Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Don't cook with the good stuff -- drink it.

. . . Raymond Blanc has strong views on what wines work in the kitchen. "It's actually a myth that the most expensive wine is the best ingredient for a particular dish because almost always a cheaper wine will be the better option," says Blanc. "I have done a lot of blind tastings on this, including using some very expensive red and white burgundies such as a Montrachet and a Gevrey-Chambertin. And what I have generally found is that the higher you go in wine quality, the less you recognise the wine in the food. In my view, it is completely counterproductive to use great wines in a jus, sauce or marinade.

"For instance, I have cooked coq au vin with the Gevrey-Chambertin and also with a fruity, deep-coloured Cabernet Syrah vin de Pays d'Oc retailing for just £6," Blanc continues. "The coq au vin with the burgundy was OK but the marinade didn't particularly work and the flavour was merely mild and a bit one-dimensional. In contrast, the dish made with the Cabernet Syrah was fantastically rich and layered with real intensity of flavour."

[Chef John] Campbell also argues against the mantra that fine wines necessarily make the best ingredients. "It's actually about choosing the right varietal wine, with the right amount of fruit and tannin for the dish you are cooking. I could cook the same dish with a £20 wine and a £2,000 wine and I'd defy anyone to taste the difference.

"Generally, though, I wouldn't use a wine that costs more than £15-£20. That's my personal price limit when it comes to cooking -- though I have to admit that last Christmas I cooked a lovely braised shin with a third of a bottle of Château Lascombes that I had left over, which was absolutely stunning. But I think that it was the way I cooked it that made it beautiful."

Others, though, have had much less happy experiences when cooking with cru classe claret. Last year, the food and wine matching specialist Fiona Beckett conducted a similar experiment for Decanter magazine using the "super second" Léoville-Las Cases 2001 (retail price £71 a bottle from Berry Bros & Rudd). Beckett, who is the author of Cooking with Wine (£8.99, Ryland, Peters & Small), decided to make a simple entrecôte marchand de vin (with a reduced red wine sauce) for her experiment. "I cooked the steak and set it aside to rest. I sweated off a couple of shallots, poured in a small glass of Las Cases and reduced it by roughly two thirds. I whisked in a bit of soft butter, seasoned it with salt and pepper and poured the steak juices back into the pan. Then I taste it . . .

"It was one of the worst sauces I've ever made," she observed. "The reduction process completely de-natured the wine, accentuating the tannins and completely stripping the fruit." Beckett's conclusion was that this was in every way the wrong kind of wine to cook this dish with. "The wine was too young, too tannic, too concentrated." Her view was that she would have been much better off (financially and gastronomically) had she used a much less complex but nonetheless robust and fruity southern French red.

"My advice is that it's worth using a good wine in your cooking, but not a great one. I would go up to £20 a bottle, depending on the dish, but not much further," she says.
John Stimpfig, "Reduced To Tears," How To Spend It 11, 12 (August 2007).

And you wonder why I think you're out of touch with us common folk.

If you just assume a conversion rate of five pounds to the dollar, you'll do fine with the advice in that piece.
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