got a case of just to have on hand for poaching salmon and other fish.

The only costly wine I cook with is L.H. Reisling/Viognier/etc., as in that category there reaally aren't (that I have found at least) any decent cheap ones.

The bottom line to me, for the most part is what varietal I choose to cook with and even then usually there are more than one to choose from. I agree that the wine must be drinkable and that is a subjective question. Beyond that I think it comes down to affordability. If price is not an issue then go for it. For me, my thought is I"d usually rather drink that extra glass or two or three or four of good wine.

One point I"m very curious about is the wine restaurants use for cooking? I'll bet they aren't using high end wine, even at the top restaurants. Perhaps a little higher quality but not real top shelf wine.

Lastly, the grocery store 'cooking wine.' When I see it I usually have this little cringe. I also have a morbid curiosity about it as well. "Cooking wine"? Meaning undrinkable? Maybe there is a warning on the label. 'do not drink raw without cooking'. The one that piques my curiosity most though is the 'cooking sauternes.' Now that one I find scary, yet one of these days, I just gotta plunk down my 3 bucks just to see what sort of abomination it is.

Charles a food and wine addict - "Just as magic can be black or white, so can addictions be good, bad or neither. As long as a habit enslaves it makes the grade, it need not be sinful as well." - Victor Mollo

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One point I"m very curious about is the wine restaurants use for cooking? I'll bet they aren't using high end wine, even at the top restaurants. Perhaps a little higher quality but not real top shelf wine.

Most are not. This I know. If they do it's for show and there is no justification for it on the plate, the customer pays for it with a higher bill. There is no reason to use it for cooking. If a chef wants to argue that there is, I'm up for it. :biggrin:

I think around $10.00 retail is about as high as necessary. At this price point you can find plenty of pleasant, drinkable wines.

By the way, my husband and I made boeuf bourguigon with wine in a box for a French crowd, they loved it and said "it reminds me of my grandmother." The ultimate home cooking complement, at least for the French.

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The old cliche about Coq au Vin is that you need two bottles of Gevrey-Chambertin- one for the bird and one for the table. Once at Daniel's in New York, we had a disch of turbot braised in a red wine reduction.  We had the same wine by the glass for the course, and I remember it was a pretty expensive one. I commented to the waiter that it was generous for Daniel to be using it for the sauce, and he said Daniel wouldn't have it any other way!

When cooking at home, I tend to use whatever bottle we're drinking with the meal. Usually, it's not a prized bottle but sometimes it is... I just use less for the latter.

Just out of curiosity, how much did that wine cost and how much was the turbot dish?

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