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Off The Vine

Wine is great as an added ingredient

Every once in a while I get asked about the use of wine in cooking. While not a great chef, I do understand the power a judicious bit of wine adds to elegant cuisine of all types and styles.

Wine is a condiment and should be used to enhance and bring the inherent flavor of a certain dish to its highest level of deliciousness. It is just as bad to use too much wine in a dish as to use too little.

The rule of thumb is this; If the dish tastes like wine or tastes as if wine was added, this is too much wine. Wine should add crispness, acidity and/or dark berry flavors or a certain spiciness or toastiness from oak maturation to those dishes requiring these magic touches.

If the food tastes like a glass of Chardonnay, this is not good. This taste belongs in a glass not on the plate. I&

m going to give you a list of wines and break down some very interesting uses these wines have with various dishes from around the world. Here we go:

Sauvignon Blanc. Well, I&

m not a fan of Sauvignon Blanc for cooking. This white wine tends to reduce out to a combination of herbal flavors that can become &

weedy&

on the cooked nose. These herbal flavors can really take away any nuance in a delicate seafood dish, for example.

Best to go with a dry Semillon Blanc from Washington State, Napa Valley or from Bordeaux, France. These wines can really bring up the crispness of any steamed clam dishes by introducing about four tablespoons to a pint of water. I think it is best to add the wine just as the water is beginning to steam. Semillon is also very good in steaming crab, for the same reasons.

Chardonnay. I like the flavor of Chardonnay for cooking, especially Chardonnay with an oak backbone. Try three tablespoons of Chardonnay per pint of bean or vegetable soup. The oak spiciness of Chardonnay is delicious with simmering beans and adds a crispness to the soup that is very satisfying. This is also true with French onion soup. A hint of Chardonnay with the broth is a secret that many chefs will not divulge but it is well worth the experiment. Again, be careful with Chardonnay for a very little bit goes a long way. Less is more!

Pinot Gris. Here comes another big secret on the wine/cuisine trail! For Bolognese sauces, meat sauces, use Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris) to brown the meat for the sauce. Add the vino a few minutes before the browning is completed and stir in with the meat. Stir until the wine has evaporated. I&

d use two ounces per pound and let the white wine add acid to the dish and to bring out the meat flavors. To reduce the acids, if needed, add milk after the Pinot Gris has evaporated. I never use red wine for meat sauces because I feel, ironically, that red wine is too powerful for this meat, meant to be eaten with pasta or polenta, and can overwhelm its flavors.

Gewuerztraminer. Mostly spicy and dry, this is the wine for Asian cuisine. I have tasted splendid curry dishes as well as Thai food just explode with flavor when this wine has been introduced to steamed rice or noodles. Stir fry with a splash of Gewuerztraminer is a wonder and marries perfectly with ginger and other Asian spices.

Sherry. Dry sherry is a marvelous addition to all kinds of lighter meat dishes, especially chicken. Again, with stir fry and Asian cuisine, sherry is just the thing. Use sherry sparingly, about half the amount of any other wine as it is very perfumed and rich. The Spanish Manzanilla sherries are perfect to cook with.

Barbera. This is the perfect meat simmering wine. Always blend Barbera or any other red wine with stock before introducing to the meat simmering dish. The longer the wine/stock is in contact with the meat the more the taste of the wine will be introduced into the flavor of the dish. Try using a wine/stock marinade for steak or pork chops the night before you grill. This type of marinade is wonderful for the grill and adds terrific, rich layers of taste to meat of all kinds.

Well, these are a few of my favorite wines to cook with. Have fun and remember to use dry wines, not sweet wines for non dessert dishes, and you will be on the right track. See you next time!