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Just how important is the quality of wine when a recipe calls for wine?

I have several packages of beef short ribs in the freezer that I need to cook and the recipe calls for a bottle of dry red wine "the best you can afford because you will taste the difference"

This got me thinking, just how important is the quality of the wine when it comes to cooking?

I have heard variations of "don't cook with anything you would not drink" but this goes above/beyond that rule of thumb.

Granted, higher price doesn't guaranty a better quality of wine but does a $40-50 bottle produce a better dish than a $15-20 bottle?

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  1. Not in my experience. I have a recipe for beef in Barolo, and I've made it both with Barolo and generic Trader Joe's nebbiolo, and it was just as good with the less expensive wine. Really, after the wine is flavored with the meat and seasonings, I think the nuances that distinguish a wonderful wine from a good one are lost.

    1. The 'nuances' of wine which along with demand causes any wine to be priced higher. Will it make your dish better ?, not in my experience. Ernest and Julio Gallo Hearty Burgundy flavored one hell of a lot of dishes in my day. Now if l like to drink it, l like to ccok with it.Only exception is fondue. l cook with chasselas from alsace and drink the same. It is traditional, does it make a difference, l think so but would not bet the 401K on it.

      1. Here's a recent thread that addresses this --- and other things.

        2 Replies
        1. Generally speaking, no. Personally I would never use anything that cost more than 10 bucks a bottle to cook with.

          1. I suspected as much.....I will pick up a $12 or so bottle for my first ever short rib cooking event and not worry.

            3 Replies
            1. re: cleobeach

              I always like to keep a half decent box of wine at home for this reason - wine's always ready whether I want to cook or drink.

              Also, even if a bottle's been sitting out a little too long and isn't drinkable any more, it generally tastes fine in a braise/stew.

              1. re: joonjoon

                Or, if it was purchased or gifted as a drinkable bottle, but we just didn't like it, into the stewpot it goes!

              2. re: cleobeach

                You can spend half that and get a bottle suitable for cooking. I've used Pepperwood, Goats do Roam... as long as it's not supermarket "cooking wine" or horrid wine.

              3. Without doing a side-by-side test, I couldn't say. I don't drink, so I keep a bottle each of burgundy and a dry white in the fridge for cooking. I look for the best price at Costco, regardless of brand. It can take me a year to go through them and certainly they have never had a negative impact on the resulting dish. Would a fresh bottle of something spendy be better? Who knows....

                1 Reply
                1. re: greygarious

                  I'm not sure that I would use wine that had been open a year to cook with, tbh.

                2. While I'm sure there are folks who believe that one should use the highest quality of wines in one's cooking, my philosophy with wine for cooking vs drinking is the same as that of liquor for use in mixed drinks vs. sipping neat. When it comes to making fun cocktails I use decent but not the toppiest of top-shelf liquor because if I'm going to add flavors to the really good stuff, I lose something out of the liquor. I save the best of the best for drinking on its own. Same with wine - I ensure that I cook with something I would drink, but I'm not going to use my cellared bottles for the stew.

                  1. NY Times did a test of red wines in a recipe--cheap, medium and expensive. The cheap wine created the best dish because its "simple" flavor was maintained while the complexity of the other flavors were lost in the cooking process. So I stay at $5 or so at usually get a California cab, since I like its oakey flavor.

                    2 Replies
                      1. re: Norm Man

                        Yes, that's it. 3 years ago...I looked by didn't go that far back Thanks for doing the legwork Norm Man.

                    1. New York Times article a few years back discussed this at great length. The initial reason we or our mothers were taught to not cook with anything you would not drink was that at that time (still?) you could buy stuff called cooking wine. This had salt and other things in it to preserve it once opened. Even if you really like two-buck chuck, you would never ever drink cooking wine.

                      They compared several recipes with red and white wines of various levels and what they found was this: Most of the hard unpleasant edges of a cheap or young wine get smoothed out by the cooking process. On the other hand, most of the delicate complexities of a more expensive, older or "better" wine get somewhat dulled. The quality meets in the middle.

                      Final suggestion was to save your money and that the only time you should use expensive wine is if you have a bottle open already that won't be worth drinking if you don't use it up.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: lrhr

                        One thing that can be confusing is that there's also much less truly "bad" - in the sense of badly made - wine in the world in general today so many people just aren't familiar with the concept of undrinkable wine. It doesn't mean the wine isn't "up to snuff", it means there's something fundamentally wrong with it. Thanks to various UC Davis and its counterparts in other countries, among other things, winemaking has become very "scientific" in the past 30-40 years. It used to be pretty easy to end up with a bottle bad enough to make you spit it out even if you weren't at a tasting. :) These days, on the other hand, it's actually pretty hard to buy truly undrinkable wine at any price point. For that matter, I'd make a small bet that even "cooking wine" is probably drinkable, if utterly dull, before they add the salt that legally takes it out of the "alcoholic beverage" category!

                        1. re: MikeG

                          Also keep in mind that there was a point in time when wines that are unsuitable for cooking had a much larger share of the market. Coq au Concord (think Manischewitz) and Boeuf Boone's Farm are unlikely to make it into the culinary canon anytime soon.

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            Well, that's true, but on the other hand, my UrChowhound mother was already repeating "that old adage" to me when I kid, before Boone's Farm had quite come into existence yet. ;)

                            Thas actually makes me wonder where it all started? Is this bit of kitchen wisdom some sort of 20th century James-Beardian invention, to guide ignorant housewives new to the mysteries of "Wine", or an old French saw translated into English?

                            1. re: MikeG

                              Never mind the Boone's Farm brand; wines made from Catawba and Concord grapes have been around for centuries. Maybe my upbringing was particularly unsophisticated, but it seems like those wines were more prominent a few decades ago. I lack personal knowledge as to how they might affect a finished dish, but it's a fair bet that the results will be appreciably different than if you use a cheap Cab or Merlot.

                      2. Far be it from me to disagree with the NYT, but I do on this. A couple of weeks ago I made a braise using an entire bottle of expensive Barolo -- not my usual cooking wine, but just wanted to see if it made a difference. Man oh man, did it. I didn't tell anyone what wine I'd used, but they all raved about the wonderful flavor of the dish. This is a recipe I've made many times; the only difference was the wine.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: pikawicca

                          There's a difference between what you did and what the Times did, though - their tasting was blind. I'm sure the judges would have preferred the risotto made with a $70 Barolo if it had been identified for them ahead of time. It's human nature. But it wasn't, and the judges preferred the risotto made with a $2 Cabernet.

                          I do not doubt for an instant that great wine can vastly improve a dish. But it does so from a glass, not a saucepan.

                        2. I was taught once to use better wine than some people say and not as good a wine as other say. In other words a wine that is on the cheaper side, but is not undrinkable, is where you want to be.

                          1. The best advice I ever heard on this topic came from David Rosengarten - the ideal cooking wine is something you *could* drink but really wouldn't want to.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: rcurtism

                              Sounds about right. I once made a very nice Coq au Vin with a red wine that.... well, it's wasn't undrinkable, but no one lamented that all but a couple glasses worth went over the chicken.

                            2. It's not important up to a point. Decent wine is good enough, but it should have the correct flavor profile for what you want in the dish. That is to say, if you're making boeuf bourgignon, you could get a run of the mill Bourgogne AC - no need to splurge on a 1er or Grand Cru.

                              My take on this has always been that one of the typical flaws in an expensive bottle is that it has been "cooked." And here, cooked could mean exposed to temps no higher than your kitchen in the summer with no air conditioning. So clearly, boiling it is going destroy the nuances that set apart the great from the good.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: sbp

                                I agree. I make a pork loin with a port sauce that I have also made with a bottle of table red. It was still a good dish, but the port really set it apart. I am also sure there is a consistency difference from the port, too.

                                I make it with the $5 red when it's just us, but I break out the port when company's comin'!

                                1. re: NanH

                                  But a port and red wine have different flavor profiles, as different as using a white for a red. So the taste would be quite different even if you used a more expensive red.

                                  1. re: NanH

                                    That's not an analogous comparision, though. Port and wine are different things.

                                    1. re: mcf

                                      That was the point. I was agreeing with sbp that when she said,

                                      "Decent wine is good enough, but it should have the correct flavor profile for what you want in the dish."

                                      and giving an example.

                                2. My rule is no California chardonnay, because I don't want my food to taste oaky!

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: katecm

                                    This is not a topic upon which I'm knowledgeable but I thought I'd read that CA chards are really getting away from that overwhelming oakiness. No?

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      Dear God, one can only hope! I want to taste some grape, not just the tree!

                                      1. re: NanH

                                        Yeah, I wouldn't know because I avoid them so much. I bought one recently from an excellent cheese shop across from my office (that I usually trust for wine) because it was the only chilled screwcap white they had and it was 70 degrees on a Friday so we needed to escape to the office roofdeck, and four of us didn't finish it. Blech!

                                        1. re: katecm


                                          Here's a little info. I'm sure the wine board has more to say.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Interesting, thanks. I just watched Bottle Shock and couldn't help thinking how sad it was that the California chards we know now must be so different from what swept the competition in France. I'll keep my eyes open for some less oaky ones.

                                  2. I make short ribs and beef stew with Gallo burgundy and they are delicious. I really wouldn't want to waste more expensive wine on these when the burgundy does such a lovely job. I also sometimes use dry white vermouth in lieu of white wine. It's great and Julia Child often recommended it.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                      I also used Gallo Burgundy and Carlo Rossi (owned by Gallo) Burgundy for short ribs, pot roasts, stews, ect. I buy the 1.5 liter glass jugs when on sale. As an added note, I used a combination of wine, stock and water for my braises -- never 100% wine.

                                      1. re: Norm Man

                                        Norm man, me too, the combination of the wine, stock and water makes a delectable sauce.

                                    2. Whoever wrote the recipe you're using should really get into the liquor distribution business. It's hard to get rich as a cookbook author, but Sidney Frank made millions convincing people to buy Grey Goose vodka. The ability to convince people to pay lots more money for the same result is a sign of genius. If you can make them feel smug and superior while doing so, you've got it made.

                                      1. As a former winemaker, and an organic one at that, from a time when it was not yet popular, I'd like to add my two penny.
                                        In the old days they used to say that to make a good vinegar or a good stew one should start with a good wine. But that was a time when there actually were "bad wines. Vintages were much more important as there easily were subpar years when grapes were not fully ripe and the resulting wines were low in alcohol and with poor extracts. So if you used these in cooking you were not providing much flavours to the stew.
                                        This is not the case anymore because , as I like to say, we've made more progress in the past 50 years than in the previous 5 thousand years and thanks to better techniques and practices we almost never have "bad" wines.
                                        Furthermore, by "good wines" we often mean complex and mature wines which have probably shed the tannins and minerals. So it would be just a waste as well as counterproductive to use them for cooking.
                                        So, go for the plonk in the pot but a good wine in the glass.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: pietro

                                          that's exceptionally helpful advice, thanks so much

                                        2. The only quality of a wine that one needs to be concerned with is taste. If it tastes good to you, use it. Thankfully plenty of 10-12 dollar bottles taste fine to me, so that's what I use.

                                          1. I always head for the bottles that are around the 10-15$ mark.
                                            Depending on the dish, go for wines that are appropriate in flavor and acidity.
                                            I would avoid wines that are too oaky.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: hypomyces

                                              But now, after reading all these experience people, we can go for the plonk :) This has been a good lesson for me. Two/Three Buck Chuck, here I come!

                                              1. re: hypomyces

                                                Heck, I head for the 10 to 15 for daily drinking. I shoot for <10 for cooking.

                                                1. re: NanH

                                                  NanH, don't know where u are, here in Quebec, Canada the wine pricing is different from the USA. Wines under 10$ probably cause/cure cancer, can be used as antifreeze, and kill a few brain cells along the way!

                                              2. A few years ago I had an epiphany regarding cooking with white wine. For years I'd been making a rustic but elegant French pork tenderloin with sage and white wine reduction, it's a family fave. The one time I splurged it up and used an expensive Chard, the familiar dish was disappointingly not as good! I don't know the alchemical reason behind it, I just know that a cheap white wine reduces down and leaves a richer wine flavor in this sauce than a subtler, more expensive wine does.

                                                Experimenting with red wines in slow cooked/braised dishes, I found that there was not a real discernible difference in a dish when it was made with a cheap red or when it was made with a more expensive one.

                                                So my personal rule regarding red wines for slow cooking and braising is; "Cheap is fine". And for sauces and reductions using white wines; "Cheaper is BETTER"!

                                                1. I actually don't like very many kinds of wine, but I LOVE it when it's cooked into things. So I don't go with that rule either, the "don't cook with anything you won't drink."

                                                  I've only ever used cheap wine, and it seems to work. I look for those little 4-packs to go on sale so I can get them for cooking. They are putrid to drink but they make great dinners! :)

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: justlearning

                                                    YES! 4-packs of mini-bottles of cheap Chard and Cab are exactly what I buy. One little bottle is usually about the amount a recipe calls for (if not, use 2 little bottles!) This way I don't open a full bottle of wine to only use a portion of it. LOVE those little bottles for exactly this cooking application!

                                                  2. I had this conversation with some people just last weekend. My amendment to it is "Don't drink anything that you CAN'T drink." If it's absolutely undrinkable, don't cook with it. But you're not going to catch me cooking with a $70 Barolo either. That's simply a waste. There are, in fact, a lot of $7 bottles of wine that I'll drink in a pinch, even if I don't prefer them.

                                                    It's like using a top shelf liquor in a mixed drink. Macallan 18 and diet, anyone?

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: egit

                                                      Not many ppl would cook with an 80 dollar wine.

                                                      Or mix macallan with anything. But one should always drink good tequila and rum, because it matters.

                                                    2. After much research, the simple rule in this house has become nice enough to drink, cheap enough that the cook doesn't pause to calculate the cost of an extra splash or two.

                                                      1. I keep a box of red and a box of white on hand for cooking-only tasks. They last a surprisingly long time.