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Dear Dr. Vinny,
What's the best wine to cook with? I don't want to buy cheap wine vinegar, and I want good flavors. I know Marsala is a sweeter wine cooked with chicken … at least I think so. I don’t drink wine, so I am not so sure …
—Jari, Bristol, England
My cooking-with-wine advice usually starts with this: “Don’t cook with any wine you wouldn’t drink,” but if you’re not a wine drinker, that’s not going to be very helpful.
Even if you’re not a fan of drinking wine, it's a great tool for cooking. In addition to adding its own flavors, its acidity helps break down fats and other flavor components; it's especially ideal for deglazing a pan for making sauces.
When cooking with wine, the alcohol evaporates and its core flavors are left, particularly the fruit flavors. I think fruity wines—and not wines dominated by oak—do best in cooking. That means for reds, I think an affordable Syrah, Zinfandel or Grenache with plenty of red berry and cherry flavors works best, or one of the affordable red blends that are popular these days. For a white wine, I’d pick a Sauvignon Blanc. I don’t think you’ll need to spend very much money, but once it’s open, get the most mileage you can out of the bottle by storing it in the refrigerator, even transferring it to a smaller bottle if possible. Even so, after a week or two, the wine will start to lose its bright flavors.
You specifically asked about Marsala, which is a type of fortified wine that is perhaps best known as the base for the sauce that gives the dish chicken Marsala its name. And because it’s a fortified wine (meaning a spirit has been added), an open bottle will stay good much longer than a bottle of table wine.
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