Choosing a Wine with Which to Cook

There is tremendous scholarship concerning what types of wine to pair with which foods.  It is pretty well established that one should pair white wines with lighter dishes and red wines with heavier meat based dishes blah blah blah.  (I find this last point particularly troublesome since I prefer whites and oftentimes find the tannic flavor of some reds more than enough to drown out the taste of a good steak.  I also wonder about the appropriateness of this maxim given the large number of steakhouses that prominently feature white wines.)However, there is much less being written about which wines to use when cooking.  For a while, the Food Network held a debate across its many shows about whether one should cook with so-called cooking wine or normal wine purchased from a wine shop.  Uncorking a wine shop bottle rather than screwing off a plastic cap seems to have won hands down as the general consensus is that cooking wine is a salty, cheap, and has an overall bad flavor.But does varietal, appellation, or grape matter?  Let’s first set aside the obvious distinction that when a recipe calls for red wine, you should use a red and when it calls for a white, you use a white.  But when you open your wine cellar (or closet or drawer or whatever) is it better to pull out a dry Chardonnay or a sweet Riesling?  A merlot (which tend to be lighter) or a shiraz (some of which can coat your tongue)?To be honest, I do not believe it matters.  I have yet to make a salmon en papillote and said “You know, I wish I would have used a drier white” or made really fancy Sunday gravy (that’s spaghetti sauce to non-Sopranos fans) and thought that I would have preferred a sweeter or drier variety.  Again, I will frame the conversation and say that I would never add a dessert wine or a port to a savory recipe, but at the end of the day, I just am not concerned about which style of wine I put into my food.

Ultimately, when you cook with wine you are concentrating the flavor.  Just make sure you like the flavor in its unconcentrated form and your dish should come out just fine.

What have you found when cooking with wine?

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