“My strongest advice would be to hold on to them, take a picture, hug it, but don’t waste them on cooking,” says Luca Dusi, co-founder of London wine bar and shop Passione Vino. But I won’t call it a day just yet. “Cooking is all based on detail,” Dusi adds. “The recipe is the main body for the success of a dish, but the quality of the ingredients and their origin play a major part.” Wine in the context of cooking, of course, becomes an ingredient and the Guardian’s Fiona Beckett’s mantra is: “If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it.” (Hello, corked and “cooking” wine.)
That isn’t to say you should crack open your best bottle, mind, especially if you’re planning on pouring it all into a coq au vin, say. Pegs Quinn, chef and co-owner of Sonny Stores in Bristol, says: “There’s a certain level I would go to in terms of cost – about £8 as a starting point – but if you cook down wine, you’re going to lose a lot of the characteristics you’d enjoy from drinking it instead.” Bert Blaize, co-author of Which Wine When, goes a step farther: “I don’t think it matters what wine you use; it’s all about the cooking and preparation, so save the good stuff for when you can drink or gift it.” Plus, if Jo is off booze completely, it’s worth remembering that not all the alcohol will burn away anyway (depending on how much you’re using and how long you’re cooking it for).
When it comes to those better bottles, Beckett writes: “The only time I’d use a better wine is if I was cooking something for a short period and wanted the flavour of the wine to come through.” Quinn, meanwhile, suggests a dish from his former haunt, The River Cafe: “Veal shin cooked in barbera with sage, pancetta, tomato and loads of garlic is an absolute banger. Do that with risotto bianco or polenta and greens, and you’ll make me very happy.” Blaize recalls a meal from Piedmont that used wine like a seasoning. “I ate some really simple but delicious cheese tortellini, which didn’t come with a sauce. They recommended adding a splash of red and eating it all together.” Alternatively, if you’ve got any pedro ximénez sherry knocking around, Blaize pours it over vanilla ice-cream and dried fruit for rum-and-raisin vibes.
It’s also worth considering what style of wine you use, Quinn says: “The floral characteristics of riesling, for instance, will kill the subtle flavour of pear, say.” Instead, try a “fresher, dry white” such as soave. For anything tomato-based, Quinn leans towards the likes of “sweeter, juicier” nero d’avola, while a punchy chianti pairs well with irony flavours, such as chicken livers.
But back to Jo’s “good” bottles. Rules are, of course, made to be broken, and Dusi sanctions one exception: “If you have a good bottle, we’ll allow you to use one glass in the cooking, but you have to drink the rest. It will help your tastebuds get ready for the food, too.”