Good with the grape: Cooking with wine doesn't have to be intimidating

Good with the grape: Cooking with wine doesn't have to be intimidating

February 19th, 2014 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment


• Dilute wine marinades and braises.

• Save nice wines for drinking.

• The exception to rule No. 2: Aromatic whites can transform a dish.

• If you have leftovers of a special bottle, make vinaigrette or steam mussels.

• Fat enriches wine sauces.


"The alcohol is going to cook out, so you use it for its acidity and maybe some fruit quality," says Megan Krigbaum.

"The alcohol is going to cook out, so...

Photo by Photo: Getty Images

As the owner of Brix Nouveau, Rosabelle Gorman knows a thing or two about pairing wines with cheeses and meats. It's the specialty of the Frazier Avenue wine bar.

She does not fancy herself a professional chef, however, though she does like to cook and often incorporates wine in her dishes.

"I'm a very basic, real-world cook," she says. "I like to drink wine while I'm cooking, so I use anything that is handy."

Not coincidentally, that is essentially the same advice that Megan Krigbaum, senior wine editor at Food & Wine magazine, offers when it comes to using wine as an ingredient.

"If you find something you like, use it," Krigbaum says. "The odds are that, if you are pairing the wine with the meal, cooking with it will make it even better."

Experts at Food & Wine have tried dozens of different wines when cooking, she says, "and we've found that, whatever you are using didn't matter that much. If it's terrible, it might show up in the dish, but otherwise, use what you like."

This assumes, of course, that you stick to the basic notion that whites go better with fish and chicken and reds work best with red meats, but even that is open to interpretation in some cases.

Used when cooking, wine is essentially another flavoring ingredient like spices or herbs, Krigbaum points out, and it can enhance an already tasty meal.

Wines do contain some acids, tannins and sugars and, while most of those will cook off, you might factor them into your recipe if it already contains a decent amount of sugar, vinegar (tannins and acids) or lemon juice (acids). A dish with a decent amount of onions, tomatoes or carrots, for example, will have plenty of sugar, so a dry red or white would be the smart choice for cooking.

Choosing which wine for cooking sounds like a daunting task, but Krigbaum, who samples around 60 wines every week as part of her job, says there are really only two rules: Don't use something so bad you wouldn't drink it, as it very likely could ruin the dish, and don't use that expensive bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild you've been saving, either.

"The alcohol is going to cook out, so you use it for its acidity and maybe some fruit quality," she says. "Buy something that is affordable, but also something you would want to drink."

And, if you are unsure or have no idea how to choose a wine to cook with, just about any reputable wine store can help. The staff at Riley's Wine & Spirits in Hixson, for example, is used to getting such questions, and they even have a pairing wheel on hand to help you choose the right bottle for your meal.

For those who don't drink a lot of wine, or who are worried about adding alcohol to a meal, both Gorman and Krigbaum point out that very little wine is used - less than half a cup in many cases - and the alcohol is cooked out to varying degrees, depending on cooking time. The longer it cooks, the more alcohol cooks off.

Krigbaum recommends a savignon blanc as a white or a Chianti if a red is called for. "You want to avoid a wine that is too oaky with whites or too tannic with reds," she says, "so choosing something that is medium bodied is best."

Gorman has three go-to dishes that she cooks with wine. A beef burgundy dish ("I use any red I have handy"), a wild rabbit in rosemary ("I use a white") and a shrimp scampi linguine dish. For the last dish, "the recipe calls for a dry white, but I use a chardonnay. It's fantastic."

Coq au Vin

4 ounces small cremini or white mushrooms

1 3/4-ounce package garlic-and-herb salad-dressing mix

1 cup frozen small onions, thawed

1 cup red wine

1/2 cup canned chicken broth

1 2-pound cooked chicken breast or 1 chicken cooked and cut into 2 breasts and 2 legs (discard backbone)

Heat the oil in a large oven-safe casserole over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the salad-dressing mix and onions and toss to coat evenly. Stir in the wine and broth and cook until blended. Add the chicken. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 15 minutes, turning pieces halfway through.

Remove the chicken and vegetables. Increase heat to high and boil the sauce until reduced and slightly thickened. Pour over the chicken.


Drunken Cheesy Bread

Butter for the pan

1/2 baguette, cut into 2-inch slices

1/2 small yellow onion, thinly sliced

1/8 pound thinly sliced cooked ham

3/4 cup white wine

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated Gruyere

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place the bread in a buttered ovenproof skillet, a 9-inch square baking dish, or a casserole. Scatter the onion and ham over the bread. Pour the wine over the onion and ham and sprinkle with the pepper and Gruyère.

Bake until the cheese has melted and begun to brown at the edges, about 20 minutes. Spoon onto individual plates.


Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.