The best wines for cooking your favourite food

The most useful tip for choosing the best wines to cook with is to never select one you wouldn’t put in your glass. If you wouldn’t drink it, then don’t cook with it!

Wine is pretty much indispensable when it comes to cooking. It adds depth and richness to dishes that can’t be achieved using stock or water. Bad wine gets worse in the pan and could spoil your dish, so be selective and don’t stick with those labelled ‘cooking wine’.

Decent quality wines

Most decent quality wines will work for cooking, but there are things you must avoid. While some dishes will specify a sweet wine, for example, it doesn’t suit most recipes. Those wines labelled cooking wines are usually imbalanced. This is because they concentrate the sugars within the wine, which makes reds taste thick and jammy and whites syrupy.

Avoid wines that are heavily oaked, as this can turn into bitterness when cooked. Wines that are very full-bodied threaten to overwhelm a dish as they reduce in the heat of cooking. You should instead opt for wines with a sharp acid, as this provides a counterbalance to any rich, deep flavours in the food.

White wines for cooking

Good white wines for cooking include Pinot Grigio, Grillo, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet and Albarino. Those that should be avoided include Gewurztraminer, Semillon, Marsanne and Viognier.

Try Stemmari 2917 Grillo (Sicilia), with its fresh and fragrant flavour profile that includes tropical fruit and white wild flower. A salinity adds something to its lemon and grapefruit taste. A Californian Sauvignon Blanc from Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi is also a great choice for a cooking wine. It’s full of spice, with herby flavours encapsulated in a light, crisp dry white. Fennel bulb and hints fo lemon gives this a delicious twist, and it adds tang to a rich dish.

Red wines for cooking

Pinot Noir is a good all-rounder as a cooking wine. This is due to its ability to provide structure, freshness and balance to a dish. It has a pleasing richness, but never feels too heavy. As well as Pinot Noir, you could try a Chianti, selected Cabernet Sauvignon wines or Barbera. These have high acidity and the fresher styles of Cabernet Sauvignon give a deep, oaky flavour to a dish.

Among those best to avoid when it comes to creating the ideal dish are Grenache, Zinfandel, Grenache and Beaujolais Nouveau. This is because their hard-hitting berry flavours often transform into too much sweetness when cooked. If you don’t have a corresponding acidity in the dish to balance out this sweetness, it could knock the balance off.

Rosé wines for cooking

You won’t find too many recipes that specifically ask for a rosé, but you could substitute it for whites. It will add more wine and fruity flavours to your dish. If you want to substitute for red, you could try Tavel, which is the only rosé that would hold up to the deeper flavours.

Seek out dry rosés from France, Portugal and the West Coast of the US. Their crispness and mineral salinity work beautifully for cooking and drinking.

Which wines for Christmas dinner?

With Bonfire Night out of the way, it’s time to look ahead towards Christmas. And that includes what to eat, what to wear and what to drink. Tis the season for people to enjoy their favourites, whether that’s a glass of fizz with Christmas Day breakfast or a rose with dinner. But it’s also a good idea to think about what will really complement your Christmas dinner.

Traditional turkey

For many people, it just wouldn’t be Christmas dinner without a turkey. It’s a tradition that stretches as far back as the 16th century in the UK, although it was Queen Victoria who made it a staple at the festival dinner table a bit later on.

The main characteristics of turkey are the delicate, low fat white meat. There is no powerful flavour and it must be cooked carefully to retain its juices. For this reason, a great choice to go with your bird is a full-bodied white wine. Choose one with relatively high acidity and low to medium tannin.

Why tannin is the enemy

Tannin doesn’t work with a traditional Christmas dinner because a lack of fat in the meat gives nothing to soften it. This is why the wine can easily taste harsh and accentuated. The saltiness of the food can also increase the bitterness of the tannin flavour.

Of course, you’re not just matching your wine with the meat. You also need to consider the complex accompaniments that generally go with Christmas dinner. These range from the bitterness of dark greens and brussel sprouts to the sweetness of cranberry sauce and saltiness of bacon.

Choose white for Christmas dinner

Many people ignore whites when it comes to Christmas dinner. But a full-bodied Chardonnay can be a real delight. It works particularly well with a well-cooked turkey and traditional side dishes, such as bread sauce. An oaky richness gives off notes of sweet spice, and the creaminess of the acid helps drier meat taste better.

Look for a decent Chardonnay from the same regions you’d find a good Pinot Noir. For example, White Burgundy from the Cote de Beaune region tends to please everyone.

You’re looking for high levels of acidity and minerality to help cleanse your palate, which will help people enjoy the richness of the meal more. Other great examples can be found in New Zealand. Try the Kumeu River Chardonnays which are from an area near Auckland for a delicious white.

Remember that it’s never too early to stock up in time for Christmas. And if you find yourself burdened with a few too many bottles, you can always enjoy them in the run-up to the festive period!

Wine ideas for Christmas gifts

All kinds of alcohol are associated with Christmas. From a glass of fizz to start the day, through to delicious wines with dinner and a tot of whisky for a nightcap. There are parties to enjoy, special dinners to eat and people to catch up with. And, of course, there are gifts to buy.

We may be a couple of months away from Christmas, but it’s never too early to think about gifts for loved ones. Or to put on your own Christmas list! Here are a few ideas that could make someone happy in time for the festivities this year.

A classic with a twist

Moët have a limited edition out this year with their French Art-de-Vivre. You can’t beat a bit of this classic fizz to toast Christmas and the New Year, and this bottle of Moët Impérial Blanc comes with a beautifully designed label. The golden outline of the Eiffel Tower adds a bit of special sparkle and means it’s lovely to look at as well as to drink. A bottle of Moet is opened every single second around the world, so you won’t be on your own if you choose this version as a gift this Christmas!

A South African red

Choose a red wine from the Bouchard Finlayson vineyard in the popular wine region of Walker Bay in the Western Cape of South Africa, for something very special. The principal winemaker is called Peter Finlayson and is known as “the Pioneer of Pinot Noir”, which means his Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2003 must be good. It’s a deep, rich aromatic red packed with fruit, and it’s perfect served up with the Christmas turkey.

An ideal decanter

Not a wine, but guaranteed to improve it, the Riedel Decanter is the newest version of the mamba decanter. Ideally designed for young, fresh wines, it’s made of crystal glass and is mouthblown in Austria. Each one is differently shaped, and they’re all gorgeous.

A sparkling pudding wine

There’s always plenty of fizz flowing at Christmas. For a special treat, try Ca’del Bosco, Cuvée Prestige. Ideal for wine-lovers looking to try something a bit different, this sparkler has spicy notes of oregano and spearmint mingling with heavier tones of almonds and honeydew melon. The uniquely aromatic flavour profile makes it ideal for dessert.

How to match wine with the weather

While the summer of 2018 has been long, hot and dry, winter is coming. And colder evenings mean staying in with a good film, takeaway and a delicious glass of wine. The most popular wines to savour when it’s chilly outside are full-bodied, rich wines. You want to choose a wine that will warm you up and enhance long winter evenings in front of fireplace. Here are a few of our favourites.

Cabernet Sauvignon

If you’re looking for the ideal red wine for cold weather, a Cabernet Sauvignon is always a reliable choice. People who enjoy bold flavours and a heavier wine will love a Cab Sauv, with rich, fruity, plummy vibe. Some also have a herbal flavour, and others a hint of coffee, toast, dill or caramel. All of these flavours are wintery and comforting. A great food paring for a good Cab Sauv is a juicy, perfectly cooked steak.

Syrah

This red has a deep flavour with hints of coffee, blueberry and cured meats. Its richness goes well with foods like seasoned Shitake mushrooms and lamb. If you’re throwing a winter dinner party, pair lamb with Syrah and surprise your guests with a meal they won’t forget.

Zinfandel

While winter doesn’t normally go with fruity, fresh flavours, you should make an exception for Zinfandel. With its ripe crispness and versatility in pairings and aroma, it’s a great choice. Whether you choose a fruity and fresh lower alcohol version, or a sweet, jammy ripely flavoured version, there’s a Zinfadel for everyone.

It goes beautifully with savoury winter food, including lasagne and pasta dishes. The sweet flavour picks out the flavours of cheese or a chocolatey dessert too.

Petite Sirah

One of the richest wines you can choose and packed with flavour. Petite Sirah is full of dark, plump fruit flavours like cassis, prunes and plum, it mixes really well with chocolate and coffee. It’s a holiday style wine, with hints of Christmas and cold winter evenings.

Chardonnay

We haven’t left out the white wines, which can be just as lovely in the winter. Chardonnay is the perfect wine to go with lots of comforting winter food such as butter mashed potato and stew. Its fruity and dry flavour is the perfect opposite to the richness of the food.

Pinot Gris

Another good winter white, Pinot Gris is ideal for meal in the colder months. The Italian version tends to be more summery, with its crisp and light flavours. The Alsace version has much stronger flavours, which powerfully remind you of both autumn and winter. Lovely with stews all the way through the colder months.

How to spot a corked wine

If you’ve ever tasted a glass of wine that seemed a little ‘off’, but you weren’t sure why, then it could have been corked. Everyone has heard of corked wine, but many people don’t know exactly what it means, or know how to recognise it.

Around 5% of all wine around the world is thought to be corked, which can mean an unpleasant drinking experience for you, and perhaps a ruined meal or two. The first thing to do is sniff the bottle before you taste. If it smells normal, then give it a taste. You’re looking for fresh, strong flavours that are untainted by oxygen or yeast. If it is corked, then you should take it back or inform the waiter and expect it to be replaced. Here’s how to spot whether your wine is corked.

  1. Sniff it

If your wine is corked, you’ll notice an odour straight away. It will smell musty, or reminiscent of wet dog, wet newspaper or damp towels. Your first inhalation is the most reliable indicator, as later sniffs can get used to the smell. Trust your first sniff! Wine becomes corked when exposed to a compound called ‘2,4,6-Trichloroanisole’, more commonly called TCA. This is found in the cork itself.

  1. Taste it

If your wine has only been slightly exposed to a small amount of TCA, the sniff test may not be enough to tell you for sure whether it’s corked. Give it a taste and see whether it seems dull and less fruity than it should be. Some people pick up an astringency from corked wine. A wine that has only been slightly corked can lack taste and smell.

  1. Test it before serving

If you’re eating out, then make sure you’re allowed to taste the wine before it’s served to everyone else. This gives you the chance to send it back if it is corked and order a replacement.

  1. Don’t confuse other problems with being corked

Just because your wine seems a little off, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s corked. Other factors could have affected the taste. For example, if the wine is exposed to oxygen it can taste lifeless and a bit vinegary. Maderised wine means it has been overheated and has a flavour tinged with almonds. It’s also possible that the wine was re-fermented, which causes a fizzy sensation and flavour.