Erik Neilson on March 10, 2017 0 Comments It would be fair to assume that most people, when asked, would categorize wine as a beverage. After all, its main function is to be savored, sip by sip, perhaps alongside a meal or simply on its own at the end of a stressful day. Wine is more than just a simple libation, however, it’s a secret weapon in cooking and can be found in all of the world’s best kitchens alongside stocks and spices. When used properly in a culinary manner, wine can elevate any cuisine to new heights and create flavors that would not have otherwise been part of a dish. As one might expect, some grapes and styles of wine are preferred for cooking over others — you’re not going to want to dump two bottles of Brunello into a pot for poaching a steak. Understanding how to get the most out of cooking with wine and which grapes to use doesn’t have to be difficult, however, and once you do, add a layer of depth to your cooking that will serve you for many years to come. If you’ve never cooked with wine before, here are some of the best grapes to start with. Don’t hesitate to branch out once you get accustomed to the different flavor profiles each of these unique grapes can provide. Crisp Whites: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Unoaked Chardonnay White wine serves an extremely important role in the kitchen, particularly crisp, dry whites like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay that hasn’t seen oak. They bring a good deal of acidity to the party, adding brightness to whatever dishes they’re incorporated into. The acidity of these grapes can also help to tenderize when used as part of a marinade. For chicken, fish and pork, crisp white wines serve as a perfect pairing. All of the three grapes mentioned above are interchangeable and will lead to similar results, with certain variations. Sauvignon Blanc, for example, while provide the most clear and present acidity out of the three, making it an excellent option for incorporating into sauces for seafood dishes. Chardonnay is on the richer end of the spectrum and is ideal for deglazing a roaster pan after roasting a whole chicken. Pinot Grigio sits somewhere in the middle and tends to be more on the neutral side, which means it’s versatile enough to work in practically any dish or sauce that calls for white wine. Dry Reds: Cabernet, Merlot, etc. Dry red wine plays just as important a role in the kitchen as crisp whites, albeit much different. Red wine brings to the table not the refreshing qualities associated with white wine, but rather deep, dark and rich characteristics that can add a remarkable amount of fullness and complexity to sauces and soups. When reduced and thickened, red wine on its very own can make for a beautiful sauce for duck or steak. The fun part about cooking with reds is that just about any dry red wine should work depending upon what you’re trying to achieve. In fact, it’s usually more beneficial to base your decisions on which wine to cook with by choosing a bottle that will pair well with the meal itself. A word of warning, however, in that many dry reds can be extremely tannic. Excess tannins can add bitterness to a sauce, especially when reduced by a significant margin. Stay clear of old vine Garnacha, Monastrell and the like, and you shouldn’t run into any issues. Sherry Sherry is the secret weapon in kitchens when it comes to cooking with wine, perhaps because of just how little is required to completely transform a dish. With dry reds and crisp whites, it’s not uncommon to utilize a cup or more at a time when cooking — even an entire bottle can be called for depending upon the recipe. Sherry, on the other hand, is used in extremely sparse amounts. Just a drop of Sherry into a cream-based sauce can add entire universes of depth to its flavor profile, and there is perhaps no wine that can reduce better into a mignonette for oysters. Looking to add a powerful jab of flavor to a dish right before plating? Deglaze your pan with a little bit of sherry, and watch as your guests swoon. Marsala Marsala is an interesting wine in that it once was prominently enjoyed by some of the world’s wealthiest individuals, yet today, its primary use is for cooking. This is due to the fact that only a few small producers still produce Marsala from the Grillo grape, which leads to wine that is reminiscent of what Marsala used to taste like. Today, most Marsala is produced on an industrial scale and leaves little to the imagination, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have a use in the kitchen. With it’s high ABV, Marsala adds a richness to dishes that drier wines aren’t typically quite as capable of. Dishes like chicken or veal Marsala rely heavily on the wine for their signature flavors, as does the Italian dessert zabaglione. Complex and typically available for reasonably low prices, Marsala wine will last for weeks if not months when properly stored and refrigerated. Port Port sits on the sweeter side of fortified wines, and its versatility in the kitchen nearly matches the experience of sipping it slowly by a warm fire. Typically aged for at least 10 years before release (sometimes up to 40 years), Port can either be added to cream sauces similar to how one would use sherry, or it can even be reduced slightly into a sauce that is reminiscent of caramel. Pour it over your favorite ice cream, and you’ll have on your hands one of the most satisfying desserts imaginable. Wine will always be produced and purchased for drinking, but learning how to cook with certain wines can help you to deepen your experience and knowledge of the vast differences between grape varieties. With a little bit of experimentation, you’ll be one step closer to enhancing your culinary skills while becoming more educated about wine.