Cooking with wine

Francisca JaraFrancisca Jara

Francisca Jara


Some recipes require a dash of wine: the perfect excuse to finish a bottle and avoid leftovers.

A little wine can truly enhance the flavor of certain dishes, whether when marinating meat, adding to the base of a stir-fry, bringing out the taste of a slow-cooked sauce, or with a white fish. Given the importance, we usually place on pairing, what happens when wine is used as an ingredient?

When we add wine to a hot dish, much of it evaporates. The precise amount depends on the temperature and how long the wine is exposed to heat. For example, stewed meat cooked with a glass of wine over low heat for several hours retains only 5% of the alcohol, while a rapid flambé at a high temperature barely evaporates it. For this reason, it is better to cook without wine if small children are among those eating. 

When preparing a recipe with wine, it must be of high quality. Ideally, the same wine we will drink with the dish, thus ensuring harmony between the flavors of the food and wine when paired. If you keep an open bottle in the fridge because it is corked, it is best to throw it away. Otherwise, you are likely to ruin your food. Also, be careful when using vinegar, as it can mask the flavor of the wine. And be cautious with the quantity since the idea is to use just enough to add flavor without overshadowing the other ingredients. Also, make sure to rectify the seasoning at least ten minutes after adding the wine, and do not forget that in addition to adding flavor, wine provides texture.

Red or White?

Certain wines will combine better than others, depending on the dish’s ingredients. Red wine sauces work best in the case of red meats, game meats, tomato-based stews, legumes, or fatty fish such as tuna. For these dishes, we recommend a medium-bodied wine that is hopefully neither too dry nor too tannic, such as Merlot. As we mentioned, you can also use the wine to be paired with the dish. If, for example, we are going to serve a Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon with a boeuf bourguignon, we could easily use the same wine in the preparation. The result would be a deep concentration of flavors, with aromas of cedar, blackberry, and cassis, subtle black and white pepper notes, and an intense dark red color. In the case of Pinot Noir, it is better not to use it for cooking since its delicacy would be lost in the dish. 

For recipes based on white meats such as chicken, or for soups, risottos, or fish and seafood, a crisp, mineral, fresh, intense, and persistent white wine such as Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc makes an ideal pairing and perfect for adding a dash during cooking. Although white wine is less intense than red wine when added to food, it certainly contributes because as the alcohol evaporates, the sugar and acidity of the wine become more concentrated. Good examples would be in the stir-fry base of risotto ai funghi, for deglazing the caramelized juices in the pan when searing a buttered sole with capers, or for adding to cheese fondue.

However, we cannot leave out some dishes that break these rules, such as the famous coq au vin, the classic dish of stewed chicken and vegetables that requires at least one glass of white or red wine. Then there is the ai funghi risotto, made with red wine, which adds color, making it more attractive. 

One useful tip if the wine is a little more tannic, which would make a sauce or dish a touch astringent, is to add a little butter to soften this texture on the palate.

Fortified wines

In another category of wines, sweet and dry fortified wines also play a significant role in gastronomy. Fino, Palo Cortado, Oloroso, Amontillado sherries, and Madeira and dry Marsala are particularly good for adding depth and interesting notes to sautéed mushroom dishes or sauces that accompany white meats such as chicken and pork.

Additionally, sweet wines such as Marsala, Port, or Pedro Ximénez can be used as key ingredients in desserts such as the Peruvian Suspiro Limeño or the classic Chilean turrón de vino or even to sip with good ice cream.