David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the column which ran on 1/20/2016:
Cooking with Wine
I wasn’t always knowledgeable about wine. I had to learn about it, study it and taste it. There are a few things we all do naturally, breathing and swallowing come to mind, everything else we have to learn. Learning about food and wine is a constant endeavor and one way I enjoy expanding my knowledge is by watching cooking shows.
As my knowledge of wine has increased I’ve developed a pet peeve while watching these shows. It’s when the show host says something like, “now add a cup of white wine.” This drives me absolutely crazy because there are so many styles of white wine that certainly the one chosen will affect the flavor. Do they want me to add a cup of sweet riesling, or a dry sauvignon blanc, or an oaky chardonnay, or doesn’t it really matter? Should it just be any old rot gut laying around in the bottom of the cupboard or do I use something of quality? Maybe they mean a cup of what I’m drinking while I’m making dinner? If so, shouldn’t they say?
Julia Child wrote her recipes with a certain flair that acknowledged the adult in her readers. What I mean is that she wrote them in such a way that if you didn’t know what white Burgundy is then you’d better figure out that it’s chardonnay from Burgundy if you wanted to complete the recipe properly. And Julia named the wine because it did matter which white wine was used to complete the recipe for the desired flavor. She really was that good and that is why she is in the Smithsonian.
Julia knew that food tasted best when recipes include specific ingredients and that wine has extremely nuanced flavors. Current food personalities seem to think that we don’t need to know which wine and that all wine is the same and only the color is different. Well, it isn’t and here is some advice on what to do with the current generation of recipes that say to add a red or a white to the dish.
Add a cup of white wine. Whites come in three basic flavor profiles: sweetish, tart and buttery. Adding a wine with one of these characteristics will enhance that flavor in the dish. For example, a California oaked chardonnay has a buttery flavor so this would be great to add to cheese sauce or to deglaze a pan after sautéing shrimp because these ingredients are complimentary to the butteriness of the wine. A sauvignon blanc is tart and herbal so it would match well with dishes in which you wanted to increase the lemon-like acidity while also adding some nuanced herb flavors.
Add a cup of red wine. Reds are a little trickier because some reds are soft and fruity while others are bold and tannic. The easiest thing to do is to select a red that is from that region. For example, if you are making a spaghetti sauce choose a Chianti (a sangiovese based Tuscan blend). If you are making Boeuf Bourguignon then choosing a French pinot noir, or one made in a similar style, would be the perfect choice.
This does mean that you are going to have to learn. You are going to have to take an interest in how things are made, what those things are called, how they taste and how they go together. Unless the recipe states the preferred wine to add you are going to have to use your own knowledge, intuition and be bold enough to experiment.
Don’t shy away from this task. Learning about food is incredibly satisfying both physically and mentally. Now pick up a recipe, gather your ingredients, pour yourself a glass of wine, and go make dinner.
David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He writes wine articles for the Duluth News Tribune, teaches wine education classes, and leads wine adventures in France. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.