Friday, August 12, 2011

Wine in the Kitchen

Originally published April 26, 1984

When Leif Erickson’s Viking ships landed on the shores of North America, the sailors gazed in wonder at the luxuriant wines, heavily laden with clusters of grapes, which seemed to blanket the shore. The name for this new world came quite naturally, Vinland, a land of vines. Fortunately, Erickson’s sailors hadn’t the time to make wine from the grapes - they ate a few and found them tasty. But there’s a far difference between the grape and the wine.

The grapes native to North America were related to European grapes. However, over a period of thousands of years, an adjustment to the often violent climate of the East Coast caused our grapes to develop a hardiness and a definitely hardy flavor which produced a wine very different in flavor from the wine of Europe.

The first settlers in America were equally enthusiastic about the luxurious vines - until they tried to make wine from the grapes. The beverage, while drinkable, did not at all suit the taste of our forefathers whose palates had been conditioned by the classic wines of Europe. Of course, in those early days, winemaking took second place to the matter of survival, so that it was not until the mid-1700’s that prosperous landowners began importing vines from Europe for planting in the New World. Among them was Thomas Jefferson. But even he did not foresee the hazards of transplanting a veritable hothouse flower to what was a wilderness. The vines died during the first winter, and for those who could afford it, wine remained one of the old-country products with which America could not quite sever its ties.

A young Spanish padre, Junipero Serra, is generally credited as the first person to successfully grow wine grapes in North America in 1769. The monk’s objective was to obtain enough wine for use at the altar. In 1833 Jean Louis Vignes, a young winemaker from Bordeaux, settled upon a plot of land near what is now Los Angeles and began planting vine cuttings he had brought with him from France.

Wine in Cooking
Wine is used in cooking to add richness and flavor and, when using meat, succulence. It does not give a flavor of wine, but instead brings out the flavor of the food with which it is cooked It is there to add balance and create a harmony pleasing to the palate. Wine adds flavor to bland foods and, when used as a marinade, tenderizes as well.

Wherever wine is produced cooks have utilized it in their work, for it will transform a simple dish into a gastronomic triumph.

Cooking with wine is not expensive, even in those countries where wine is imported. No one cooks with fine wines, since the very qualities that make a vintage are lost immediately when applied to heat. On the other hand, really bad or vinegary wines are not to be “used up” in the cooking. A wine for cooking must definitely be drinkable. If buying wine exclusively for cooking, buy in small bottles, but if opening a larger bottle and using only a little of it, either cork it tightly or better still decant it into a smaller bottle so that there is no air space between the level of the wine and the cork.

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