Bob’s Blog: Cooking with Bad Wine
REVIEW: The dinner seemed to be a success.
Everyone raved about the wine selection, the lamb fillets were cooked to perfection and the ambiance could only be described as friendly. Then the conversation turned to cooking with wine. “I only use old wine,” ventured one of the diners, adding, “I even cook with clogged and oxidized wine.” Our six guests polarized into two groups; those who were in favor of cooking with questionable wine and those who were against it.
– “The flavor just boils”
– “Stupidity, there will always be residual flavor”
– “I always use undrinkable wine in the kitchen and that’s fine”
– “Maybe you should take a RAT test”
I interrupted before the violence broke out. I cook with wine all the time, but only wine that I would drink willingly and often with the wine that came with the meal. I was the first to admit that I never added questionable wine to food because I thought it might compromise the flavor of the food. “Let’s change the subject and I’ll do some research,” I promised.
First stop The Oxford Companion to Wine, fourth edition. There is much debate about the necessary quality of cooking wine, with some considering the saucepan or pot to be the ideal repository for any wine deemed unpalatable to drink, others insisting that only the best wine will do. affair. Wine with an unpleasant flavor will not lose that flavor in the kitchen, and corked wine is not advised.
I then searched online and found an authoritative article titled “Do You Really Should Only Cook With Wine You’d Drink?” “The Truth About Cooking With Wine” by Daniel Gritzer.
He found from experience that the characteristics of wine are very subtle. “In many cases, it makes little or no difference.” I agree that the first big rule is to consider softness. “Only use a sweet wine if you want sweetness in the final dish,” he warns. In my experience, the sweetness can get even sweeter as the wine is reduced.
Daniel’s second rule is that acidity becomes more pronounced when cooked, which matches my own experience. He cooked five batches of coq au vin with five different wines, including a “wine product” (wine with up to 30% water added); a light red; a heavier woody red; a red bag-in-the-box and an oxidized wine. “These tests show that while there is some truth to the rule of only cooking with wine you’d be willing to drink, it doesn’t hold 100% of the time,” he concluded. “I certainly wouldn’t be willing to drink the ‘wine product’ nor would I want to cook with it, but I also wouldn’t want to drink this wine that had been left open for two weeks – it had definitely disappeared during that time. – and yet, at least in this case, it was fine for cooking in. This is a slightly inconclusive result.
I plan to cook with the next corked wine I find and establish if I can detect the distinctive, moldy character of the TCA in the dish. I will compare it with the same dish cooked with the same wine which shows no sign of corked taste. Watch this place.