Grilling and cooking with wine is like adding an additional seasoning to the food you are preparing. Wine has much more flavor and richness than water. When used in cooking and grilling, wine can add many layers of additional flavors and textures to the food. Some dos and don’ts include never use poor quality wine when cooking or grilling. If you wouldn’t drink it, do not use it to cook with. Never use any wine billed for cooking including cooking “sherry”. These are generally very poor quality products with some alcohol and food coloring and will not give the desired result.
If a recipe calls for a dry white wine, I always use Sauvignon Blanc. Although many whites from all over the world will work quite well, Sauvignon Blanc has a fresh herbal flavor that works well with many, many dishes. It is moderately priced and this earthy herbal quality seems to enhance dishes more than other wines. Gewurztraminer, riesling and viognier are fruity wines that are very floral. They all work great with a dish with spicy characteristics. You need to experiment with them to see which wine works best for you. The flavor choice is yours with some working better than others but they will all work quite well with spicy dishes.
You need to match the heartiness with the dish when it comes to big, dry, red wines. When it comes to beef stew or a lamb casserole you need a hearty red wine. A big Zinfandel or a Petite Sirah works best. They are huge wines loaded with fruit that will stand up quite well to these substantial dishes. If you sauté mushrooms, always add some Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir has an earthy characteristic as do the mushrooms. It is a marriage made in heaven.
Do not pass up fortified wines when it comes to cooking! Madeira, Port, Sherry and Marsala are wonderful additives to many dishes. Being fortified wines, unlike wine, they can be left under the counter or on the shelf for long periods of time. Meat casseroles made with Port with its rich sweet, flavor add a great aspect to this dish. Try a ruby port with a meet casserole. The rich sweet, wine flavor will make it a big hit! My oldest brother Gene had a great grill recipe for New York strip steaks. He would cut an x on a fresh potato and add a small dab of Port wine and then add a half pat of butter and put it on the grill at about 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until the interior is soft and done with a crisp skin. He would then take a 12 to 16 ounce sirloin steak that had been soaked for one hour in a solution of ½ ounce of Jack Daniel’s and 2.5 ounces of zinfandel. (I always use Cigar Zin that does have an earthy tobacco flavor I love and then serve the wine with the steak.) He would lightly pepper (no salt) and paint a light high quality olive oil on one side he wanted to sear with the grill at about 350 degrees. He would put the olive oil side down and poor the remaining marinade and meet juice over the top of the up side and after about 1.5 to 2 minutes flip and cook until medium rare (red warm center). Try it! You will be glad you did!
Ray Spaziani is the Chapter Director of the New Haven Chapter of the American Wine Society. He teaches wine appreciation classes at Gateway Community College, The Milford Board of Ed and at Moltose Wine and Beer supply and is a member of the International Tasting Panel of Amenti Del Vino and Wine Maker Magazine. He is an award winning home wine maker. Email Ray with your wine questions and wine events at Ray.Spaziani@gmail.com.