I do a fair amount of cooking with wine and I feel like I know which to use in what dish but I felt that way about meat so I went into the library and found a vintage book that my Grand had handed down to me called “American Wines and Wine Cooking” and decided to jump in and see where I am wrong and share with you what I learn! I will be using some direct passages from the book so I will put a footnote at the end but the book was published by Creative Home Library in association with Better Homes and Gardens in 1974.

All the recipes and people on TV say “Don’t cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink” this is because cooking the wine concentrates the flavors so if you don’t care for the taste of the wine in the glass then you will really not like it cooked. I don’t drink the wine, I appreciate the differences and am always game to try any of the varieties but what I have discovered is that I only truly enjoy the really expensive ones and those aren’t for cooking so I use budget friendly brands. Let’s take a minute to talk about budget friendly for a moment. The cheaper the wine the higher the sugar content and the higher sugar content causes the wine to burn more than cook. If I know I can get 2 ore 3 meals out of a bottle I will spend 10 or 11 dollars on it but if it is going to be a one use I try to stick to 5 or 6 dollars. My local grocery occasionally has markdown sales and I always take advantage to stock up at the low prices! Here in Oklahoma wine being available in the grocery store is pretty new so the competition is still fierce and the trial and error of what sells and what doesn’t is my new favorite thing! Since I work in a grocery store I have a little inside info on when the stores are going to rotate in new products and I know when to start stalking my local stores for sales. My store is a small one so they don’t order much of anything in large quantities so they don’t do the mark downs and they are a nation wide chain so they already have an idea of what sells. That was a bit of a detour, back to the book! I am going to present this in much the same way the book does. Direct paragraphs will be indented, my side comments will be marked with an * and just my own thoughts will be in not indented paragraphs like I usually do even tho it annoys my husband and maybe some of ya’ll? Sorry if it does, I just prefer the symmetry on not indenting.

The first 60 some pages of the book are filled with a mix of trivia and things like: Reading Labels, Frequently Used Terms in Wine Talk, How To Decide If You Like Red or White and What To Look For When Tasting, A break down of the reds, a breakdown of the whites and a section on Others such as Sparkling wines, appetizer wines and dessert wines.  I am going to get right to the meat and start with :

What Happens to Wine in Cooking?

When wine is heated three things happen:

  1. The alcohol begins evaporating when it reaches its relatively low boiling point of 172.4F
  2. Wine flavors change. The way they change depends on the nature of and the degree of heat applied to the wine. If the wine is barely heated it can retain nearly all the flavor and some of the bouquet. If the wine is boiled or simmered for a length of time or is subjected to high dry heat the alcohol and other volatile flavoring components evoprate leaving a slightly bitter and deeper taste. Dessert wines and brandies change and take on a new taste of caramel due to the sugar content.
  3. The wine reduces in quantity and concentrates in flavor.

How is Wine Used in Cooking?

  1. As a source of flavor- When you add wine to your cooking, you do not add just one flavor. You add the possibility of many flavors, as many flavors as there are kinds of wine and all of the flavors that are in each individual wine. All of the following reasons for using wine are extensions on the use of wine as flavor.
  2. As part of a simmering or poaching liquid-I will include steaming
  3. As a baste
  4. As an addition to a sauce- When wine is the main constituent of a sauce, it is added generously and is then reduced. This is done on two occasions; First, you may cook down the wine-seasoned liquid left from simmering or poaching and use that reduced liquid as part or all of a sauce. Second, you may deglaze a skillet or roasting pan with wine and use that reduced wine blended with pan drippings to make a sauce. When wine is used to finish a sauce, you add a smaller amount of wine and cook it very little or not at all. In this instance wine gives a sauce its final, closing, rounded seasoning and consistency.
  5. As a direct saucing or seasoning
  6. As a tenderizer- Wine has a tenderizing effect on meats and poultry when used as part of a marinade and for a relatively long time (2 to 3 days for pot roast or rabbit; at least 3 hours for chicken pieces, small chops and other small cuts)
  7. As an addition of acid content and acid action- Because of its acid content, wine may be used in cooking in the same way as lemon juice and vinegar. Like those two ingredients, wine may add a flavor sharpness. Also, the especially high acid wines call for some caution when using them with ingredients that curdle easily such as milk, cream and eggs. A good cook’s precaution is simply to use relatively small amounts of high acid wine in combination with such touchy ingredients and to add the wine gradually. *This has me asking which wines have higher acid levels!!* *White wines generally are more acidic than the reds* *Not the best answer but the least confusing from everything that I read thru*  In fish cookery wine distinguishes the delicate flavors of the fish and at the same neutralizes any oily, fishy flavor and aroma.
  8. As an addition of liquid content
  9. As a flaming agent- only fortified wines and Brandy have the required alcohol content to flame easily. Think Bananas Foster or Cherries Jubilee

Let’s break these down because that list feels kind of formal. Use wine just about anywhere you would use water! Boil the pasta in a mix of red wine and water for a cool color and flavor effect. Steam the veggies and lobsters and clams with a mix of wine and stock. Cook the rice in a mix of wine and water or stock. Add wine to your favorite marinade, my go to is an equal mix of red wine, balsamic vinegar and worchestershire sauce. Add wine to olive oil and herbs for a salad dressing or dipping sauce. Add a little wine to gravy that is too thick. Wine in the braising liquid is a must! Use red wine in the beef stock, white in the chicken and seafood.

This is my side note about white wines. For me the whites fall into 2 categories: dessert and dry. Yes, I am not correct but I can’t really taste the differences outside of those things like I can with the reds. When I talk about cooking with the whites I mostly use a Pinot Gris or Blanc or a Sauvignon Blanc and if I can’t find either of those I settle for Chardonnay. I did say that I don’t really taste the difference in the whites so my choices here are based on what has worked best based on the sugar content. For me the Chardonnay seems to have more sugars that when cooked for lengths of time get burny in flavor. I suppose I should also talk about the reds I use the most. In longer cooking dishes like stew or brisket I like a Merlot or a Pinot Noir with the exception of Tomato soup, I use Cabernet Sauvignon. For marinades I use the Cab or a dark red blend. Pasta gets cooked in the blends. Sauteed mushrooms exclusively get the Pinot either the red or white! Macaroni and cheese gets the white wine treatment as well but that is a whole post of it’s own and I am starting to wander so I better get back to the wine!

What Wines Should Be Used in Cooking?

Though all kinds of wine cook much the same, all wines certainly do not contribute the same flavors to food. A general rule is to use the same type of wine in cooking a dish as you would drink with the dish. For example, a nice, light, refreshing white wine is wonderfully pleasing with a chilled chicken salad, so the same wine would be right to use as a seasoning for the dressing and cooking the chicken. Or, a nice, sturdy beef stew calls for a hearty red wine as the best companion, the same hearty red would be an appropriate ingredient in the stew itself.

In cooking one dry white is usually interchangeable with another and the same is true with the reds because the cooking process changes wine enough that the small differences are not apparent. Thus when a recipe calls for a dry white you could use a dry sauterne, Chablis or Rhine with success and for dry reds a Burgundy or a claret can be used. But there are occasions when subtlety is important, an specially elegant beef dish calls for a Pinot as a finish, if a more tart Cab is used all of the smooth, round subtleties might be contradicted.

Sometimes the essential wine type to go into a dish is not the wine you would drink with the meal, a Brandy cream sauce with veal doesn’t get served with Brandy to drink and Sherry cream sauce with chicken doesn’t get Sherry, both meals need a nice dry white for the best pairing.

Many supermarkets carry “cooking wine” but these are closer to vinegar than they are to wine.

Vermouth. This is a whole paragraph in this section that I will get to but first I am sidetracked by a bit of extra curiosity so I turned back a few pages and discovered a single paragraph. I feel like I need more but that is just my inner nerd and 2 of the 4 sentences give me the gist.

Vermouths are white wines infused with proprietary formulas of herbs and aromatics. Some taste fresh and flowery; others have a dry, almost weedy pungency. Americans accustomed to drinking dry martinis have a difficult time imagining vermouth as a drink in its own right, but it is a good one, especially over ice. Incidentally, if dry vermouth seems too pungent, add a twist of lemon to sharpen its fruity qualities.


I have used vermouth in many places that I would use wine if I had it. I had an Aunt who lived on Manhattans and those call for sweet vermouth. When she went to the great happy hour in the sky she left behind so many, many bottles of vermouth. I am talking cases of the stuff! I did my part and took three. Yes there were also a few bottles of her beloved Johnny Walker left and I took 2 of those as well. We drank so many Manhattans that I can hardly stand the sight of dear Johnny. The vermouth however was more useful than just for drinking! I put it in beef stew, pot roast, tomato soup, sauteed mushrooms, cooking pasta, pasta sauce, ragu and anything else that I thought could use some extra love! It did not work so well as a pickling agent. Yes I said ANYTHING I thought could use some love. We are fans of dry, dirty martinis so I have the regular version on hand as well. To me straight vermouth is closer to Gin than to wine; I don’t care for gin so that is the reason this American won’t be drinking it straight. Anywho, I have only substituted white wine for vermouth in green beans and scallops and this was mostly for the deglazing. The scallops got lemon juice and butter added to the vermouth to make a pan sauce but the beans just got deglazed with stock and butter used to make the sauce.

Some people believe that when you do not have a dry white wine handy, you may substitute dry vermouth as an ingredient. This idea is sound as a general principal, but it is safer left to experienced wine cooks than to novices. Dry vermouth does not invariably interchange with dry white wine. Sometimes the vermouth gives too pronounced a flavor; sometimes it needs dilution by about one third water, sometimes it needs the addition of lemon or lime juice to give the fruity effect that the designated wine would have had. In other words, dry vermouth can be a reasonable backup for a dry white wine in cooking , but it is not ideal. *Nothing about the sweet vermouth is mentioned.

This is where this section ends but I am going to conclude it with a paragraph from earlier in the chapter that I felt like they put in the wrong spot. And while I am talking about things in the wrong spot, all the commas in the direct passages are really in the printed version, I promise I did not add any of them!

Certainly, you may use more than one of these ways or reasons for wine cookery in the preparation of a single dish. For example, a good cook might use wine as a poaching liquid for a fish and then make a wine seasoned sauce from the reduced liquid. Or she may simmer stew meat in red wine and other seasonings, let those juices become the stew sauce, and , just before serving, finish the sauce with a tablespoon or so of the red wine to give a final, subtle wine overtone. *I am going to change the closing sentence because theirs is just bad. This method of using wine in multiple stages of cooking is an excellent way of getting extra sexy love and flavor into the dish at every level.

Whew!! This was a long one so I am giving an extra Thanks ya’ll and really don’t be afraid to put wine in the food as well as your face!!

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