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7 Secrets of Cooking With Wine

Ready to start experimenting with wine cookery? Here are seven basics you should know.

1. Play off the subtle flavors in wine.

Here are some of the subtle food-like flavors that can come through in wine -- which you may want to capitalize on by adding some to dishes containing these foods:

  • White wine: melon, apple, pineapple, pear, citrus, vanilla, caramel, olives, and mushrooms
  • Red wine: berries, peaches, currants, plums, cherries, oranges, chocolate, and coffee

2. Choosing dry vs. sweet

A very dry wine has very few natural sugars remaining, and is usually higher in alcohol. In contrast, the sweeter wines still contain a larger amount of natural sugar from the grapes. So choose the type of wine depending on the flavor you want in the dish you're making.

3. Tannins and acid

"Acid" is a term used to describe both red and white wines, and it refers to the sharp bite in the wine (much like you would experience with lemon juice or vinegar). Acid can help bring out the natural flavors in a mild food, such as fish (this is why fish is often served with an acidic wedge of lemon). Tannins are generally found in red wines; this word refers to the bitter element in the wine (similar to the bitterness you'll find in a strong cup of tea). The tannins in red wine pair well with strongly flavored dishes and hearty foods, like a nice juicy steak. "Tannins will act like palate cleansers when paired with foods high in protein, such as meat," says Marshall Rimann, host of The Wine Cellar, a radio show originating in Kansas City, Mo.

4. What type of wine should be used to cook which type of food?

Generally, it's thought that a light-flavored wine goes best with delicately flavored foods. It would follow that a bold-tasting wine might do well in a boldly flavored dish.

5. Red or white?

Don't be afraid to do your own thing, but generally, light-colored meats like chicken and fish, are paired with light-colored wines (white) while dark-colored meats, like beef, are paired with dark-colored wines (red). What about the "other white meat?" You can serve either red or white with pork, says Rimann. "Red dinner wines go well with hearty or highly seasoned foods, such as beef, pork, game, duck, goose, and pasta dishes, while white dinner wines tend to work with dishes containing chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish, ham, and veal," he says.

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