The dos and don'ts of cooking with wine

Adam Liaw's red wine mince on toast.
Adam Liaw's red wine mince on toast. Photo: William Meppem

Cooking with wine sounds easy: just throw in a bit of whatever's left in the bottom of a bottle, right? Maybe buy a cheap drop that you can set aside for cooking?

But if you want to bring out the best flavours from your ingredients, those approaches need to go. Here's what the experts say you should and shouldn't do when it comes to cooking with wine.

Be a little picky when it comes to reds in your cooking.
Be a little picky when it comes to reds in your cooking. Photo: Shutterstock

Do choose a wine you love the taste of

If you like the wine you've chosen to cook with, then you're well on the way to creating a winner.

"A lot of people have this fallacy that you cook with leftover wine, or that you cook with bad wine. That is all wrong. If you cook with bad wine, you get bad food," says Vittoria Coffee Legend Stefano de Pieri, head chef at Stefano's Restaurant in Mildura.

If you cook with bad wine, you get bad food.

Stefano de Pieri

"If you like to drink the wine, it will make a great meal, so try the wine before you use it in your cooking."

Don't leave leftover wine too long

"You can use a wine that's already been opened, but it shouldn't be too old – no more than two weeks – since that can start to change how the wine tastes and how the flavours of the food will turn out," says de Pieri.

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Do use flat sparkling wine

A good Australian sparkling is great in some dishes (no need to splash out on expensive Champagne to cook with – unless you really want to), especially if you have some left over that won't keep.

But don't be afraid to use it once it's gone flat. "You can use flat sparkling just like you would white wine," says wine expert Virginia Jacobs of Wine Taste Talk. "It will give you a similar flavour to a dry white wine, making it great for things like risotto."

Don't use too much wine

"Follow the recipe, because using too much wine in your cooking can put the whole dish out of balance," says Jacobs. "You generally want the wine to be just one of the flavours that complements the food, not too dominant.

"If in doubt, add a splash and then taste the dish."

Do have fun cooking with white wines

White wine generally works well in seafood, chicken, pork dishes.

"Something citrus based – like a fish with lemon – is nice cooked with riesling," says Jacobs.

"A creamy sauce is lovely cooked with a chardonnay, pinot gris or pinot grigio.

"But be careful with sauvignon blanc, as those flavours can be quite powerful and don't go well in a delicate dish."

Don't use reds with strong tannins

"A lighter red, like pinot noir, is great with pork, mushrooms and salmon," says Jacobs.

"Other reds that go well in lots of cooking, especially with red meat, are the classic shiraz, merlot or cabernet merlot varieties.

"You don't want anything too strong in tannins or acid. For example, a young Coonawarra cabernet might overpower the dish."

Do stick to a lower price

In cooking, wine is simply another ingredient. And like any other ingredient, its quality is going to play a role in how delicious the overall dish will taste. But the reality is that you need to find a balance between quality and budget.

"You don't need to go over the top or use special varieties," says Jacobs.

"Most Australian wines will work well when you find a good variety for the flavours you're looking for.

"About $10 to $15 can get you something that's ready to drink (and cook with) and with lovely fruit flavours."