“Never cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink.” It’s a mantra that I learned in my very first cooking class. But after years of braising, stewing and marinating with wine, I don’t think it’s quite right. I suspect the rule arose because in America’s culinary dark ages, which I also call BJC (Before Julia Child), people used the salty, terrible-tasting supermarket plonk known as “cooking wine.” Nothing short of an abomination, cooking wine most likely ruined many a coq au vin. But now that accomplished home cooks know enough to steer clear of the supermarket stuff, I think it’s time to reevaluate the rule.
Yes, it’s true that a wine you add to your food should not be undrinkable—you would never, for instance, want to cook with a corked wine (a wine tainted with a naturally occurring chemical that can make it smell and taste like damp newspaper). But what happens if you open a bottle that’s merely disappointing? I say, if you don’t like the wine, don’t drink it. But there’s no reason you can’t use this less-than-stellar wine to make a fantastic dinner.
Pairing & Cooking with Wine:
Heating a wine destroys its nuance, wiping out its complex aromas and flavors and transforming them into a general “winey” taste. I’ve found that whether I’m using a great wine or a mediocre one, the difference in the taste of the final dish is negligible. Sure, a wine with residual sugar, like an off-dry Riesling, will make a dish a bit sweeter, and one that’s overly tannic, like a young Barolo, will make a recipe ever-so-slightly more astringent, but in general, cooking is the great wine equalizer.