Cooking with wine

Red wine gravy

Other than helping you relax after a long day, wine has three main uses in the kitchen; as part of a marinade, a cooking liquid, and for flavouring a finished dish. Wine is used to intensify, enhance and accent the flavour and aroma of food.

As with any seasoning used in cooking, great care should be taken in the amount of wine used - too little is inconsequential and too much will be overpowering. When used properly wine should fortify the flavour of what you are cooking not mask it. To avoid spoiling a dish add the wine in small amounts, and wait ten minutes for it to impart the food before making a decision whether to add more.

The alcohol in the wine evaporates while the food is cooking, and only the flavour remains, and a table explaining the rate of evaporation is included later. Boiling down wine concentrates the flavour, including acidity and sweetness, and will quickly remove much of the alcohol.

For best results, wine should not be added to a dish just before serving. The wine needs to simmer with the food, or sauce, to enhance and combine with the flavour of the dish. If wine is added too late in the process, it could impart a harsh quality.

Remember that wine does not belong in every dish, and using more than one wine-based sauce in a single meal is usually overpowering.

Here are some chemical reactions you should know about…

Sulphites

All wines contain a small amount of sulphites (Sulfur dioxide) as they are a natural result of the same fermentation process that turns grape juice into alcohol.

Sulphites are used by winemakers to keep freshly pressed "must" from spoiling and sometimes more are added artificially.. Sulphites keep down the activities of native yeast and bacteria and preserves the freshness of the wine.

When cooking with wine containing sulphites, you do not concentrate them as you would flavour, but rather evaporate them like alcohol - leaving behind a tiny amount of salts. This is because the sulphites go through a conversion in the liquid of the wine to produce sulfur dioxide. Sulphur dioxide is the compound that prevents the oxidation of the wine when it's being stored.

A wine cellar

Tannin

Tannins are a family of natural organic compounds that are found in grape skins, seeds, and stems. During the aging process oak barrels also infuse some tannin into the wine. Tannins are an antioxidant and natural preservative, and give the wine structure and texture.

In concentrated quantities, tannin will cause the occasional pucker sensation in the mouth and back of the throat. This is sometimes accompanied by a bitter aftertaste, which is referred to as tannic.

Visually, tannin forms part of the natural sediment found in the bottom of the bottle.

Continue reading to find out how to pair wine with food… 

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