Practical Cooking Tips; Red Wine and Fortified Wines

If you’re like me, you love to sip a robust red wine or a crisp pinot grigio, and adore a crystal glass brimming with an oaky Chardonnay or a smooth Cabernet. But did you realize you can also cook with wine and use its complex flavors to enhance any number of dishes? Read on, and I’ll share my cooking tips and recommendations for doing exactly that. And you’ll discover delicious ways to use this versatile liquid that go far beyond pouring it into a glass–not that that isn’t a perfectly acceptable way to enjoy my favorite beverage!

Red Wine and Food
Red Wine and Food


Why is it a smart idea to add wine to certain dishes?

Besides adding its own unique flavor, I love cooking with wine because it’s a terrific, healthy way to replace some of the fat in sautéing and in marinades and not sacrifice flavor. In turn, the rich essence of red wine can deepen and enhance any number of dishes. Cooking with red wine also allows a cook to experiment and play off some of the natural flavors in the ingredients of a dish. For example, red wine is a natural partner for berries, peaches, currants, plums, cherries, oranges, chocolate, and coffee. But keep in mind, not all the alcohol cooks off.


How do I know which red wine to use with which dish?

If a recipe calls for dry red wine, consider the heartiness of the dish.
 A long-simmered leg of lamb or beef roast calls for a correspondingly robust wine, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel. A lighter dish might call for a less powerful, but still dry, red wine such as a Shiraz or Chianti.


When would I choose red wine over white wine for cooking?

I’ve discovered, sometimes through trial and error, that white wine is better with lighter flavors, and for recipes using seafood or cream or cheese. Red wine is best for meat, game, and even chicken and tomato sauces. Add the wine early in the process, during the sautéing or simmering stages, so the wine can settle in with the other ingredients.


What are “fortified” wines

This term was mysterious to me when I first heard it. It certainly doesn’t sound like a cooking term! But “FORTIFIED” means the wine has been infused with a spirit–typically brandy—so the product has a higher alcohol content and thus will last longer. It’s a good thing to know, because fortified wines such as Port, Sherry, Madeira, and Marsala, are among the best wines smart cooks can have on hand. They pack the most intense flavors and―because they’re fortified with a little more alcohol than table wines―they have the longest life on the pantry shelf. You can grab a bottle anytime and add a splash knowing the flavor impact will be there.

Which fortified wine to choose? Here’s my guide:

  • Port has a rich sweetness and depth that’s especially good in meat-based casseroles.
  • Sherry’s complex roasted, nutty flavors can enhance just about any soup, stew, or sautéed dish. Two styles of Sherry that work best are Amontillado or Oloroso. Both are great with mushrooms and in many Asian sauces.
  • Madeira can be mesmerizingly lush with toffee-caramel notes. Use the medium-rich style known as Bual. Add a touch to transform ordinary sautèed mushrooms into a heavenly dish.
  • Marsala’s light caramel-like fruitiness is an integral part of many Mediterranean-style sautèed dishes. You’ll know them because many bear the wine’s name in their titles.

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