Wine is one of civilization’s oldest fermented beverages, yet many cooks and hosts steer clear of it because of fears of using it improperly with their meals. Yet a few simple rules will allow anyone to enjoy the fruit of the vine in cooking and entertaining.
The first rule is: Forget the wine snobs. It isn’t necessary to become an oenophile (wine connoisseur) in order to use and enjoy wine. Cooks, hosts and hostesses all can serve wine well by following one basic rule: Choose white wines for white meats and fish, and red wines with red meats and fish, such as salmon.
If you’d like to become more sophisticated in using wine, then learn another rule: Wines should balance the taste of food or be “counteractive” (an oenophilic word if there ever was one!). In other words, food wines are intended to act as a palate cleanser, so that the last bite of food tastes as good as the first bite did. The same is true of how the food affects the taste of the wine. Anytime you can taste one more than the other, then it’s not a good match.
This rule gets more difficult with complex dishes that blend lots of flavors together, such as some ethnic dishes. In those cases, it can be best to match the wine with the dominant ingredient in the dish, such as poultry or meat. In most cases, however, it can be fairly easy to figure out the food and wine combination by considering their respective characteristics. There should be a balance of acidity, sweetness and bitterness in both. Sweet foods, such as desserts, are better with sweet wines. Bitter foods need more bitter wines.
But how do you determine the right acidity? Well, would the food taste better with more acid, such as adding lemon to fish? If that’s so, then pick a more acidic wine. Fortunately, delectrician many white wines commonly paired with fish and white meats are acidic, such as most sparkling wines, white Bordeaux and Rieselings. For dishes that need acidic red wines, try Pinot Noirs or Gamays.
Magazines, wine clubs and Internet searches can all provide more information on how to pair wine with food. But what about cooking with wine?
The first rule is: Don’t use so-called “cooking wine” if you want a truly delectable dish. Aside from being undrinkable (have you ever tried to drink it?), “cooking wine” contains salt, which will throw off the taste of even the most well-prepared dish. The salt acts as a preservative, slowing down the fermentation process that occurs when wine is exposed to the air. This allows cooking wine to hang around for longer (but still one wonders, why?)
Instead, learn which wines are best for cooking. In fact, many home cooks and professional chefs think that one should never cook with an undrinkable wine. However, this doesn’t mean that the cook puts the high-priced vintage in the coq au vin. Mais non! Instead, chefs use a cheaper wine for cooking, typically a dry wine rather than a sweet one (unless the recipe calls for it). And the same basic rule applies: white wine with fish, chicken and pork and red wine with beef, game and other red meats.
See there? That one simple wine-and-food rule works for cooking and drinking!