Q: I keep a decanter on my kitchen counter in which I pour all my leftover wine for use when I am cooking. I much prefer this to the stuff they sell in the supermarket. But a friend recently told me that mixing the wines is a bad idea and I could potentially ruin a recipe by using the stuff in my decanter. What do you think?
A: Cooking with wine is a great way to add flavour to foods. You are wise to avoid so-called grocery store “cooking wines.” They are typically overly sweet and tend to be high in acid and sodium. Not only will these characteristics be heightened during cooking, you'll want to be extra careful using these if you're on a low-salt diet.
That being said, the number one pitfall when it comes to using wine in recipes is most people think any wine will suffice. Your friend is right that dumping a bunch of different wines together could be a problem. Also, wine has a shelf life – a decanter of remnant left to sit for extended periods on a counter, or worse, a stove-top will eventually turn into vinegar.
If your recipes call for only a dash or two of liquid, you're probably not doing too much damage. But quality makes a difference when quantities start to add up. While I encourage you to keep leftover wines for later use, anything that has been uncorked for more than a few days -- especially if it is stored at room temperature -- just won't do.
Here are a couple good rules of thumb:
· Taste your wine before you add it to your dish. If you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it. This is especially important if the wine is oxidized -- it will add bitter, harsh flavours to your food.
· When it comes to white wine, stay away from sweet and acidic wines. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris are good choices.
· Low tannin, fruity wines are best when it comes to red – unwooded or slightly oaked Gamay or Pinot Noir, for example, are great bets. Stay away from super heavy reds, which can overpower a dish.
· Store all leftover wine in a refrigerator – the colder temperature will slow the aging process. Transfer the wine to a smaller container with an air-tight seal, if possible – this will prevent further oxygen from getting into the wine and oxidizing it.
· Consider serving the same wine at the table that you cooked with. It's a guaranteed match and will bring out the flavours of your dish.
· Cooking wines don't have to be expensive -- you can usually find them in the $12-15 range. In fact, when a recipe calls for a port or sherry, lower-end bottles tend to be preferable because their fruity qualities are more desirable in cooking.
· Do not thin a sauce or stew by simply adding wine -- it will leave it with a hard, raw taste.
If you want to get a little more adventurous, try looking for wines that exhibit characteristics that match ingredients in your recipe. For example, if the dish has mint or mushrooms, look for herbal or earthy descriptors on the wine label such as what you might find in an Old World Pinot Noir or Merlot. Sauvignon Blanc is well known for its herbaceous character, which would work in a recipe in which herbs are prominently figured.
Wine is frequently a key ingredient in basting liquids for roasting, as a marinade, in dressings and dips, fondues and a wide array of desserts. It is also used in reduction and deglazing.
Reduction is when you add a liquid and then allow it to simmer in order to concentrate and thicken it. When you use wine, this method will intensify its flavours, but also reduce most of the alcohol content, which can overpower the dish, not to mention the diners.
As a rule, you should aim for a 50 per cent reduction -- meaning you want half the liquid you started with.
Deglazing is another good way to bring the flavours of wine into your cooking. You simply add wine to dissolve bits stuck to a pan after food has been roasted or sautéed. For example, if you've roasted a turkey, you can substitute wine for water to scrape up the food particles in the roasting pan and use it as a base for a delectable sauce. Try this also after you've sautéed wild mushrooms and herbs, carmelized onions or broiled root vegetables.
In Focus: Grenache
This is considered a workhorse of a grape, which is used a lot for blending. Grenache’s light and sweet berry character, makes it a great candidate for rosé wines, in fact, the French appellations of Tavel and Lirac make some delightful products in this style. The wines made with this grape are typically fruity, spicy and quaffable. Grown in Spain, California and other warm-weather regions, it is finding its way in small planting in Okanagan vineyards where it will likely be a challenge given that it is late ripening and favours very arid, hot climates. Local producers are eyeing it for rosé wines and blending.