IN the beginning, there was cooking wine. And Americans cooked with it, and said it was good. Then, out of the darkness, came a voice. Said Julia Child: “If you do not have a good wine to use, it is far better to omit it, for a poor one can spoil a simple dish and utterly debase a noble one.” And so we came to a new gospel: Never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink.
I've never been afraid to cook with the cheap stuff. Nevertheless, I have always had a feeling of inferiority about that. Now I have some affirmation that it really never mattered. The New York Times says "cheap works fine."
I know this article was nothing specifically about boxed wine, but it seems appropriate to take a look anyway. I have from time to time been shocked at blog references to "pouring it down the drain." Surely you could pour it into the stew instead. Or maybe pour it over tomorrow evening's steaks? But for cryin' out loud, not down the drain!!!!
This is why I am never afraid to take a chance on a box. I rarely even find a box priced over $25 (equivalent to $6.25 per bottle). Most are between $16 and $20. At that price, even a bad box can provide a great deal of decent cooking wine (we're talking varietals here, not Boone's Farm).
And now Julia Moskin at the New York Times tells us that most anything is decent enough. She did a great deal of side by side cooking/tasting with the sublime alongside the mediocre.
Two weeks ago I set out to cook with some particularly unappealing wines and promised to taste the results with an open mind. Then I went to the other extreme, cooking with wines that I love (and that are not necessarily cheap) to see how they would hold up in the saucepan. After cooking four dishes with at least three different wines, I can say that cooking is a great equalizer.
So what was the conclusion?
“Tannins are what get you into trouble in cooking,” Ms. Stevens said, because they are accentuated and concentrated by heat. “For reds, err soft,” she said, and choose a wine with a smooth finish. Are there any other hard rules for choosing wine for cooking? One: don’t be afraid of cheap wine. In 1961, when Mrs. Child handed down her edict in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” decent wines at the very low end of the price scale were almost impossible to find in the United States. Now, inexpensive wines flow from all over the world: a $6 bottle is often a pleasant surprise (though sometimes, still, unredeemable plonk).
And the final word:
. . . cooking with wine is just that — cooking — and wine is only one of the ingredients that give a finished dish its flavor. Aromatics, spices, herbs, sugar and especially meat and fat tend to erase the distinct flavors of wine.