A splash of wine is an easy way to add flavor, flare and even health benefits to your homiest family meals. After all, winemakers have done most of the work for you.
Wine's alcohol releases flavor in other ingredients, then carries those flavors throughout the dish more effectively than water, fat or oil.
La Mancha, Spain
• Suggested retail and availability: $7 at wine and liquor shops (distributed by Garnacha, Bensenville)
Don Quixote was once La Mancha's most famous export, now it's great value wine. This Tempranillo, produced from 30-year-old vines, is lush, fragrant and spicy with an interplay of black fruits, licorice, cedar and pleasing tannin far beyond its low-low cost. At this price, you can afford the traditional recipe of equal parts for the pot and the cook.
Wine adds complexity to your favorite seasonings, with flavors ranging from "lemony" (in Pinot Grigio, for instance) to "black pepper" (Shiraz). (Some, but not all alcohol evaporates in cooking, so Teetotalers should avoid cooking with wine.)
With several hours of marinating, wine's acid and tannin tenderizes rough cuts and reduces carcinogens caused by frying and grilling.
And, because cooks in other cultures have been wise to wine's benefits for centuries, a simple dish - chicken stew, for instance - reaches international standing - coq au vin - with wine in the recipe.
Use the same or similar wine in cooking as you would serve at table.
A simple, well-made Cabernet Sauvignon in the pot echoes the flavors of your finest Cab in crystal stemware.
Feel free to use spoiled, low-quality wine only if you are satisfied with other ingredients being spoiled or low-quality.
Madeira is a wine-style that enhances recipes from soup to nuts. Add a tablespoon and simmer to elevate canned mushroom, tomato soup or onion soup to gourmet-level.
Chicken, pork and beef dishes gain roasted nut and spice flavors and tender texture with Madeira in the recipe.
Finally, it's delicious cooked into cakes or simply poured over ice cream (for adults only, since this topping retains Madeira's high alcohol).
Avoid "cooking" Madeira, which contains salt and artificial seasonings. With a long shelf-life and many uses, well-made Madeira easily repays your investment.
Look for the medium dry "Rainwater" designation from producers such as Blandy's, Leacock's or Cossart Gordon (about $16).
• Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross writes Good Wine. Write her at email@example.com.