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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Looking for help deciding on how to pick wine to cook with. How does reducing wine for a sauce change the elements of wine? Do any of the components cook out other than the alcohol, or do any of the elements become more concentrated?
The best advice I can give you is to never cook with any wine you wouldn’t be happy to drink. That includes bad wine, flawed wine, or a bottle that’s been open for who-knows-how-long.
How a wine influences a dish, and how the flavor of the wine is affected in the cooking process, depends on how much wine you’re adding and how long you’re cooking it. But whether you’re using just a splash of wine to deglaze at the end of a sauté, or a whole bottle to reduce for a braising liquid, cooking with wine brings two things to a dish. The first is that some flavor components in food dissolve better in alcohol than they do in water, bringing richness to the flavors. Secondly, you’re adding the flavor of the wine itself. The longer you cook with wine, the more concentrated the flavors will become.
When alcohol evaporates from a wine during the cooking process, all that’s left are the flavors of the wine, especially the fruit flavors. I suggest focusing on wines that focus on fruit over oak and spice, since I’ve found that oaky notes end up tasting bitter when cooked. Typically, on the red side, I’ll reach for a young Grenache, Syrah or Zinfandel with ripe berry and cherry flavors, or on the white side, for Sauvignon Blancs with plenty of citrus and stone fruit flavors. Thankfully, there are plenty of affordable examples out there.
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