wine week: 7 tips for cooking with vino [5 ingredients | 10 minutes]

red wine glass & bottle pasta & butter beans with red wine

A few weeks ago I mentioned my sordid past, I mean, my previous career as a wine maker. To be honest I don’t really miss my days treading on grapes and playing with yeast and barrels. Sure it was fun and I did get to work with some very talented and entertaining characters, but the truth is…. the best thing about wine is drinking it. And I still get to do plenty of that.

When stonesoup readers Erin S. and Marie both requested I write a bit more about food and wine, my immediate thought was to talk about matching food with the nectar of the grape. While you could spend a life time studying that subject, I had a look back at a post I wrote last year on my ‘rules’ for matching food and wine. And I don’t have much more to add on the subject. I mean, food and wine pairing is more about experimenting and trying things for yourself. If you’re curious for some tips to get you started, have a look through my ‘rules’ here.

But I haven’t covered the cooking-with-wine thing. So it seemed like a good excuse to declare this week wine week on stonesoup. Today we’re talking tips on cooking with wine but later in the week I’d like to answer any questions you may have about wine. Anything that takes your fancy. Now’s your chance. If you have a burning question about wine (or even a mild curiosity) please share it in the comments. Or if you’re a bit shy, email me jules[at]thestonesoup[dot]com and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Ooh, and before we get into the tips for cooking with wine, I wanted to share the results of my latest experiment. A lot of chefs and wine writers recommend only cooking with wine that you’d be prepared to drink. But like the theory of only cooking with expensive olive oil, I’ve always questioned the logic. Sure if a wine has a serious fault, like cork taint and tastes like wet cardboard I wouldn’t risk it on my coq au vin. But if it is just a bit old, like a half empty bottle that’s been banging around the kitchen for a few weeks, I see no problems in using it. After all, the cooking process is going to oxidise the wine anyway.

So like a good scientist I decided to test the theory. This time I chose a dish of white beans and pasta simmered with red wine and tomato paste for only 8 minutes or so. The wines in question were a lovely bottle of Claire Valley Shiraz that retails for about $25 a bottle and my random half-bottle of left-over wine that has been in the pantry for at least a month.

A quick taste revealed the freshly opened Shiraz to have the lovely spice and deep red fruit aromas one would expect. The ‘cooking wine’ was also as expected, flat and almost flavourless – not exactly delicious drinking but no major ‘off’ flavours either.

And the results? There was a slight difference in colour, with the beans cooked in the fresh Shiraz being slightly more purple. Flavour-wise there was a some variation. The fresh Shiraz dish tasted a little more fruity, but there wasn’t a lot in it. Both dishes were equally delicious. So happily, my ‘cooking wine’ habit will continue. Yay.

7 tips for cooking with wine

1. do keep old wine
While I don’t get down to Nigella’s level of pouring the leftovers from my guest’s glasses into plastic bags for freezing, I usually have a ‘cooking wine’ bottle in the pantry and any leftovers get plonked in there until I need to use it. While I could combine whites and red, I tend to keep them separate to give my cooking more options.

2. don’t use wine with flavour faults
If there is a really off flavour in the wine, it is likely to survive the cooking process and ruin your dish. So best not to risk wine with problems like cork taint, or brettanomyces (smelling like bandaids or wet dog). One of my worst cooking disasters ever was using a bottle of oak aged beer that tasted disgusting in a beef and beer stew – needless to say the gross flavour carried over to the food and was possibly intensified by the cooking process. Ick.

3. it is OK to use wine that you wouldn’t like to drink
See the results of my experiment above, but wine that was once drinkable but has been left opened and is now flat and oxidised, it will still be great for cooking. Just think of it as the wine has been ‘pre-cooked’ a little. I also find really cheap red wine that tastes overtly oaky and fruity may not be very enjoyable in the glass, but pop it in with your casserole and it will be lovely. As long as the flavour isn’t off, the things that make it unenjoyable to drink, won’t necessarily be a problem once the wine is cooked in with other ingredients.

4. don’t expect all the alcohol to be removed by the cooking process
I’ve always thought that the cooking process removes all the alcohol, but studies by Robert Wolke in ‘What Einestein Told His Chef’ indicate otherwise. I’m a little vague on the details but the recommendation was clear that food cooked with booze will have some remaining.

5. consider the wine style and the type of dish
Heavy tannic reds will still be heavy and tannic after cooking and sweet wines will still add sweetness. Best to have a think about how the wine will impact the dish when choosing.

6. don’t use expensive wine
When I was working for a boutique winery in the Barossa Valley, the most expensive wine retailed for $187 a bottle at the time. It was a lovely wine, rich and powerful, but in my opinion it definitely wasn’t 4 times more enjoyable than their $45 bottle. The main difference between the two wines was that the expensive wine was made from grapes from vines that were over 80 years old which made it incredibly rare – thus the price. Once you spend more than about $25 a bottle on a wine you start paying for scarcity and reputation, rather than just quality. So even if your budget does stretch to super premium wine for drinking, you’re really wasting your money and the wine by cooking with it.

7. do keep the cook’s glass topped up
Say no more really.

pasta & butter beans with red wine

[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
pasta with butter beans & red wine

serves 2

While this is wonderfully hearty & soul satisfying on its own, my Irishman though it would be even better with the addition of a pork product or two. So by all means add in some bacon or sausage or even serve with a few slices of salty proscuitto draped over.

If you don’t have butter beans at hand, please feel free to substitute in another white bean, or even a bean of a different colour.

1 cup red wine
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 can butter beans (400g / 14oz)
150g (5oz) short pasta cooked until al dente
shaved parmesan, to serve

Place wine, tomato paste and beans and the bean liquid from the can in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 8 minutes or until the sauce is starting to thicken.

Add pasta and stir in until everything is hot.

Taste and season. Serve with parmesan shavings on top.


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  • Mmmmm. Anything cooked with wine instantly has a gourmet feel to it too. Thanks for these tips! I love using white wine with pasta ;)


  • My previous comment about cooking with cheap olive oil didn’t get through for some reason, but I’ll try again. :)

    I agree with you about cooking with cheaper wine. The only NO-NO is bad wine flavor, since it can’t be removed by the cooking process. I prefer to use cheaper wine, especially the ones I wouldn’t consider for drinking. Their sharp aromas usually improve the flavor of the dish very well. On the other hand, finer wines add subtle touches and sometimes these can be too subtle.

    One of my kitchen hacks is to cook rice with white wine (1 dl is enough). And the best flavor comes from cheap, sour wine, like a riesling. I tried cooking it with chardonnay, but it wasn’t as good.

    Considering alcohol retention, take a look at this article. It debunks the myth quite well. :)

  • You have leftover half-bottles sitting around? REALLY? Boy, that just so rarely happens at our place, I don’t know what to say… :)

    Great rules – especially #7. I also think that, like pairing a wine to drink, a good place to start is thinking about where a recipe originated, (Italy, France, etc.) and what type of wine the cooks in the region would have had on-hand to throw in the pot.

    I’ve also found that if I don’t like to drink it, (like most California Chards), I won’t like it in a sauce – those objectionable flavors come right through.

    Thanks for another great – and quick! – recipe. And the shout-out…

  • Great tips. I love cooking with wine, for example in a beef bourguignon or grown-up baked beans, though these are both not at all 10 minute recipes. They are more the kind that bubble away in the background, with not a lot of active time. Thanks a lot for the ideas.

  • Love your comments, but I share Marie’s sentiment: *What* leftover wine? Hello!!

    Also, I’d like to hear your thoughts about using wine to deglaze the pan. Since getting my induction cooktop, I now only infrequently use the barbie for grilling steaks and the like, preferring to use a good fry pan at high temperature for quick searing and cooking. After finishing the meat, I quickly deglaze the pan to get a delicious sauce to pour over the meat. I’ve found that wine gives the pan juices a taste that’s a bit overpowering, but that using Japanese sake produces an outstanding result! Incidentally, I use just a bit of ghee (clarified butter) in the pan, which stands up to high heat very well and adds a bit more flavour than, say, peanut oil.

    Bill in NZ

  • Good to know about the quality of wine to use in cooking. I usually buy a cheap red each fall to make stew or braised beef and potatoes. I do cork it and keep it chilled in the fridge. Many folks say to use the more drinkable wine. Glad to know I don’t need to open an expensive bottle and hope for better results.

  • Hmm. Yum. I have never cooked beans with wine before. That pasta in the photo is a beautiful colour. Before I read the recipe I thought it must have been raspberries…..

    I feel guilty about telling people the alcohol is cooked away from the dish! I might buy one of those personnal breathalisers to test this out. I had stewed pears in red wine for dessert one night and told my teetotalling muslim friends it MUST be ok because all the alcohol had been evaporated. I feel terrible now!

  • alex
    that’s too funny about your friends and the boozy pears – although now I feel a bit guilty for ruining your theory. woops – maybe I need to read back up on that.

    thanks paul

    erin s.
    thanks for the inspiration for this post – glad to hear you’re not wasting your cash!

    bill & marie
    I know leftover wine is a bit of a new concept for me – it goes with something new I’m trying called moderation – although I think ocscar wilde was right – all things in moderation, including moderation.

    your steaks sound great – great idea with the sake AND the ghee. I don’t often use wine for deglazing pans so will have to think about it and get back to you.

    great point about thinking about regionality with both food and wine and that some flavours will linger through to your food.

    Don’t be too tough on the californian chardy – I worked at a winery in los gatos, south of SF that made really lovely chardonnay – the perfect balance between richness, butteriness and fresh fruit – I think it was a rareity – but good california chardonnay is not an oxymoron ;)

    thanks for the tip on riesling and white wine – would never have thought of that.
    and really appreicate the kitchen myths link – what an interesting page

    wei wei
    I agree, wine does make things sound more fancy.

  • I would love to hear more about your sordid past as a winemaker. What is that life like? It’s a common daydream of mine…

  • hey dP
    good question – will write a little about life as a winemaker in my next post. but just between you and me, I think the daydream is much nicer than the gritty reality

  • Let’s just say I was scarred as a young adult in the late 80’s by one of those Chards that tasted like you were chewing on a twig from an oak tree… I know there are good ones now, but in my -ahem- old age, i’ve found I prefer Sauvingion Blanc. Never thought I’d like Rose after my first taste – was wine supposed to taste like Kool-Aid? – but last spring’s trip to Bordeaux changed that! I hope I remain teachable…

    Can’t wait read about your Adventures in Winemaking!

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  • Hi Jules, just to let you know that we’ve just had this recipe for dinner (with canellini beans).

    Really easy and tasty and it smells delicious as it cooks (like a good spaghetti bolognese). And I love that there’s so little added fat. Thanks for the idea!

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