Cooking with Wine: Why Malbec is the Best Choice

There are several minor reasons why you should consider cooking with wine (be it Argentine or any other kind) and one major one.

Let’s run through the minor reasons first:

    1. Wine adds flavour – deep flavour – to otherwise workaday dishes

Everyone, from the meanest student to the most flamboyant Gordon Ramsey wannabe, has a fallback, fail-safe pasta sauce recipe. Next time you do yours, add a splash of red wine to the pan while you’re sauteing the onions.

    1. Wine is a handy fat substitute

If you’re anything like me you’ll find yourself reaching for the oil and butter a little too frequently for your cardiologist’s comfort. Next time you’re preparing a sauce or marinade, try replacing a proportion of the fat with red or white wine.

    1. Wine makes a great poaching broth

Poaching fish in white wine or pears in red wine (see below) not only creates delicious results, but wins you brownie points with the aforementioned heart quack.

Now, the major reason for cooking with wine, and one of the golden rules of cookery in general, can be tersely expressed:

Cooking with wine means you are compelled to uncork a bottle at least an hour before you otherwise would, and to drink a glass or two at least an hour before you probably should.

This is self-evidently a good thing.

Which brings us round to the title of this post. Why cook with Malbec and not (say) Cabernet, Syrah or Merlot? I’ve heard foodies argue that Malbec’s full-bloodedness and all-round oomph makes it an ideal substitute for fortified wines like Marsala, in recipes that call for them; and that the sweet tannins in Malbec combine well with the something-or-other in certain foods. But I’m not buying any of that. If someone can tell me what varietal I used in my boeuf bourguignon after it’s arrived at the dinner table, I’ll first take my hat off to them and then accuse them of cheating.

No, the reason I cook with Malbec is twofold. First, I like to drink it. Second, I live in Argentina, where Malbec dominates the wine market. Golden rule no. 2: cook with what you like to drink, and with what’s available.

But here’s the rub: precious few traditional Argentine dishes incorporate wine. (The delicious-sounding recipe for Ossobuco empanadas elsewhere on this site is an exception that proves the rule. When I related this recipe to my Argentinian mother-in-law, she furrowed her brow when we got to the adding-wine part, a gesture that essentially translates as ‘WTF?’). The core component of the Argentinian diet, as any fool knows, is red meat – grilled, baked, covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried, or whatever, but essentially unadorned with the kind of accompaniments that might call for wine. Need a garnish? Slide a fried egg onto that mother. How about some sauce? Melt some cheese, maestro. Ah, the wonders of Argentina food.

None of the recipes posted below, therefore, is particularly Argentinian. But each works superbly with a slug or two of Malbec. As will you.

I was reared on subsidised – but not subsidised enough – state school lunches in Britain in the 1970s, which probably explains why I’m so physically feeble, and certainly explains why the word ‘gravy’ could once induce in me an acute attack of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Sauce Disorder). But following this simple recipe will result in an intensely savoury, lump-free meat lubricant – and it’s terrific with Malbec.

Coq au Vin
Done properly, coq au vin (or ‘cock in wine’ as my gran once memorably called it) is a great way to feed a bunch of people without giving yourself a nervous breakdown. The best part of a bottle of Malbec will end up in the pot, so have another on hand for personal refuelling.

Pears al Malbec
One of those dishes that invariably exceeds expectations. Also a pretext to get another bottle going in the kitchen, while your guests are still attacking their mains.

Feel free to share your own boozy recipe ideas in the comments below.

(Article thumbnail image by Don LaVange)

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Matt Chesterton

Matt Chesterton

Matt swapped his native England for Argentina in 2002 while chasing Gabriela, an implausibly gorgeous Argentinian whom he married the following year. He has lived and worked (but mainly lived) in Buenos Aires ever since. Having no obvious trade or skills but being quite good at spelling, Matt became a freelance writer. Over the past few years, Matt has written or edited books and articles for a variety of publishers, including Time Out, Wallpaper* and the British Automobile Association. In his spare time Matt translates film scripts, organises charity pub quizzes, consolidates his position as the number one Angry Birds player in the BsAs metropolitan area, and translates traditional nursery rhymes into Spanglish for his daughter Millie. (Her favourite is ‘Pop goes the Weasel’ or ‘Explota la Comadreja’.)
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