Wine can be a delicious addition to many recipes, but you must choose the right wine for your dish. Although you may be tempted to use up the bottle in the back of the fridge, the one you don't remember opening, a fresh and appropriate wine will do much more to enhance your food. Use as much care in selecting your wine for cooking as you do in choosing your wine for drinking.
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Dry or Sweet
Wine is made when yeast digest the sugar found in grapes or other fruit. For a wine to turn out sweet, the producers must choose an especially sweet fruit, stop the yeast from doing their job too well or add sweetener to the wine after the fermentation process is complete. A dry wine has a low sugar content, a sweet wine has a high sugar content and an off-dry wine falls somewhere in the middle. The sweetness of a wine will affect the flavor of your recipe, just as any sweetener would.
Cook with wines you would enjoy drinking. Remember the purpose of cooking with wine is to enhance the flavor of good food, not hide the flavor of bad wine. Cooking wine sold in the grocery store is a poor choice because it contains salt and other ingredients used to disguise the poor quality wine. Sherry cooking wine is in the same category. It is not necessary to use top quality wine in cooking because cooking will affect the flavor, but it is important to use a wine you find drinkable.
Choosing the Right Wine
The wine aisle can be overwhelming if you don't know what you are looking for. Your recipe will give you some hint about whether your wine should be sweet or dry, red or white. "Cooking Light" magazine recommends sauvignon blanc if you need dry white wine, while "Food Republic" recommends chardonnay. These will be suitable for many savory dishes, including those with chicken or fish. If your recipe calls for dry red wine, or if it includes beef or tomato ingredients, try merlot or cabernet wauvignon. If you are still unsure, ask a wine store employee for a recommendation in your price range.
Wine in a Recipe
Some recipes are centered around the flavor of a particular wine, like chicken marsala. You will find a more detailed description of the desired wine and its use in recipes for these dishes. In other cases, use a small amount of wine to deglaze a pan or add flavor to a sauce. For these dishes, use a small amount of the wine you will serve with dinner, or a wine that would be suitable for that purpose. The longer you cook the dish after adding the wine, the lower the alcohol content will be. Cooking with a moderate amount of wine will result in a dish with a very small amount of alcohol.