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Cooking with wine - does it need to be good?

Julia Child is attributed with the line about 'not cooking with wine that you wouldn't drink'. In 2007, the NYT did their own "test kitchen" of cooking with some very cheap, unappetizing sipping wines as well as very expensive bottles and found that both the "gross" wine and the high quality wine both made tasty food.

Personally, I am of the camp of cheap wine for cooking. Opinions of others? Any stories of cooking with cheap, meh wine and not producing good food?

(The NYT article for those interested, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/21/din...)

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  1. You can cook with cheap wine, but it should be drinkable, not something foul. And if you have corked wine, you can in most cases bring it to a boil, and the corked smell (TCA) will dissipate. If it does, fine; if it doesn't, don't cook with it.

    1. Cheap wine != Bad wine, and a bad wine is not just a wine you do not like, but a wine with "technical badness" (corked, cooked, ... )

      Cook with wine you can drink.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Maximilien

        While I agree that there is a false equivalence between cheap wine and bad wine - the NYT article played with making risotto with a Barolo and with Two Buck Chuck (and a third in between wine) and put them up to a blind taste test. The Two Buck Chuck risotto was agreed to be best.

        So while yes "bad wine" is largely talking about corked, over headed, etc - the article did talk about cooking with wines that were not great sipping wines.

        1. re: Maximilien

          I am in the cook with the wine you can drink camp. I started keeping a decent dry vermouth on hand for recipes that call for white wine. I didn't read the article but the concept makes sense to me, I cannot believe that a $50 bottle produces a better dish than a $10 (or less) bottle.

        2. Agree with the below. I'm not going to cook with a $50.00 bottle of wine, but I don't use highly-salted "cooking wine" either. I have no problem using a 3 dollar red to deglaze, etc. Would I serve it to guests? Prob not, but for deglazing, rock on.

          1. The usual advice is to use something you would be happy to drink.

            I cook with wine (and eat the food) but no longer drink alcohol. Therefore, I cook with what is in the house - and rely on the assumption that my partner drinks something she'd be happy for me to cook with.

            1. A wine cost in consideration of cooking is one thing, but I'm in the camp that you should LIKE the taste of the wine if you're going to cook with it. Same with liquors.

              I'd use a quality balsamic vinegar over a tasteless wine even.

              1. I've cooked with some pretty rank wine (dregs from a black box that had been sitting on the counter for six months) and thought the food turned out good.

                I actually bought a little bottle of the salted cooking sherry not long ago because I'm trying to quit drinking and don't want drinkable wine in the house. It's also ok to me in small quantities.

                1. Interesting, considering that other thread.
                  Cook with wine one would drink. If you don't like the wine, don't cook with it.
                  Which is what I see being said on this thread, but not the other.
                  As for cheap wine, if you like it, then cook with it. If you don't, well, then, don't.

                  1. I cook with wine that is OK to drink while cooking, but not serve to guests.

                    1. I might actually regret admitting this fact however since this is the internet and none of you really know me what the heck.

                      Carlo Rossi.....$14.95-ish a gallon. Cab, Merlot, Burgundy, Sangria and a few white's as well. Very solid table wine and delicious cooking wine, best of both worlds.

                      You do NOT need to use premium wine to cook with.

                      1. I think it would depend upon the the dish too. Take for example a predominantly wine based sauce, I would use a nice wine, one I would drink.

                        1. For me, that is not a very high bar and I'm happy drinking pretty cheap wines. I would toss out an obviously bad wine, of course.

                          I do enjoy nicer wines (up to a point) but for some reason that hasn't diminished my ability to drink cheap plonk.

                          1. I agree with most of the comments here, but am leaving my own take anyway:
                            I usually cook with wine I'd drink (doesn't have to be the best, just drinkable), and wouldn't use anything too expensive since I feel that some of the nuances of the wine get lost in the cooking (or else my tastebuds and/or brain's a bit wonky).

                            1. There's a HUGE difference between "cheap wine" & "bad wine".

                              While we're not oenophiles by any means, we buy nice, decently-priced, wines for drinking enjoyment. For the kitchen, I always have inexpensive California wines on hand - usually Gallo Chablis & Pinot Grigio for whites; Gallo Burgundy, Merlot, &/or Chianti for reds. All work wonderfully in any recipe calling for wine, & while they may be "cheap", they're certainly not "bad".

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Bacardi1


                                You should never use any ingredient that has a strong foul flavor, but using cheap drinking wine is absolutely fine to cook with -even if you dont care to drink the cheap wine by itself. By the time you mix in SALT, pepper, tomato paste, herb, etc... The subtle decent wine characteristics are GONE. I am amazed at the home cooks that do not use common sense about this issue. There is no point in paying anything over ten bucks for a wine to add to a meat braise where you add salt to it. Duh.

                                1. re: sedimental

                                  And those are sentiments from whom, Sedimental?

                                  Just curious,


                              2. I often use inexpensive wines, like the Peachy Canyon East Side Zinfandel, to cook with, and also drink, as I cook. Same for a few others. Inexpensive @ between US $10 - 12/btl., but not "cheap."


                                1. Cooking with wine - does it need to be good?


                                  1. The problem is the definition of "good wine".

                                    Some people are happy drinking two buck chuck, and some people have developed palates for fine wine. The latter group may have a definition of good wine that doesn't overlap with the first group.

                                    I have encountered non spoiled, commercially produced wines that were so terrible that they made two buck chuck taste like a fine vintage (tip of the day - don't drink Taiwanese red wine). I wouldn't drink it or use it for food preparation of any sort. I would use two buck chuck for cooking, but would not choose to drink it (I wouldn't buy it for drinking, and I would avoid it if possible while socializing).

                                    I've done some cooking for very old cook books (Form of Cury, for example) and there I define 'good wine' as 'not turned to vinegar yet' based on the fact that wine in those days was stored in barrels, and often pretty rank.

                                    I think it does make a difference how important a part of the dish the wine is. The risotto recipe mentioned here uses 1 cup of wine to 6 cups of chicken stock, so a meh wine is still a secondary component of the recipe. If you're making coq a vin, however (two bottle of wine to two cups chicken stock), then the quality of the wine will make more of a difference, and can turn a dish from okay to great, and back again.