What are some decent, relatively inexpensive wines that I can cook with?
September 29, 2004 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Oenophiler. Comments in recent cooking-related threads have indicated that one shouldn't cook with wine one wouldn't drink. I don't, in general, drink wine; nor do I know much about it. What are some winemakers whose wines are relatively inexpensive and of decent quality?

If it will affect your answers I'm asking this with cooking, not drinking, in mind.
posted by kenko to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
you get what you pay for, more or less. so choose your price.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:56 PM on September 29, 2004

maybe a better way to phrase that is to say: buy whatever is being sold at a reduced price (but don't spend less. so you end up buying a better wine than you would otherwise get).
posted by andrew cooke at 2:04 PM on September 29, 2004

I disagree on the price thing.

If you're looking for reds, try an Australian Cab Sauv for cooking. Penfolds is the brand I prefer. They also have good merlots and shirazes. I find all types of Penfolds at under $10/bottle.

If you're looking for white, .. Chardonnay is what I usually use.

A good thing to keep in mind is that better wine has a vinyard name on it. So you'll have Penfold's wine, and it'll be a "2002 Rawson's Ridge Merlot", for instance, as opposed to just "2002 Merlot". Another one of my favorites is "Rodney Strong 2001 Chalk Hill Chardonnay" (Although the 2000 was a bit dryer...) as opposed to "2001 Chardonnay".

Real wine, unlike cooking wine, will go sour quickly if you open it and leave it in the fridge... possibly within 3 days, so either learn to drink it and like it or learn to use a lot of it. I usually cook with good wine when I have guests and serve the wine with the meal.
posted by SpecialK at 2:11 PM on September 29, 2004

(Side note: For all wine snobs: Penfold's 2002 Koonunga Hills Cab/Shiraz blend was on sale at Natures last night for $7.99 ... That's about $2 off. It's astoundly drinkable as a nice fall evening wine for that price.)
posted by SpecialK at 2:12 PM on September 29, 2004

I've always wondered if there are any good wines that cater to cooks by bottling in smaller bottles, something on the order of a pint, say. Because although I like wine, my wife doesn't really care all that much for it most of the time and it's pretty rare that between the dish and myself we'll consume a bottle of wine. In the most drastic case I only need a few table spoons of wine for something, in the ordinary case, a cup or two.

I second australian red wines. Quite a few that I like.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:16 PM on September 29, 2004

can you not buy 4-packs of small bottles in the usa? they're available here in chile. i buy them in case i just want a glass the night before leaving town, for example. (there's not much range, but it's good enough to drink when there are no guests :o)
posted by andrew cooke at 2:30 PM on September 29, 2004

if you have a nice selection available in your area, amazing bottles can be found under $12. ask the staff, many have regular tastings. do taste it, as then you know if it goes with what you are cooking. (a light simple red for just adding liquid for tomato bases, a clean white for lighter fare, if it's earthy it goes with--blah blah--)
wine isn't really so hard and mysterious as people make it out to be, and simple guides are to be found (i'm guessing mag sourced sites, my old refs are gone) and many "lifestyle" magazines have reccomendations and pages of just such things annually.

example: legs= the lines of the alcohol running down the side of the glass/ higher alcohol content= "it's got legs!"

with what i think you mean, you could use a blend or any simple table wine. just stay away from cooking wine (salt added, crap) and things with added flavors.
more specific later if you like

personally not a fan of germans (rather they run trains and make engines) and i'm waiting to try the fat bastard)

on preview
K: but then you have custom vinegar
posted by ethylene at 2:33 PM on September 29, 2004

They've been putting more respectable wines in boxes lately, which is great for those who want an occasional glass with dinner or need a small amount for a recipe, but who wouldn't normally finish a bottle in time. Behind the self-sealing spout, the wine is vacuum-packed in a plastic bladder, so it stays good much longer.
posted by Tubes at 2:33 PM on September 29, 2004

Look, when you put wine into food, you're not going to taste many of those subtle flavours wine snobs keep talking about. (And I'm not a wine snob.) And depending on the dish, the alcohol may burn off during cooking anyway.

Someone once told me this: Don't use really cheap wine, and don't use really expensive wine.

One step up from table wine is a good start. See if that works for you. Then try the same recipe with a more expensive wine and conduct a blind testing session to find out if anyone can tell the difference. :)
posted by madman at 3:31 PM on September 29, 2004

andrew: Unfortunately, the only wines I've ever seen in the cute little single-serve bottles in the USA are made by Sutter Home, which is, uh, not the best. It's probably one step above the stuff Walter Matthau brought Sophia Loren in Grumpy Old Men.

Single serve bottles of decent wine would be a boon for people like me. I hate throwing out bottles of wine a week after I have a glass or two.
posted by calistasm at 3:44 PM on September 29, 2004

"One shouldn't cook with wine one wouldn't drink," yes, but very very few wines out there are downright bad. Just buy an actual bottle of wine (as opposed to the "cooking wine" you see in grocery stores that usually is stocked near the vinegar and oil) and you should be fine. I'll typically buy wines anywhere between $10 and $25 for drinking, but for cooking with I usually limit myself to the $5-$7 range, and there are plenty of perfectly acceptable wines in that range. For a white, I like Talus Pinot Grigio. For red wines, I don't have a specific brand recommendation, but it's hard to go wrong with an Australian Shiraz.

The one exception I'd make is not to use a Sauvignon Blanc (unless a recipe specifically calls for it). It has a flavor commonly described as "grassy" which many people don't like, if they're unfamiliar with it. (I didn't like it at all the first time I tried it. Now, I love the stuff.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:52 PM on September 29, 2004 [1 favorite]

right on with a good specific, advocate.
if you know you want "earthy" (like a barbaresco, musty, mushroomy, blah, etc.), "fruity", "sweet"-- a dessert or a savory dish?
wine temperature controls the sweetness as well and cooking on heat removes alcohol.
experiement liberally with some 5 buck bottle on sale and use the rest with juices and fruit and make somone a sangria

you guys should make vinegar or granitas or something, don't waste! of course, i'm all recycle, reuse, what's in the house i can make edible--god bless you, julia
posted by ethylene at 4:09 PM on September 29, 2004

Heh, I suppose I didn't realize that when people said "cooking wine", they meant a discrete type of wine, and not just cheapo wine-wine.

Followup question just because I'm kind of curious: in the wine section there was an Italian (evidently) wine that said this on the label:
denominazione di origine
controllate e garantita
What's that about? Chianti isn't an appellation (unless I am completely confused), and that's the only thing I could think it might indicate.
posted by kenko at 4:13 PM on September 29, 2004

the quality isn't great in little bottles here either - a bit better than you get on an aeroplane, perhaps. the trouble with discussions like this is i have no idea what people consider good wine or decent prices in the usa.

here i can buy a drinkable syrah for just over two dollars and never spend more than 10 (which is a very nice wine), so prices don't seem to be comparable and the makes are different (imported wine isn't that common here because it's more expensive).

i think one way to feel more comfortable with wine is to realise that it's a huge industry. penfolds (for example) isn't some quaint little collection of craftsmen - a large modern winery is pretty much like a chemical plant. and the competition is fierce. buyers taste wine before it ever gets to you, and set prices, so there's going to be a fairly steady quality/price ratio.

that doesn't mean that you can keep paying more and more for ever, and i agree with Devil's Advocate that you need not spend a lot. you just need to work out what that price point is. and past a certain price you're just paying silly money, of course.

if australian wines are particularly good value, i'd like to know why. i would have thought either local wines (easier transportation) or chilean wines (low labour prices) would be better value. australian wine must have similar expenses to american wine and more significant shipping costs.

if a recipe doesn't specify a specific variety, then choose cabernet sauvignon for red and chardonay for white. if it's cooking on a budget kind of book then it might assume sweeter wines (the kind that are sold only by colour, not by grape variety), though i doubt it makes a big difference in results.

i have no idea what your "cooking wine" with added salt is. sounds awful.

on preview: afaik, chianti is an apellation (docg - denomindoodah)
posted by andrew cooke at 4:20 PM on September 29, 2004

Chianti isn't an appellation

Yeah, it is. It's in Tuscany. According to this page, it's also a zone containing a total of eight appellations within it, including plain old Chianti, Chianti Classico, and Sangiovese.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:28 PM on September 29, 2004

Australian wines provide the best bang for your buck, in my experienced amateur opinion. One of my favorite quaffing wines is Rosemount Estates Grenache/Shiraz, and their other wines are excellent as well, and can be found for under $7 a bottle.

If you are privileged to live near a Trader Joe's, you can find many inexpensive wines that are tasty enough to drink and cheap enough to pour with wild abandon into sauces and stews and marinades. There's definitely more to the TJ's wine aisle than Two Buck Chuck, which I would ONLY use for cooking. Or when I've already gotten pretty drunk on the good wine.
posted by padraigin at 4:38 PM on September 29, 2004

These days I drink a lot of Yellow Tail Aussie Shiraz, $6.57 at HEB. I'd imagine it's acceptable for cooking.
posted by beth at 4:40 PM on September 29, 2004

andrew cooke - australian shiraz is made in vast, vast quantities, with all the labour-saving technology you can imagine. It doesn't surprise me at all that it is price-competitive with Chilean wine.

This "cooking wine" is an American thing.

If I were being snooty, I would pick a variety that matched the cuisine in question. But normally, I use a shiraz blend if I need red, and a riesling or pinot gris if I need white. The point of wine in your cooking is that alcohol transports flavour molecules outside cell membranes, intensifying flavour. Actual wine flavours are a bonus, and probably shouldn't be too strong, unless the dish is something life boeuf bourbignonne where wine is the base of the sauce. Sauvignon blanc is ideal for splashing in mushrooms, I find.

I have one of those neato vacuum pump + stopper arrangements. So I can pour a glass or two into dinner, and a glass or two into the chef, and be happy that the remaining half bottle will be drinkable tomorrow. If you don't have one and you want your red to survive, stick it in the fridge - the cold will retard oxidation considerably.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:43 PM on September 29, 2004

i would have thought either local wines (easier transportation) or chilean wines (low labour prices) would be better value

I tend to think that Chilean wines are a better value; they're easy to find, too. I often find bottles from Santa Rita for under $7. In my (limited) experience, similar Australian wines (Penfolds? I'm not a fan, but it seems like it might be on the same level.) are a lot more expensive. You can also get a good value on an American wine by staying away from the well know California appellations (which can be great-to-phenomenal, but you pay for it). Oregon Pinot Noirs, Washington State Chardonnays, etc.

Don't pay more than $5 if you're not drinking it, I say.

There's definitely more to the TJ's wine aisle than Two Buck Chuck, which I would ONLY use for cooking. Or when I've already gotten pretty drunk on the good wine.

Ha! Have you tried the Syrah, though? It's totally drinkable, I think.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:47 PM on September 29, 2004

Ok, well, I thought it wasn't. Sue me.
posted by kenko at 5:00 PM on September 29, 2004

Just to stick with the Aussie wine theme: Penfolds is a large company whose products go from the cheap and cheerful (Koonunga Hill, mentioned above, or Clancy's) all the way to the several-hundred-dollars-per-bottle Grange Hermitage. You need to be a bit more specific about which Penfolds range you're talking about.

Personally, I go for Rosemount, Wyndham Estate or Brown Brothers if I want cheap and reliable Australian. And I say this as a patriotic New Zealander- Aussie reds are great value. A bit jammy compared to European styles, perhaps. But very great value. (NZ reds can be very good, but are rather pricier for the same quality than their Australian counterparts - our whites are the ones you want to go for). Sadly, the only South American wines I ever see here are Argentinian, so I can't say how an Aussie-Chilean shootout would go.

Back to the cooking: if anyone's interested in cooking with beer, don't make my mistake and use the aggressively hopped pilsener or Pale Ale styles I like to drink so much. Because strong hops when concentrated into a carbonade are horribly bitter.

I'd also suggest that a dash of brandy or scotch is a treat in many dishes where red wine would work. And you can give tomato soup an amazing zing by quietly tipping a capful or two of gin into it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:59 PM on September 29, 2004

Heed i_am_joe's_spleen on the vacuum stopper advice. You'll save the cost many times over in saved wine.

I bookmarked this cheap/good wine list a while back. Not many of these brands seem popular here in the plains, but if you're coastal you might have better luck. Here, I do well with Le Faux Frog, both syrahs and merlots. It even has witty labels.
posted by melissa may at 6:15 PM on September 29, 2004

Kenko, you say you don't generally drink wine. Do you drink other kinds of liquor? Julia Child in her "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" book often suggests using dry vermouth instead of wine. So if you have some of that around you could try that instead. Use a bit less vermouth than the amount of wine a recipe calls for (for example, in one recipe Julia calls for either "1/2 cup dry white wine or 1/3 cup dry white vermouth.")

Some California winemakers I tend to stick with that are always good: Beaulieu, Fetzer, Robert Mondavi, Beringer.
posted by dnash at 8:34 PM on September 29, 2004

dnash, I do, but I don't really see myself adding gin, say, to a lamb stew. I'll keep the vermouth thing in mind, though.
posted by kenko at 9:00 PM on September 29, 2004

So, that comment of mine up there is stupid, and should be ignored. It is possible that I had added gin to myself before posting it.
posted by kenko at 9:21 PM on September 29, 2004

Real wine, unlike cooking wine, will go sour quickly if you open it and leave it in the fridge... possibly within 3 days, so either learn to drink it and like it or learn to use a lot of it.

Gourmands may disagree with me, but I find real wine to be usable for cooking months after it has been opened. I really don't think you'd be able to tell, unless the wine is a major major component, or it doesn't get cooked much. I just made a dish where the vegetables simmer in red wine, with a fairly big effect on their flavor. We used the last of some red wine opened probably three months ago, and they tasted good.
posted by advil at 10:14 PM on September 29, 2004

s'true, advil. it's not like ya'd put some '29 chateau la toodledoo in the fridge right away anyway--
the artic level of my fridge seems to keep a lot of things beyond expectation
kenko, ignorance and stupid are sooo not the same--
you have a ton of places to start, like the first bottle that says buy me when you walk by, and you'll probably learn whatever you need about wine from there.
can i assume you were thinking of a trying a certain dish like a coq au van or sauce? just follow the recipe the most cheap and convenient way.
i've had to teach brilliant professors how to boil pasta or get email--

necessity is the mother of (information)retention
if you're online a lot, you get to know exactly how long to hold down your scroll button to get down the page/if you're iron chef-ing it then you get to know how long to boil the water at just the right height so the boil over skims scum for you
posted by ethylene at 12:05 AM on September 30, 2004

A dryish amontillado sherry works well in place of white wine or vermouth in risottos, for example, and is perfect in paellas. It keeps better than regular white wine too. When cooking with wine, I try to avoid heavy, fuller-bodied wines, or anything that's been in aged in wood for any great length of time. Fruity merlot, pinot-noir & syrah based reds are safe bets in my experience. For whites, I like cooking with Orvieto/Frascati style wines that have just a hint of sweetness to them, & to my taste impart a smoother flavour than dryer whites. If you don't actually like the taste of wine, then by all means just leave it out - only in a few recipes is it an essential ingredient... If you like the taste but prefer not to drink much of it, then wine-in-a-box is definitely a good option.
posted by misteraitch at 12:46 AM on September 30, 2004

I'd second the recommendation for Chilean (red) wine. In my experience, they consistently give you the best wine for the buck, in the low/mid price range.

Which is funny, when living in Denmark Chile is probably one of the most faraway places. But i guess distance means less in this day and age.
posted by AwkwardPause at 4:43 AM on September 30, 2004

I usually use Lindeman's Cabernet or Chardonnay for cooking.

Nobody here has pointed out the real reason you're not supposed to use "cooking wine" - it's not because it's bad (although it could be), it's because it's salted. If you're doing any sort of serious cooking, you're going to want to control the salting yourself, and you'll likely end up with too much if you use something pre-salted.
posted by Caviar at 11:45 AM on September 30, 2004

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