I have this close association with wine, thanks to a particular incident in my life. Once when I was an intern at the Inter Continental in Geneva, I broke the cork while trying to open the bottle. And I became a laughing stock for this French guy who commented, “Asians don’t know anything about wine”. This hurt my ego so bad that I decided to take classes on wine and started to frequent wine clubs. When I won my first competition, my sommelier said I had a good nose. Since then, my love for wines has only grown more.
As a chef, I am busy with pans and spatulas but wine has never ceased to be a partner for me because most of my Mediterranean fares comprise of wine in the recipe. It’s fun to see how guests think the food will get them tipsy – while most look forward to it, others fear it. The whole chemistry of using wine in cooking food has brought forth a new meaning with theory and my research combined. The old theory says that when you add wine to food, alcohol being a highly volatile liquid evaporates and only the water and minerals are retained remain. However, this may no longer hold true. Mostly, wine is comprised of 80 percent water, 12 percent alcohol and the rest is an assortment of minerals, vitamins, phenols and flavinod. The real story of cooking with wine is that not all alcohol evaporates. Up to 85 percent of the alcohol is retained when the food is flambéed and around 90 percent when used in sauces. In fact, it will take two and a half hours of cooking for the alcohol to reduce to 5 percent of what was used; this generally doesn’t happen except in the case of some stock or stew. The best part of cooking with wine is that the flavors of minerals, acids and vitamins are captured in the food. When phenols break down, they give rise to hundreds of flavors; phenols being responsible for different bouquet and smell. Our body naturally produces alcohol in our intestines. When you fast, your body produces, this rate is increased. Does this mean that when you fast, you tend to feel weak because of the alcohol in the body?
Let’s do the math here. A bottle of wine contains approximately 13 percent by volume of alcohol on an average. When you are making sauce, 60 ml is more than enough to play with. Because alcohol is blended with a large amount of food, the amount that actually enters your body is very small. It is similar to having a drink along with an ample amount of food; in this case, it takes you a while to get drunk, but on an empty stomach you get drunk faster as the intake is augmented by your body’s natural production.
One thing that makes a difference for sure is the selection of wine. While preparing dry food, avoid fruity wine; avoid dry wine for fruity food. In dry wine the residual sugar content is around 4 gm and in semi-dry up to9 gm. The most loved wine – medium sweet – has up to 45 gm of residual sugar. This brings the calculation to 0.06 gm sugar content per ml of medium wine. It means if you add 30 ml of wine while cooking, that will add 1.8 g sugar to the food. Does that make any difference in cooking? Indeed. How? Oaky standard teaspoon of sugar holds 0.6 gm and espresso spoon holds 0.3 gm sugar. What happens if we add 2 teaspoon to tea that is already sweet or 2 espresso spoon to an espresso that is already strong?
And that is why I believe in the logic of pairing white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat. Or until I break the myth till next time. !