February 5, 2016
Vol. VIII No. 3
Cooking With Wine
Wine has been an important part of the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years, and for most Mediterraneans, meals just aren't complete without it. When consumed as part of a healthy lifestyle, it is a source of great joy and pleasure. Drinking wine in moderation has also been shown to be good for heart health, to improve cholesterol and blood sugar control among people with type 2 diabetes, and may reduce the risk of developing depressionThe Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, developed and introduced in 1993 by Oldways and the Harvard School of Public Health, was the first dietary guide to include wine as part of the description of a healthy diet.

Wine is not just for drinking! It adds layers of flavor in braises, sauces, and other slow-cooking dishes, and plays well with seafood. It's even used in desserts, like poached pears. Cooking with wine contributes aroma and richness to meals, and makes them feel a little more special. Pour yourself a glass while you're cooking and savor the process of making a meal next time you use it in the kitchen.

Which wines are good for cooking?
Use only wines that you would enjoy drinking for cooking. Cheap "cooking wines" will not add many benefits, and may even detract flavors from other ingredients in your dish. You don't need to use that vintage bottle you've been saving for a special occasion, however. Here are a few tips:
  • For dishes using only a small amount of wine (for deglazing a pan, for example), there's no need to use pricey bottles.
  • When wine is a key ingredient, as in coq au vin (a French braised chicken dish), the dish will benefit from a higher-quality wine.
  • For quick-cooking recipes - especially seafood - and dishes with just a few ingredients, a better wine is important, since the flavor of the wine will stand out.
Leftover bottles of wine in your refrigerator are excellent candidates for cooking. For savory dishes, use dry wine such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Pinot Noir. For sweet dishes, Riesling, Semillon, and Muscat are great choices. Choosing red versus white depends on the color and richness you want from the dish. Chicken braised in white wine is lighter in flavor than when chicken braised in red, for example. Classic French eggs poached in red wine taste delicious, but the startling purple color may turn some people off.

When and how should you use it?
Typically, wine is added toward the beginning of cooking to allow time for its flavors to develop. Sometimes, it's added just before any other liquid and mostly cooked off, as in risotto, to add a layer of intense flavor. Other times, it is used at the end of cooking, for deglazing, when meat, poultry, or vegetables that have been roasting in a pan leave behind browned bits. Pour just enough in to scrape up the browned bottom layer, simmer to reduce, and you've got yourself a sauce!

What about wine vinegar?
Always taste wine before you add it to food to make sure it hasn't turned to vinegar! Wine vinegar is a wonderful ingredient in itself, made from fermented wine, but it has a much more concentrated acidic flavor. It's a good substitute when a recipe calls for wine to deglaze a pan, but be sure to taste as you go. The acidity will mellow as you cook, but you will likely need less of it than the original amount of wine required. Wine vinegar is particularly delicious when used to cut the bitterness of braised greens, and can also be used in salad dressings and marinades. 

Experiment with different wines in your cooking to see which types you like best, and take time to savor the process. Check out the recipes below for a few ideas to get you started.

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe.

Wine works well as a delicate acid component in marinades. In this recipe, it is combined with lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic to marinate shrimp. The shrimp is packed with flavor before it even hits the skillet, and the marinade is reduced to form the base of a delicious sauce. Marinating time aside, the dish is ready in less than 10 minutes. 

Recipe courtesy of Diane Kochilas for Mediterra. Photo courtesy of Mediterra.

All the deep flavor of risotto - without the endless stirring! Wine adds an important layer of flavor in this pilaf, making up part of the liquid absorbed by the long-grain rice (not arborio rice, as in risotto). The wine balances the strong flavors of black olives and feta cheese, and complements the main ingredient, shrimp, very nicely. 

Recipe and photo courtesy of Positively Good for You

In Tuscany, "in zimino" is a term often used to describe dishes cooked with greens and tomato. One popular choice is this version, made with chickpeas, one of the infinite variations of "beans-and-greens" found in Italy. White wine is slowly cooked off before the chickpeas, greens, and broth are added, a good technique to use for any soup.

An Oldways recipe and photo.

by Sid Goldstein
A glass of wine can be delicious, but when it is paired with the right dish, it can resonate in a magnificent way. The Wine Lover's Cookbook is a unique guide for the wine lover and cook who considers wine an essential part of a meal and wants to understand the dynamic interplay between wine and food. 

by Barbara Scott-Goodman
Explore and savor the best of American wine and wineries with this simple and elegant guide. Filled with wine pairings and recipes for all seasons and occasions, The Vineyard Cookbook includes more than 60 recipes and 12 multi-course menus, all paired with the optimum wines to accompany each.
by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
A wine book unlike any other, The Food Lover's Guide to Wine offers a fresh perspective on flavor. At the heart of this indispensable reference is an encyclopedic A-to-Z guide profiling hundreds of different wines by their essential characteristics, from body and intensity to ideal food pairings to recommended producers. 

Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be.   

To find even more delicious Mediterranean recipes please visit: