Quality wine makes a difference in cooking

"I always cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food".

Pears poached in red wine served with Champagne sorbet
Pears poached in red wine served with Champagne sorbet

A famous quote from the American comedian and writer W C Fields, which perfectly highlights the two ways in which wine helps in the kitchen. There is a mass of information around now on food and wine pairing when it comes to sitting down to a meal, but a lot less about which wines to use in cooking.

There are many recipes which include wine as one of the ingredients and the flavours of many dishes are greatly enhanced with the addition of a little wine during their preparation. With some dishes, the actual wine used does not have to be very specific. For making a good Italian risotto, for example, any white wine will be fine, so long as it is dry. But for others, the type of wine, and certainly the quality, can have a significant effect on the final flavours produced.

A favourite fish recipe of mine, inspired by Raymond Blanc, involves a sauce based on proper fish stock made from the bones and head. Once the stock is made, it is mixed half and half with white wine, and then reduced to about 20 per cent of the original volume. The quality of the wine involved dramatically changes the final flavour. I once used a bottle of Chablis Grand Cru and the outcome was spectacular. Deep, unctuous, complex flavours which made the fish dish quite spectacular. In view of the price of this wine, it is not something you repeat too often, but using a good wine with plenty of body and flavour is highly recommended.

Another dish which has year around appeal is Coq au Vin - one of Catherine’s, my French wife, specialities. It is a simple casserole of chicken cooked in red wine and since my wife is from Bordeaux, guess where the red wine she uses comes from? Normally she will use a half decent Saint Emilion, but her best ever was made with a bottle of Chateau Lynch Bages from Pauillac in the Medoc. The wine was 30 years old, and although it was past its best in terms of drinking, it made a sublime sauce for the chicken, with deep, satisfyingly concentrated flavour.

And for those warm Summer days or evenings, what better than a dish of pink champagne sorbet? A wonderfully decadent dessert which is surprisingly easy to make. The recipe involves sugar syrup, pink grapefruit, lemon juice and, of course, a bottle of champagne. It doesn’t have to be pink, but it does have to be champagne. Sparkling wine just won't do. I have also seen a recipe idea for Prosecco lollies, but personally, I'll stick to the champagne sorbet.