If you can’t drink it don’t cook with it right? Right! But that doesn’t mean you need to cook with the wine you are drinking, ah-ha!
Rules to follow
First off, never, ever…ever, ever, ever, buy anything labeled “Cooking Wine”. Unless you jones for that bitter, flat, vinegar rush.
On the other end of the spectrum; cooking with a $20-$50 bottle of wine is, (in this cooks mind), a complete waste of money. Kinda like sauteing with extra virgin olive oil. Wine is alive and only heated to around 70 degrees, then it starts to die soon after 100. Cooking wine, destroys all that the winemaker has tirelessly worked to achieve. Those delicate nuances that shift and change, open and develop, making it an “experience”…hopefully.
Can using a good wine make a sauce better? Yes, but I have a budget to stay under so I’d rather drink the good stuff and cook with a lower quality wine.
There are a couple great options for low cost wine. Charles Shaw (2 buck chuck) at Trader Joe’s, or, Big Kahuna at Fresh and Easy are both $2 bottles and usually very drinkable. There are some caviates if you use them as drinking wine. They have zero shelf life, (so don’t buy too many) and quality varies from batch to batch/year to year. If you didn’t like it last year, give it another shot; they stay inexpensive because the wine makers change up where the grapes come from depending on price.
You’d be surprised how well these wines do in a blind taste test going up against $15 and under bottles; 3 times now they’ve come in the top 3 of 10-16 bottles.
As for cooking with these wines, remember that a small pinch of sugar can go a long way if there is too much acidity. This isn’t cheating, this is chemistry.
So remember, if price is no option then none of this matters; but if you’re like me and hate to waste money. There are wonderful inexpensive substitutes to take advantage of…and that’s exactly what you should do.