Wine adds character to a dish with a depth of flavor and richness of aroma that intoxicates even while not intoxicating (since, after all, the alcohol cooks out—or most of it at least). But wine can ruin a recipe just as easily as it can complete it. Learn to cook with wine like a connoisseur by following these guidelines.
What Kind of Wine?
Typically, the best kinds of wine to use in cooking are dry table wines, either white or red, depending on the dish. The general rule has always been white wines for white meats and red wines for red meats, but being creative with the wine you select can often yield some delightful results. You can also use more fortified wines like ports and sherries, but use much less of them, as a little goes a long way.
As far as quality and cost, the wine you cook with doesn't need to be a top vintage but it shouldn't be bottom of the barrel wine either. So-called "cooking wines" are usually too salty to actually cook with (and too foul to drink). As a basic gauge: if you wouldn't drink it from a glass, you probably don't want to cook with it either.
If you have wine left over in the bottle, you can use that wine any time over the next several days for cooking. A useful trick: Preserve its quality and extend its useful life by pouring it into a small container, sealing it and storing it in the refrigerator, where it can last for as long as a week.
How Much to Add and When?
Add wine like you're supposed to drink it: moderately. Count it as part of the total liquid content of the recipe, not as something extra. That may mean you have to add less of another liquid to compensate.
You can reduce the wine before adding in order to avoid diluting a dish too heavily. Just simmer the wine uncovered for about 10 minutes. Prepared this way, wine will reduce by about three-quarters.
Unless otherwise called for in the recipe, wine is best added in small amounts at the end of cooking to taste.
Tips for Different Dishes.
Wine works best when it can be used to add a subtle but distinct flavor to a dish. So if a dish is already heavily seasoned, wine might be lost in the mix, or worse, wash out the distinctive flavors in the seasoning. Wine is also counterproductive when added to tart dishes, diluting the flavor rather than enhancing it. The exception to this is if you're using wine in a marinade, in which case it can bring out the other flavors in the marinade and the meat.
You can avoid interrupting the process of simmering a stew, casserole or braised meat dish by warming up the wine prior to adding it. In those cases, add the wine after the meat and vegetables have had a chance for the other seasonings to cook in. Just after browning works well.
For dishes with milk or eggs, add the wine, reduced, in the beginning, taking the dish off the heat to add the milk or eggs. These dishes should either be served immediately or keep them warm until serving time.
Savory, Saucy Meals Made with Wine!
A little wine selectively added can be just the push an average meal needs to cross over into the sublime.