If it’s Not Good Enough to Drink, it’s Not Good Enough to Cook With

It has long been a maxim among foodies, and those who like their drink, that if a wine’s so bad that you wouldn’t want to drink it, you should just bin it rather than relegating it to the cook’s cupboard.

We’ve all done it, though – that dodgy white that your teetotal aunt buys you every Christmas typically ends up in a turkey risotto sometime between Christmas Day and New Year. It gets used up, the risotto’s bearable and no-one gets hurt. It’s the same with a glug of rough red in a Bolognese sauce – it adds a bit of flavour but not so much that you notice the roughness… You wouldn’t, however, tell your wine buff chums that the pasta they’re chowing down has Grape Treader’s Choice Economy Red in because they’d most likely never darken your door again.

So, does this piece of epicurean wisdom hold up, or is it, in fact, foodie snobbery?

It seems it’s the latter, which may come as a shock. There’s a proviso, however – the dish you’re cooking should ideally be one that takes a long time to cook, like a Bolognese sauce, or even coq au vin. You can also get away with it if it’s something that’s cooked at a high temperature, like a risotto.

Basically, any cooking process that boils or evaporates out the alcohol tends to mask, denature or combine the nasty compounds to the extent that you just don’t notice them anymore. The wine just melds with the other ingredients to deepen the taste a bit without making itself too prominent.

This is great news, unless you’re cooking something that doesn’t take long – say mussels in white wine. Likewise something subtle, like a syllabub, will not be forgiving with a corked dessert wine.

To be on the safe side, however, when you’re using wine in cooking, follow the recipe – don’t use a very sweet wine when you need a dry one, for example, as you just can’t boil off those sugars.