There are several types of “cooking wines” available on the market today. I thought it would be interesting to go through each with a little bit of a flavor description. The last section is a review of our wines, ACADÉMIE: Quality Wines For Cooking. I discuss the qualities of our wines and why I believe they are such a better option for cooking (and drinkinga glass while you cook).
Round 1: Traditional Cooking Wines
The first class is traditional “cooking wine”. These are low-quality wines with salt added. Cooking wine manufacturers do this so that they don’t have to deal with the regulation and taxes that go with selling real wine.
There are only a few brands available in the US and we tasted one of the major ones – but they are all pretty much the same.
The flavor is pretty bad. It tastes a bit like the San Francisco bay smells at low tide – a very briny sea-creature-like funk that assaults your palate as you take a sip. I actually get no wine flavors in the flavor profile for the white wine. Just salt. And the red wine doesn’t taste much different from the white wine – except for slight hints of wine poking through.
Wow…I really wouldn’t cook with this stuff. Unless, of course, your recipe calls for “Sea creature funk”. This is how the term “cooking wine” became a bad thing and it really is a shame. Wine is an ingredient and we want to cook with quality ingredients. I encourage you to get a bottle of this stuff and try it. People actually buy this stuff??
Round 2: Winesyouwouldneverdrink Cooking Wines
These are all those wines you never really drink but loads of recipes say you should cook with them. By this I mean wines like Sherry, Cream Sherry, Dry Sherry, Madiera, and Marsala. They usually live on the lower shelf in the wine section of your supermarket.
So what do these wines actually taste like? Let’s find out!
Madiera – Distinct green apple notes, sweet and cidery. Medium body. No acidity. No aftertaste (amazing how it just kind of drops off!).
Marsala – Super thick and viscous. Smells like cough syrup and alcohol. In flavor, I get red apple with a cloying sweetness. I also get a bit of the medicinal cough syrup quality in the aftertaste. Wow…I can’t imagine how this would be if you boiled it and reduced it!
Dry Sherry – Nutty notes but otherwise thin and bland. Very watered down tasting.
Cream Sherry – Lots of sweetness with hints of cherries. Not much else.
You aren’t adding much to your food that you can’t get from adding 1) Apple juice, 2) cane sugar, 3) cough syrup, 4) peanut oil to your food.
You aren’t adding any flavors related to quality wine when you add these “wines”. Seriously. Buy a few of these wines and pour yourself a glass. What are they adding to your meal? Cooking with wine should add complexity to your meal. Do these do that?
Round 3: “Off the shelf” wines
I’m not going to go into too much depth on this because it would fill a book. But in general, this is tough work. If you don’t know all about what each varietal of wine has to offer, you’re going to have a tough time figuring out what each wine will add to your cooking.
Even more difficult is knowing how those flavors will change once you cook with them. As you cook, you “reduce” wine and boil off the alcohol – and this causes the flavors to concentrate and change.
People often say that you should cook with a wine you would drink.
But there are three problems with this:
1) Sometimes we like wines that are fairly mild. Take a Chardonnay, for example. It’s not offering too much in the way of flavor aside from perhaps a slight buttery quality. Well…you might as well just cook with butter!
2) Some of the wines we like to drink most, like those huge Cabs with the very pronounced oak and tannins, can actually throw a meal out of balance. The flavors become more pronounced as you cook, and this might be too much for your meal or throw the flavors out of balance.
3) Each wine is different – even if it is the same varietal. The same varietal of wine can vary dramatically depending on the winery. So you can’t just go with “a Sauvignon Blanc” and expect to get the same flavors when you go to cook the meal again with another Sauvignon Blanc. Factors like acidity, aromatics, residual sweetness, etc…all impact the flavors and make each wine different.
Cooking with “off the shelf” wine is hard work!
Round 4: ACADÉMIE: Quality Wines For Cooking
Full disclosure: I may be a bit biased when I compare our wines to others. I started ACADÉMIE because I was frustrated at the lack of *easy* options for those of us who want to cook with a good wine. So I’m just going to share with you how each wine behaves when you cook with it. We do tastings with our wines at events and people get very excited about the flavors. A blog post can partly convey the idea, but it’s best to actually taste them in person. I encourage you to find out when our next tasting is and come see for yourself.
Blend #1: Red Sauces & Meat Dishes (dry red wine): This guy has Pinot Noir as a large component of the blend. With Pinots you get lots of earthy, rustic notes (think truffle, mushroom, black olive). There is also a nice French oak component to the flavor profile that comes through nicely. In the background you’ll get a little bit of red fruit that shines through – think cherries or maybe some strawberries. The aroma kicks off watermelon juice notes and oak with all that other Pinot goodness in there too.
These rustic components concentrate as you cook and become more amplified. Great in anything where you want to emphasize these qualities – steak, red sauces of all sorts, get creative and add it into a dish you like with these components. Or check out the recipe section of our website – www.academiewines.com.
Blend #2: Seafood, Poultry, Pork (dry white wine): This wine is very nice, with lots of lemon/lime and lemongrass qualities. Very dry with a super bright and clean acidity and just a tad of residual sweetness. Although you can’t taste it because everything is in balance, the alcohol is a little higher to act as a tenderizing effect on the meats you may marinate in this wine. The flavor profile is in the Sauvignon Blanc / Pinot Grigio direction – very crisp with a little bit of green apple coming through in the flavor as well.
As you cook with this wine and reduce it, the flavors become more concentrated. The lemon/lime notes get stronger and more tart. A reduction with this wine breathes life into your seafood or any white meat that could use a little brightness. Veal works well with this blend too.
Blend #3: Beef & Poultry Marinades (dry red wine): Ahhh yes, strawberry jam notes with nice sweetness coming through along with a subtle background of acidity and brightness. This is another red wine (Zin is a main component), but is completely different from our Blend #1. Use this in beef and poultry marinades, or anything where you want to emphasize or complement these jammy fruit notes. It works nicely with chicken dishes – I especially think garlic or paprika work really well with it.
Blend #4: Game Bird, Fish & Lamb (dry white wine): Woa, woa, woa! Huge aromatics in this guy. Think white peach, pear, apricot – all naturally forming from the wine itself. People actually ask me if we’ve added flavorings to this wine because it is so aromatic! (which of course we don’t). Very nice light sweetness without being too much or cloying, nice brightness, fantastic aromatics. When you cook with this, you create a sauce that brings an amazing palate of flavors as it concentrates. Everything gets stronger and the aromatics become explosive. Think salmon fillet, lamb (if you want that sweet aromatic dimension instead of a red wine dimension) and game. Or, of course, pour yourself a glass. It’s very nice!
We source our wines from throughout California’s premier wine regions and blend them according to profiles we’ve developed with gourmet chefs. So it’s no wonder that they do so nicely in different types of cooking.
And it’s important to us that our wines taste great, too. They may not be the prototypical varietal blend of any particular style – and to us this isn’t important. What matters are the flavors in the bottle. What qualities will this wine lend to your cooking?
We believe that it’s time to get away from thinking of “cooking wine” as something that is bad. We all spend so much time crafting our family meals from quality ingredients – why would we use anything less than a wine that will make our food taste better?
Help us in our battle! Start cooking with quality wine today!