Erin Doman on April 16, 2015 3 Comments Choosing wine can be difficult, no matter what your purposes may be. There are so many types, brands and vintages of wine that it’s hard to know where to begin–and that’s just for drinking. If you’re interested in using wine for cooking, it might be even more confusing. Knowing how the quality, type and other features of the wine matter in your cooking can make all of the difference. These 10 tips will help you to choose the ideal cooking wine for whatever dish you are creating. 1. Read the Recipe This might be obvious to you, but it is always good to be reminded to read the entire recipe before you begin cooking–not just the ingredients. You’d be surprised how many things you could miss by not reading the recipe fully. Reading the whole recipe first will help you gain context for what the required wine is for and what type of wine you may need. Some recipes will give you clear instruction on what to buy, others will give you more of a choice and let you pick on your own, and all recipes will let you know how you will be using the wine. This is important because you may need different wines for different contexts, such as if you are using wine a main ingredient or are simply using it for deglazing a pan. Everything has a context and those contexts are important, especially in cooking. 2. Avoid “Cooking Wine” In the grocery store, you may come across bottles that are labeled “cooking wine” or “cooking sherry”. These should be avoided unless they are specifically called for in a recipe. These “cooking wines” are often filled with extra and unnecessary ingredients, such as vinegar and salt, which can give your food the wrong taste. Also, if you are planning to drink the leftover wine, it’s important to note that these “cooking wines” have little to no alcohol in them. It is best to avoid them altogether and instead go straight for the real wines, which will make your meals taste better and give you something good to enjoy on the side. 3. Use a Wine You Would Drink If there is a specific wine you like to drink, try to buy a second bottle of it to use just for cooking. You already know how it tastes and that you enjoy it, so using it in your food should be an easy choice. It does not need to be your favorite expensive wine, mind you. Instead, opt for something reasonably priced that you would not mind drinking by itself. If you know the wine tastes good, it will give you confidence that your food will taste good too. When you are more secure in your wine, you will be more secure in your food. Think of your cooking wine as a wine pairing–which wine would you drink with your salad? Your steak? 4. Know What “Dry” and “Sweet” Mean These are very important and extremely common words that are used to describe wine varieties. “Dry” and “sweet” are opposites. The definition of sweet wine is obvious: any wine with a sugary taste is considered sweet. A dry wine is any wine that is not sweet. This may be simple, but it is important to know. Also, bottles sometimes don’t tell you if the wine is dry or sweet, so knowing which wines fall into which category is important. Do you know your Malbecs from your Ports from your Pinot Grigios? 5. Don’t Use Sour Wine Leftover wine is excellent to cook with, just be sure it has not gone bad. You wouldn’t drink soured wine, so you shouldn’t cook with it either. The sour flavor of a tainted wine can carry over to the food and spoil your meal. Smell and taste a leftover bottle of wine before adding it to your food in order to make sure that it is still usable and tasty. Learn the common identifiers that signify a wine’s spoilage. 6. Avoid Tart Wines This tip is much like the previous suggestion. Tart wines have an acidic, almost bitter taste that can carry over to the food. In some cases, the acidity can concentrate more during the cooking process and create an unpleasant taste. This is especially true for white wines, but it is useful when dealing with red wines. Choose wines with a lighter, fresher flavor in order to ensure that your food tastes the way it is supposed to. 7. Fruity and Flowery Tastes Won’t Survive Cooking If you choose a wine that is fruity, aromatic and flowery, know that those qualities may not last through the cooking process or carry over to the food. During cooking, the wine is cooked down, so lighter tastes and touches can be lost. For this reason, choosing a wine specifically for these qualities is not advisable because it may lead to a disappointing meal and no leftover wine to enjoy. 8. Add Wine Early in the Cooking Process Never add the wine last in the cooking process. Adding wine immediately before serving will leave the food with an unpleasant alcohol taste. Cooking softens the taste of the alcohol or evaporates it completely, leaving only the pleasant flavors of the wine to delight your palate. Simmering the wine allows it to absorb fully into the dish and become an integral flavor. For that reason, most recipes call for wine early on the cooking process. Follow that rule even when creating your own recipe. 9. Know the Alcohol Content of Your Wine Knowing how much alcohol is in your wine is important, for this can make or break your meal. Knowing how much alcohol is in your wine will help you determine how long to cook the food before it stops tasting like liquor. Wines with a high alcohol content need to be cooked longer than wines with a lower content in order to be palatable. Let’s leave the alcohol taste to your drinking glass. 10. Don’t Be Afraid to Go Mainstream If you simply don’t know very much about wines and you don’t really care to learn, it’s perfectly fine to just pick something you have heard of or something that looks appealing. No one will judge you if you pick a bottle up because you’ve heard good things about it–or even just because you like the way the bottle looks or the sound of the name. Asking for suggestions in the wine aisle is also a great way to select a wine when you don’t have personal experience. If you are in a wine shop, feel free to ask the owner or manager (or sommelier, if they have one) for a recommendation. This is a good method for branching out from your usual picks and perhaps discovering a new favorite. Choosing your wine does not need to be a complicated process, in the end. Pick something that sounds good and go from there. Cooking with wine can be a great experience for many people, but choosing the right wine can be a bit daunting. With the use of these helpful tips, finding your perfect wine should be a fun adventure.