Let’s start with a confession: I can’t drink. Not much, at least. Anything more than half a cup of wine makes me extremely tipsy. For this reason, even if I do like the taste, I’ve always had to stop at the first glass, and never had the chance to fine-tune my sensory abilities and learn to appreciate the more complex bouquets.
My lack of tolerance for alcohol has often made me feel not only deprived, but also a bit insecure. After all, since we share with France the title of largest producer in the world, wine in Italy is a big deal.
Doesn’t it make perfect sense, then, that I should compensate by adding it as often as possible to my recipes? Wine boils (and therefore evaporates) at a much lower temperature than water, and only a tiny percentage of alcohol is left at the end of cooking.
Self-analysis aside, I feel like I am in good company; the idea of cooking with wine is neither original, nor new. Plenty of sources document its use as a cooking ingredient already among the ancient Romans and Etruscans. Back then, it was not only considered a “gourmet” addition, but rather a necessity: in the absence of refrigerators, meat or fish were often preserved in wine for several hours or days, before being cooked in that same liquid. But wine was also appreciated for its flavor, and added to soups, cheeses, vegetables, and desserts.
In most of the countries where wine is produced, it is used to thin out sauces and to give foods depth, body, flavor, and color. More often than not, a few tablespoons will turn a recipe from “blah” into “wow.”
To see what I mean, try boosting your beef or chicken soup with a shot of Port, or your vanilla pudding with a touch of Marsala.
Last, but not least, wine is just as comforting as a glass before dinner as it is lovely alongside it. Just sayin’. If you can tolerate it, between adding that fruity Beaujolais to the coq-au-vin and serving the rest to your guests, you might as well steal a delicious sip. Très Parisien.
Here are some quick tip for cooking with wine:
1. Don’t buy wine labeled “cooking wine,” and don’t try to recycle wine that’s so oxidized and old that it’s undrinkable. Would you cook with an ingredient that is spoiled or tastes bad? The same rule applies to wine.
2. In general, younger wines work better in cooking than aged wines (and have the advantage of costing less).
3. Remember, wine tends to be acidic! When making a recipe that requires lots of wine (some stews and braised meats), it’s best to temper its acidity with the addition of some creamy, fat, or sweet ingredients.
4. The longer the cooking, the more alcohol will evaporate.