Wine is no longer something to enjoy as just an accompaniment to a meal, but rather as an ingredient
within the food itself. With so many choices to mix and match, there is no reason for trepidation with a few
Although there is a general rule of thumb for matching foods with wine — red wine with red meat and white wine with white meat — decades of experimentation have created many new ways of matching wines with food.
Massimo Capra, well-known chef from Restaurant Makeover and owner of Mistura and Sopra in Toronto, says that 40 years ago when he went to school, it was imperative that chicken was served with white wine. However, Capra says that now with the broader variety of grapes and varietals, there is room to match a few other wines with chicken.
The only rule that shouldn’t be broken while cooking with wine, according to the chef, is to never cook with a wine you do not like the taste of. If it doesn’t taste good as a drink, it will not taste good as an ingredient.
“Never ever use wine found in a supermarket,” Capra says. “It has additives, like salt, that give wine an unappealing taste and will be unappetizing in your food.”
There are three different ways to incorporate wine into fine dining: Marinades, cooking liquids and finishing dishes off, such as a bourguignon sauce. When cooking with wine, the single and most important rule is the amount of wine used. A small quantity will do just enough to enhance the flavours of a dish.
Wine opens up your tastebuds, allowing room to accept the multitude of flavours within a dish. The essence of grapes and infused herbs mesh with the flavours of the food to create a beautiful experience. Capra is an avid believer that a fine wine sauce can illuminate the taste of any dish. He says something magical happens when you are having a dish that is well-constructed with the flavours of wine, which should not overpower the other flavours but rather marry with them to create a memorable bite.
There are a few good places to start when it comes to including wine as an ingredient in food. Many recipes that ask for water can instead be replaced by a favourite wine to add a lot more flavour, where water would have taken it away. It can also be used in small amounts in gravy, on top of mashed potatoes, or in marinades for red and white meats including fish, chicken and beef.
In order to cook with wine, it is imperative that you remove all of the alcohol. There is nothing worse than having the acidic residual of alcohol in a meal. The soft and silky taste becomes harsh and sour, ultimately blocking the great essence of the grape.
To get the best results while cooking, it is a good idea to allow the wine to simmer in the food or sauce not only to enhance the flavours, but also to make sure that all of the alcohol is evaporated. While the wine cooks, it gives it time to reduce and extract flavours that you want illuminated in the dish. Many recipes say that the appropriate timing to wait for the flavours to blend is a minimum of 10 minutes. If the dish seems to need more wine after 10 minutes, add as desired, but a tablespoon at a time.
While preparing meals with wine, determining whether to use sweet or dry wine is important. Unless a recipe calls for sweet wine, it’s best to use dry. Sweet wine has a very aromatic and sugary flavour to it. Passito, an Italian white wine, is an example of a very sweet wine, due to the intensification of the sugars caused by leaving the grapes out, traditionally on straw mats, to dehydrate.
When cooking a meal that requires a salty taste, sweet wines can create a strong essence of fruit, which tends to take over, making it a less pleasant experience. However, a wine-poached pear would require a sweeter wine.
Mona McDonald, product consultant for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, says that determining which wine to use is rather a question of what flavours you like.
“I would use a red Burgundy Pinot Noir if I was cooking a beef bourguignon,” says McDonald. “If a customer comes in asking for a wine to cook with, I usually ask what the ingredients are. This helps make a good recommendation that would be a great addition to bring out the flavours of the food.”
The intensity and sapidity of the wine within your meal is not based on the price. Although a higher-priced bottle may have a more savoury taste, wine is like olive oil — everyday meals, like a hearty beef stew, can use a moderately priced Cabernet Sauvignon. However, the concentration in some of the pricier wines will lead to a better concentration in the meal. It is important to keep in mind that the price may be high because of the amount of grapes being produced in the region. A low dollar amount does not necessarily mean a bad wine. Both Capra and McDonald agree that it is probably a better idea to cook with the least expensive version of the wine and pair the meal with the more expensive version to sip as an accompaniment.
Although wine is a delicious addition to any meal, it is not recommended to have it in every dish. Leftover wine can be stored in a fridge for up to two weeks. Eat, drink and be merry! •
Photo courtesy Massimo Capra