The Stove and the Vine

Using organic wine in cookery
can help make meals special.

September 2015

By Jodi Helmer

The next time you open a bottle of wine to serve with dinner, consider integrating it into the actual meal.

Cooking with wine isn’t about getting buzzed on an alcohol-laden dish. Wine helps break down tough cuts of meat, balances the fat in protein recipes and, of course, affects the taste of your favorite foods.

“Wine livens up the flavors in a dish [because] the enzymes break down the aromatic compounds in the food,” explains Edward Korry, department chair of dining and beverage services at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, and president of the Society of Wine Educators.

From marinating beef in red wine and finishing beets in white wine to drizzling port over ice cream, wine can be added to all elements of a meal. There is no shortage of wines to choose from, but there are advantages to cooking with organic wines.

Better for You—and the Environment

Studies have linked wine—specifically resveratrol, an antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes—to health benefits ranging from lower risk of cardiovascular disease and age-
related memory loss to lower levels of inflammation and depression. Most studies on the health benefits of wine do not differentiate between organic and conventional varieties. However, a study published in 2014 by the British Journal of Nutrition found that organic foods, including fruits such as grapes, contain higher levels of antioxidants while conventional (non-organic) foods have higher concentrations of residual pesticides and cadmium, a toxic metal.

Five Tips Serving
Wine With Dinner

You’ve used organic wine to create a flavorful meal; now it’s time to select a varietal to serve at the table. Experts weigh in on how to make the ideal choice:

1. Trust your taste buds
Edward Korry has only one rule for selecting the right wine for dinner: Drink what you like. “Food and wine pairing seems really complex because the pros have made it complex,” he says. “It really comes down to drinking wines you like—even if they go against the ‘rules’ of wine pairing.”

2. Balance the flavors
You can’t go wrong pairing a light wine with lighter fare and heavier wines with more hearty dishes. There are some nuances, too. Wines that are lower in alcohol and have a hint of sweetness, such as Riesling, help balance spiciness. “You don’t want to serve a wine that overrides the flavors of the dish,” says Stacy Laabs, co-author of Never Cook Sober Cookbook (Adams Media).

3. Pair wine and food by heritage
Stuck for the perfect pairing? Match the region of the food with the region of the wine. A Bordeaux pairs well with bordelaise sauce and German Riesling goes well with ham, for example.

4. Don’t ignore dessert
The Chardonnay that went perfectly with pasta will not complement chocolate mousse served for dessert, so consider serving something different at the end of the meal. Korry prefers port because the tannins offset the sweetness of popular desserts.

5. Be willing to make mistakes
When there is food, wine and good company, no one is going to complain about the wine, according to Laabs. “If the wine you choose is a dud, open another bottle,” she says. “You learn by experimenting.”

“Part of the organic winemaking process is allowing for the natural expression of the fruit; there are no artificial influences on the flavor,” explains Lance Hanson, winemaker and owner of Jack Rabbit Hill, a certified organic winery in Hotchkiss, Colorado. “Like other artisan foods, getting into the world of organic wine is about having a distinctive flavor experience.”

Aside from how wine flavors food, Hanson believes that using organic practices to grow his 18 acres of grapes for Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay and Meunier—and using organic varietals in your favorite dishes—has significant environmental benefits.

“In conventional farming, there are a lot of chemical inputs that we don’t use in organic farming,” Hanson says. “The industrial fertilizers and pesticides take their toll on soil, water and air. Organic wine is a more environmentally friendly choice.”

There are two kinds of wines with the word “organic” somewhere on the label. In that identified as “made with organic grapes,” there is no guarantee other ingredients used in the winemaking process are free of chemical inputs.

On the other hand, all of the ingredients, including the grapes, used to make wines bearing the green-and-white USDA Organic seal are certified organic. These wines are also made without sulfites, compounds added between the end of fermentation and bottling that help protect wine from oxidation (and which can trigger allergies and breathing problems in some people).

Wine and the Chef

A great bottle of organic wine doesn’t guarantee a delicious dish. “Some flavor profiles just don’t mix well,” notes Blake Hartwick, chef at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As a general rule, Hartwick suggests considering classic food and wine pairings when cooking: Just like white wines are best served with lighter fare such as fish and chicken and red wines pair well with heavier foods such as lamb and beef, cooking those dishes with those wines will balance out flavors. For example, serve mahi-mahi with a white wine butter sauce or use red wine in beef stew.

Wine Pairing Cheat Sheet

You’re not sure what goes with a bold red or a light white? Use this cheat sheet to choose the right wine for common dishes:

Cabernet Sauvignon
Higher-fat foods (burgers, pizza), red meats (especially grilled or smoked cuts), aged cheeses, bittersweet chocolate

Salmon and shellfish (crab, prawns), grilled chicken, pasta or risotto with vegetables, dishes with cream sauce, eggs Benedict

Smoked or grilled meats, caramelized vegetables (asparagus, onions), pasta with red sauces (Bolognese, tomato, béarnaise)

Pinot Noir
Cold meats (charcuterie), grilled foods, light meats (duck, quail, pork) and game (venison, pheasant)

Salad, raw or lightly cooked shellfish, white-rinded cheeses (camembert, brie), fruit and pastries

Sauvignon Blanc
Fruit, mild cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, queso blanco), white or light fish (flounder, red snapper, grouper)

Red meat, hearty soups and stews, spicy meats (sausage, pepperoni, salami), strong cheeses (sharp cheddar, blue cheese), pasta with
red sauces, pizza

Pizza, spicy foods (barbeque, curry), tomato-based dishes, red meat

Be sure not to over-pour. “One of the biggest mistakes home cooks make is using too much wine in a dish,” Hartwick says. “If you’re not following a recipe, experiment by adding a little wine and testing the flavor; you can always add a little more.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the wine you’re planning to use in a dish, pour a glass and sample it first. “The wine you’re cooking with should be good enough to drink,” Korry says.

Since you’d never drink cooking wine, you shouldn’t incorporate it into your favorite recipes, either. A holdover from the Prohibition era, cooking wine contains salt to render it undrinkable and is not meant for modern cooks, according to Korry.

But that doesn’t mean the bottle of wine set aside for a recipe should cost a fortune. A $15 bottle of wine can be just as flavorful as a $50 bottle (as a general rule, organic wines are more expensive than conventional wines). In fact, Korry believes some expensive wines can ruin a dish.

“A lot of expensive wines, which are often stored in oak barrels, are not good to cook with because there are more tannins (substances in grape skins that make wine more astringent) in oaked wines and the tannins can have a negative impact on the flavor.” Tannins are also more common in red wines.

To keep a dish from getting too acidic, choose low-tannin wines like Pinot Noir instead of varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, which are more tannic. Of course, tannins do have their place in a recipe: Some dishes, especially beef, pair well with tannic wines because the fat balances out the astringency.

Whether you choose an expensive white or a cheap red, organic wine makes an excellent addition to almost any recipe.

“Wine adds a lot of flavor to a dish,” Hartwick says. “Once you start cooking with wine, you’ll want to use it in every recipe.”



Easy Tilapia with Wine and Tomatoes

4 4-ounce tilapia fillets
salt and pepper, to taste
4 tbsp butter
3 cloves garlic, pressed
4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 cup white wine

1. Preheat a grill on medium-high.

2. Place the tilapia fillets side by side on a large piece of aluminum foil; season each with salt and pepper. Place 1 tbsp of butter on top of each fillet and sprinkle with garlic, basil and tomato. Pour wine over everything.

3. Fold foil around fish and seal into a packet; place packet on a cookie sheet for transportation to the grill. Place the packet on the grill and cook for 15 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Open packet carefully to avoid burns.

Serves 4; total preparation time: 25 minutes. Recipe reprinted
with permission of



Herbed Mushrooms with White Wine

1 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 lbs fresh mushrooms
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives

1. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and Italian seasoning, and cook 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

2. Mix the wine and garlic into the skillet, and continue cooking until most of the wine has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with chives. Continue cooking 1 minute.


Serves 6; total preparation time: 25 minutes. Recipe reprinted with permission of


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