Dear Lisa: I don't know much about wine, so when I have a recipe that calls for it as an ingredient, I don't really know what to use. Can you give me some suggestions and tips for cooking with wine? Thanks. -- Bill K.
Dear Bill: Using wine in recipes adds unique flavor elements such as acidity and depth of flavor. While you don't need to be an expert, there are a few guidelines that will serve you well in determining what type of wine to use.
When you cook with wine, you concentrate the wine's flavor and cook off most of the alcohol.
An inferior or past-its-prime wine will never improve a recipe. Don't be tempted to use an old or out-of-favor wine you never got around to drinking. Instead, cook with something you enjoy or one that has a flavor that will enhance the meal.
That said, if you prefer sweet wines, they are rarely optimal choices for cooking. Use them only if the recipe specifically calls for those varietals.
Likewise, steer clear of so-called "cooking wines." They contain a lot of salt, taste awful and essentially add an inferior ingredient to your dish.
Young fruity wines have the most to offer. White wines such as pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc are crisp and acidic and bring desirable flavor elements. Be aware that strong whites such as well-oaked chardonnays can become bitter upon cooking, so use them with caution.
Red wines add bright berry flavors and acidity. Look for pinot noirs andmMerlots and avoid highly tannic reds such as cabernet sauvignons, which can become flinty upon cooking.
Wine should be added to the recipe at the point when it has the opportunity to cook down and marry with the other ingredients.
Avoid adding wine at the end of the cooking process. It will probably taste raw and add a strong essence of alcohol to the food.
• Lisa Fritz, a longtime Bryan food and nutrition educator, answers readers' questions about food, cooking and recipes. Her email address is email@example.com.