Wine Fortifies the Formulation

May 1, 2005

9 Min Read
Wine Fortifies the Formulation

May 2005

Wine Fortifies the Formulation

By John DeShetler, C.H.E.

It is best that I leave the any discussion of the enjoyment of drinking wine to the sommelier, wine professors and those enthusiasts who know more about grape varieties, countries, regions and wine-palatability definitions. But developing culinary preparations with wine is another matter.

So let's cook with wine. How do we start? What does wine do for us as an ingredient? First and utmost is flavor. As Diane Ackerman notes in "A Natural History of the Senses," a wine's flavor includes its texture, smell, temperature, color and painfulness (spiciness), among many other features. Wine also presents tannins, bitterness and acidity, a trait that will aid culinary preparation. Finally, we have its body.

Wine has been consumed since ancient times. Historical artifacts allude to Egyptians consuming wine some 2,000 years ago. According to "The Peasants of Languedoc" by Emmanuel Le Roy Laduric, wine was considered food (Languedoc was an historical area in southern France). Narbonne farm workers annually drank about 650 liters per person, largely with just bread as an accompaniment, during the last third of the 15th century until gastronomy improved with the addition of poultry meats to their diet.

When was wine first used in cooking? No one really knows. "Ancient Roman Feasts and Recipes Adapted for Modern Cooking" by Jon and Julia Solomon includes recipes from Apicius' cookbook that date back to the 1st century A.D. where wine was used most commonly in sauces -- as it is today -- and then later in soups, entrées and breads.

Application analysesIn addition to typical table wines, today's selection includes wines fortified with added grape spirits to destroy yeast and increase alcohol content, such as sherry, port, Marsala and Madeira; cooking wines (salt added); reduced wines; and powdered-wine ingredients. Many of these categories include various varietal grapes and combinations of grapes giving us a huge selection of wine ingredients for cooking.

Some of the most-common wines in food preparations include Chablis, sherry, Burgundy, Marsala, Madeira and port. Although different bottled wines typically lend various subtleties of flavor, many manufacturers develop specific cooking wines and wine ingredients with standardized sensory characteristics. In product development, wine certainly doesn't need to be expensive to effectively flavor a product destined for retail shelves or the foodservice industry.

Many product applications pair nicely with today's wine choices, and the selection process is very similar to pairing prepared food with wine. Food and wine affinities follow along the lines of attraction, kinship or a relationship by marriage -- things that just go together. Synergy is possible. Sometimes, the sum can be greater than its parts -- think lamb and rosemary, Bosc pear and Brie cheese, prosciutto and melon.

Wine affinities frequently relate to an application's primary protein. Light, mild meats, such as chicken and turkey breast, veal, and pork, pair well with mild wines, like Chablis and Marsala. Red meats, such as beef and lamb, benefit from darker, full-bodied wines -- think Burgundy, port and the spicier end of Pinot Noir. Fish and seafood, including shellfish, require dry or sweet white wines: Chablis, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. With game meat, dry reds -- Chianti and Zinfandel -- are a good choice. Asian-style cuisines utilize dry whites, such as Chablis and Fumé Blanc, as well as sake.

With meats, some exceptions to the rules exist. For example, coq au vin (chicken in wine) uses a red dry wine like Beaujolais or Chianti. And, of course, sauces with Madeira and Marsala can accent some hearty chicken, pork and veal dishes, frequently prepared by sautéing or roasting to retain their boldness.

Combinations of red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, and vinegars can lend great flavor to red vegetables, such as cabbages and beets. Light pasta dishes, such as primavera, and rice require a white wine like Chablis as an ingredient for some preparations, such as risotto. Fruits, fresh and dry, will pair with just about any wine. Some good examples include pears poached in port, apples poached in Champagne or sparkling wine, tropical fruits with sake, and fruit compotes with any number of reds or whites. Many desserts benefit from sweet whites like Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Port also goes wonderfully with chocolate.

Anti-affinity flavors can also come into play. Metallic notes come from combinations of dry red wines and blue-veined cheeses. Artichokes contain the chemical cynarin, which can make dry whites taste sweet. Also, the combination of high-iron vegetables, such as spinach, and red wines tastes like tin.

Translating techniqueOnce the product designer has successfully paired wine with the other ingredients in an application, they often need to then match the product with a cooking technique.

In sautéing, the wine -- sometimes along with a stock -- is used to deglaze the pan. This releases the fond (the browned particles on the bottom of the pan). The sauce is then reduced to intensify flavor. This is the body of the sauce, which can be thickened in several ways.

After moist-heat cooking, such as shallow poaching, the liquid left after the cooking process, usually a combination of stock and wine, is reduced to form the base of the sauce. Whisking raw, cold butter into the mixture off the heat forms beurre blanc sauce. The acid of the white wine will denature the proteins, and butter helps form the emulsion. Product developers can add heavy cream as a stabilizer, although such preparations are not considered authentic. With full, or deep, poaching, the wine is added directly to the other liquid fraction before cooking.

For roasting, braising or stewing, wine may be added to the deglazing of the roasting pan, or during the pre-preparation searing step. Wine can also be added later to fortify the sauce flavor or adjust consistency, as in a white stew (blanc de veau).

The easiest way to identify the right wine for a sauce application is to categorize the classical sauces and their variations by color. Dark or brown sauces use full-bodied red wines, velouté can take a lighter-red wine and cream sauces work with whites. Either reds or whites can complement tomato sauces, depending on other flavors in the application.

In emulsion sauces, white wines add flavor and denature the proteins so they will expand to create more surface for distribution in the dispersed phase. Also, in a hollandaise, the acidic, liquid wine will increase the coagulation temperature of the egg-yolk proteins so the proteins will not set to quickly, helping prevent the creation of scrambled eggs.

Wine is sometimes incorporated into soup recipes. Sherry can be found in bisques and other types, such as french onion soup. Acidic white wine can benefit chicken- or fish-based consommés. The primary function of the wine in such applications is flavor. However, white wine's secondary function as an acid aids denaturing or thinning-out the egg-white protein and meat proteins in the clarification procedure. This is to cover more area in the stock to bind with the impurities and create raft stability when the egg whites coagulate.

In brines, the first purpose of the wine is to provide flavor. Wine's acids also aid in tenderization of proteins through cooking. Again, by denaturing the proteins, water and heat will penetrate easier. Therefore, the meats will cook more tender and faster.

Processing pointsIn addition to some of the processing hints already mentioned in direct reference to specific cooking techniques, there are several ways manufacturers can replicate classical cooking techniques themselves in the processing plant. The best and foremost way is to procure ingredients that replicate the flavors, visual characteristics and viscosities typically developed during the cooking technique.

For example, product designers can procure grilled, roasted and braised meats or flavors, as well as fire-roasted vegetables, roasted and glazed potatoes, fresh-herb concentrates, etc. Assorted roux, natural stocks and custom bases can add flavor and desired consistency. Some modified starches and flour combinations also work well. Thermal processing can duplicate stewed, brazed and pilaf dishes.

Depending on the expense, processors can use any liquid wine as a flavor component. Powdered-wine ingredients work best in dry mixes for sauces, gravies and coatings. Reduced wines are costly but eliminate the time necessary for creating reductions -- likely not an option in most processing plants -- and deliver a consistent product every time.

We usually depend on wines for flavor and body when incorporated into a product. As a manufacturing approach, wine is primarily added to a formula as a flavor agent and identifier. For example, the type of wine is often associated with specific dishes, such as veal Marsala, pork with Madeira, boeuf bourguignonne (beef Burgundy) and Asian sake stir-fries, possibly featuring mixed vegetables and seared scallops, just to name a few.

Manufacturers are also looking for the best flavor while still remaining cost effective. Most wines for manufacturing applications are inexpensive and are usually denatured through the addition of salt, which product designers can compensate for by reducing the salt fraction of the formula.

In addition to its important role as flavor accent, wine is also a useful ingredient from the perspective of food science. As previously mentioned, wines have an acidic pH -- usually around 4 to 5. A wine's alcohol content and pH, if below 4.5, will aid in preserving the product and extending shelf life. Studies have shown that phenolics extracts from wine can help preserve products by acting as an antimicrobial agent.

Although acidic wines can help denature proteins, they usually cannot perform the job on their own. They will normally need assistance from a more-acidic product, such as vinegars or citrus juices.

Wine is beloved as a beverage and food ingredient in a wide variety of applications. When one type of product has so many different functions and is beloved by so many, its use is bound to continue. Different nationalities from around the world have been cooking with wine for centuries. They must be doing something right.

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