Break Away From the Bottle: Wine adds depth and interest to your favorite foods

If you’re like many people, your kitchen is bursting with bottles of wine, especially after the holiday season. Why not start a New Year’s resolution this year by trying something new – using that wine to make spectacular dishes you and your friends will love? The places wine can go Wine has always been a major cooking staple at the most popular restaurants in town and continues to show up in a variety of dishes, both traditional and eclectic. Tim Zenner, executive chef of Liluma in the Central West End, for instance, has cooked with wine for years. “It adds a depth of flavor to a dish that cannot be normally achieved through the use of stocks or water, especially in reductions or butter sauces,” he remarked. The experience has paid off – customers flock to the restaurant for its signature dish, tilapia, which is paired with a wine-based beurre blanc and Missouri wild mushrooms. At Brandt’s Market & Café in The Loop, wine is used liberally throughout the menu. “What dish doesn’t use wine?” said owner Jay Brandt. “Our chefs enjoy wine and are very talented in using it discerningly. Our duck has a fruit sauce with a Merlot, and we make a wild mushroom-port soup. Wine is absolutely wonderful in soups.” Wine isn’t just fabulous in appetizers and entrées; it can also pop up in the most unexpected of places. “You can make ices and sorbets with wine to serve as an intermezzo or dessert depending on the wine you use,” said Margaret Kelly, of Kelly Twins Productions. “You can reduce berry wines, Concord [grape] wines, port and even some lighter reds to add to a finished caramel sauce.” Laura Adams, sister of Bethlehem Valley Vineyards owner Dan Burkhardt, used the winery’s grapes in a wine cake she created after tasting a similar cake at Village Wine & Cheese in Columbia, Mo. Using Bethlehem Valley’s Chardonel, Adams reduced the wine to make a base for a glaze composed of butter, powdered sugar and almond extract. She baked a single-ayer, classic white cake and substituted one cup of wine for the water in the recipe. “I would have to say that the wine adds moistness and that the cake ‘holds’ beautifully. It really does add flavor in a really elusive, indescribable, subtle way,” remarked Adams. Tips and tricks for cooking with wine There’s much more to cooking with wine than just pouring it into a sauce. Wine can be used in many different ways to add new flavors and textures to your dishes once you understand how it interacts with other ingredients. Once you’ve selected your recipes and are ready to begin your wine-cooking adventure, knowing some hints from the professionals can help pull the whole plan together. The first step, of course, is choosing the right wine for your dish. “Wine can balance a dish but should not overwhelm it,” said Kelly. “Acidity, fruitiness and/or sweetness from wines add to the complexity of flavor on your palate. In the same sense that chefs try to build a dish using different textures and colors, wine helps to enhance the flavor profile.” Selecting the ideal wine may seem overwhelming once you’re standing in front of hundreds of bottles on the store shelf, but following some simple guidelines can make the process much easier. One hint, suggested by Brandt, is to never use a wine you wouldn’t drink. For instance, many cooking wines should be avoided since the majority have salt added, which will only make your food taste extra salty once the wine is cooked down. Knowing the flavors of the wines before making a selection is extremely helpful as well. “Chardonnay, for example, is a perfect base for beurre blanc, because it’s buttery,” said Brandt. “Zinfandel is perfect for fruit sauce, because it has a fruity, cherry taste.” Kelly suggested choosing the same wine to cook with a dish as you would to drink with it: “You might serve a Pinot Noir reduced down to a glaze and finished with butter over fish or chicken served with mushrooms.” You should also pay attention to the potency of the wines. “Wines have a tendency to change during the cooking process,” explained Zenner. “Therefore, use a wine that will keep its original zing, wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Burgundy or port wine.” After working with chefs from around the globe, Zenner spilled a little secret about the industry – expensive wines are not always the best choice for cooking. “Inexpensive wines usually are good to cook with,” he noted. “The five-star chefs use dirt-cheap spirits to cook with where possible.” Understanding some important tips once you’re back in the kitchen can help you create your masterpiece. For example, something as basic as pans and utensils can significantly affect the outcome of your dish. Said Zenner, “Avoid using aluminum dishes in cooking with wine because aluminum interferes with the tannins in the wine.” Brandt also noted that learning the appropriate cooking times for wine is essential; red wine often takes longer to cook than white. In addition, overcooking can lead to a poor-tasting dish. Said Zenner, “Over-reducing wines in sauces like beurre blancs and beurre rouges often produces a brown sauce that is less than pleasing.” With these guidelines, a little practice and lots of wine, you’ll be on your way to creating a meal your friends and family will never forget. Learning from the experts Want to make learning to cook with wine even easier? Then take some tips from the experts when you attend the St. Louis Food & Wine Experience at the Chase Park Plaza Jan. 29 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. or Jan. 30 from noon to 5 p.m. The weekend event, which benefits The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ educational programs, features cooking demonstrations, celebrity chefs and tastings of the area’s finest wines and food. For more information, contact The Rep at 314.968.7340 or visit and click on the link under “Events and Opportunities.”