Cooking with Wine? Why not! There are scores of ways in which wine is useful in the kitchen, but very few of them indeed call for particularly good-quality wine, and no way is more important than that of refreshing the cook!
Cooking also calls for all sorts of awkward quantities of wine, usually considerably less than a full bottle. Some people keep a ‘cooking wine’ bottle by the stove regularly topped up with leftovers from different bottles.
The trouble with this is that any mixture of air and wine rapidly turns to a fairly unappetizingly vinegary liquid. It is important, therefore, to keep cooking wine well stoppered in a container that is always almost full. You may need a range of different sized bottles for this. Simpler perhaps is to use the new cans which hold just two glassfuls of wine, or wine boxes with their self-deflating bags, for cooking and casual drinking. The contents of these should keep fresh enough to cook with for months.
In most forms of cooking with wine, the liquid is transformed fairly dramatically from its original state. This is particularly true when wine is used in the reduction of a savory sauce, or as part of a poaching liquid. It is precisely the boiling down of the wine that concentrates its flavor and gives the sauce or poaching liquid its rather luxurious taste. In such circumstances, the nuances of a fine, delicate wine are quickly lost and all that is needed is a fairly robust wine.
Professional chefs often use the very dark, heady reds of North Africa for cooking, even though they would never choose to drink them. This is presumably because they have lots of extract. Inexpensive Spanish red might be a suitable substitute, while a very basic dry white table wine, perhaps the sort of vin de table that is often put into boxes, would be fine as a cooking wine. Germanic wines with their sweetness and very floral aroma can seem too vapid for cooking savoury dishes, though a dry Riesling from Alsace is a classic poaching liquid for some fish and fowl.
For a wine jelly, quality is more important because the wine is not heated too violently. The sweet wine in a fruit aspic, for instance, should be fairly good, as should be a wine forming part of a juice for fresh fruit. Wines are naturally high in acids and can easily be substituted for vinegar or lemon juice in salad dressing -making it a better partner for any wine drunk with it than the more usual source of acidity for salads.