Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Cooking with wine while keeping it simple and inexpensive

Julia Child and wine

Working in the retail sector of the wine industry, I know that when a customer says “I need a wine for cooking” what they’re really saying is “I want the cheap stuff". But here’s the thing: you can get quality wine for cheap that will result in a better dish. Seriously, you really can, but you just need to know where to look.

And, like Julia Child always said, “never cook with something you wouldn’t drink”. Why’d she say that? Well, what are you gonna do with the rest of the bottle? Drink it while you're cooking like Julia did or drink it with your meal, of course!

So I’m going to give you the recommendations that I give to my customers looking for wine to cook with, and I’m going to keep it quick and simple.

Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon BlancWHITE WINE

Unless a recipe specifically states otherwise, Sauvignon Blanc generally is the best white wine to cook with because of its acidity and citrus flavors, although I would stay away from New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs because those can get really pungent and overpowering. Sauvignon Blanc is especially excellent with seafood and mussels, but also the best choice for any recipe that you need generic “white wine” for.

My go-to Sauvignon Blanc for cooking is Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon Blanc from Chile. You’ll find it for around $6 to $7 and sometimes on 2-for deals. It’s perfect for cooking in price and attributes, and a joy to drink. The entire 120 line of varietals is outstanding and affordable, but that Sauv Blanc and their Merlot take it to another level.

I would only cook with a Chardonnay unless I have no other wine on hand or unless the recipe calls for it, but I definitely wouldn’t use heavily oaked Chardonnay with dishes that include garlic. That oak and garlic mix is going to make the dish taste burnt, and that’s the last thing you want.

Experimenting with different wines for your favorite dishes can be useful and have surprising results. I cook haddock in a pan on the grill with crumbled Ritz crackers soaked in Sherry for breading on top, and I’ve found the best wine to cook it in the pan with is a Riesling. Since my wife likes Barefoot Riesling, we regularly have it in the house. The sweetness that it adds plays very well with the characteristics of the Sherry breading.

Excelsior SyrahRED WINE

Things get more complicated when it comes to reds so I’m going to list my top suggestion for the most common dishes that people ask about.

My wife makes killer beef stew and pot roast, and when she’s planning on making one of them I pick up a bottle of Excelsior Syrah. This South African Syrah will only cost you $7 and it has good body, structure, fruit, and a pepperiness that really contributes to the dish. Also, it’s a great deal in quality for the price if you’re just going to drink it and not cook with it.

Tomato sauce! You can't make tomato sauce without wine, right? My grandmother on my father’s side was from Avellino, northeast of Naples, so I had a lot of Naples red sauce growing up. That’s when the meat is cooked in the sauce whole. Whole pork chops, sausage, veal, and sometimes chicken. The chicken, when used, would break apart and become part of the sauce. You’d eat the pasta with sauce as a different serving separately or as a side, like steak and potatoes, instead of having the meat cut up and mixed in together with the pasta.

Villa Pozzi Nero d’AvolaBecause my grandfather’s family, her husband, was from Sicily, I pay homage to both of them by making her sauce as close to hers as I can but I pour Sicilian wine in there. Villa Pozzi Nero d’Avola is perfect for adding to and drinking with red sauce. It’ll cost you $7 to $9 and it’s a great deal for quality in the glass.

We need to talk about beef bourguignon (beef burgundy) for a second. This is a stew made famous by Julia Child, and it normally calls for Burgundy wine. Most people will use Gallo Hearty Burgundy or Carlo Rossi Burgundy, but that's not real Burgundy. Those are just American blends of a bunch of stuff, while real red Burgundy is Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France. And Julia was a French chef! So I would go with a Pinot Noir, and for those looking to not spend a lot of money I go right back to the same brand I suggested for white wine with the Santa Rita 120 Pinot Noir out of Chile. $6 to $7 and sometimes on 2-for deals. You can't beat it.

SHERRY & MARSALA

Florio Fine Dry MarsalaThis is important so read this carefully and please retain: Put down the cooking Sherry. Put down the cooking Marsala. If you knew how much sodium are in those things you would be completely disgusted. You will do yourself a huuuuge favor by dropping a few bucks more for better quality Sherry and Marsala, and you absolutely will notice the difference in the dish.

And don't forget: these wines keep for a long time so you can put them away until the next time you make the dish.

My top suggestion for cooking with Sherry is Savory & James Amontillado. Amontillado has a more powerful flavor than Fino and contains more alcohol, and I’ve found it’s better to cook with than Fino. Savory & James will run you about $13 for a .750 bottle. For Marsala I would go with either Florio Fine Dry Marsala because it’s easily accessible in the smaller .375 format for $9 or Colombo Dry Marsala in a .750 for about $10. All three of these are affordable and worlds better than Taylor or Fairbanks “cooking” wines.

I hope this helps you guys out the next time you need a wine to cook with! Remember: just because you’re putting it in food doesn’t mean you should dump swill in there, but that also doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot. 

- Joey Casco CSW/CSS
  TheWineStalker.net
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