Plonk in Your Food?

Today’s New York Times Food and Dining section features an article on cooking with cheap wine entitled “It Boils Down to This: Cheap Wine Works Fine.” The premise is that the author cooked several dishes multiple times with different levels of wine, ranging from a Sauvignon Blanc that she bills as a “Club Med Pina Colada” to an aged 20 years twany port. Her findings were that in a blind taste test of three Risotto al Barolos, using a 2000 Barolo (most expensive), a 2005 Dolcetto d’Alba (mid-range) and the much maligned “Two Buck Chuck” Cabernet Sauvignon (more like Five Buck Chuck around here….), the Two Buck Chuck made the winning risotto.

Now, I’ve had Two Buck Chuck. It doesn’t rate high on my scale of wine I would want to drink ever again. I also tend to lean towards the school of, if I won’t drink it, why would I want to put it in my food? The contention of the article seems to be that cooking wine is the great equalizer, or even boost for cheap wine. And it seems, in the case of the risotto at least, that the tasters had less than favorable opinions of the dishes made with the more expensive wine (and arguably better tasting, though of the three I’ve only had the Chuck, but I find it hard to imagine that they are worse). In her other taste tests, she seems to have found little or no difference in the dishes made with the cheap wine versus the expensive wines and suggests that the interaction of the food and the wine makes the wine secondary and it’s really the acidity of the wine that’s important, not the flavor.

Her descriptions of the “cheap” wines lead me to believe that these are wines I would consider plonk, and the one named one certainly rates as plonk in my book. So again I make a distinction between “inexpensive” and “cheap,” with “inexpensive” being a good wine at a good price, and “cheap” being that yellowtail “riesling” I encountered recently.

With that said, do you cook with wine you find undrinkable or barely tolerable? Or does it go straight down the drain?

I tend to pour mine straight down the drain, though I may reconsider next time I get bottle I don’t care for and do a little blind tasting of my own. At the same time, I tend to simply cook with what we will drink that night and I certainly don’t want to drink the plonk nor do I want to buy a bottle of it for the sake of the 1/4 cup a given recipe needs.

Food for thought.

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6 Responses

  1. I invariably will find a less-than-stellar wine when I do my “value” shopping to supplement the better wines I buy. If I don’t like the wine, I’ll set the bottle near the stove. If it doesn’t sit too long and turn to vinegar, I’ll make a marinara or gravy with it. Except where port offers sweetness, I’ll agree that acidity, rather than taste, is what the wine imparts to the meal.

    So my take, then? Drink the good stuff, and use the plonk for cooking.

  2. However, if it was all about the acid, then using those little plastic squeezers of lemon or lime juice would be the same as using fresh squeezed juice. And many people (myself included) feel that is not the case….

  3. Interesting post, interesting article. I tend to think this is wrong, wrong, wrong, given basic chemistry. Once you reduce a wine, you concentrate its flavors. So, if you pick a weak wine, but one that doesn’t have bad flavors, it might work out ok. But in general, you want to pick something to cook with that doesn’t make you unhappy if you take a swig from the bottle. You don’t need to put 3 cups of your favorite $40 pinot in coq au vin, but I wouldn’t suggest cooking with crap in this case, either, since the red wine is the basis for the sauce. But if you are brave enough to try this out yourself, I look forward to your results. And, I agree with el jefe: it’s not the acid entirely that makes us add wine. It’s the complexity of the acid and the richness of reduced wine that is totally different than, say, reduced lemon juice.

  4. I agree that it definitely isn’t about the acidity only. I find that depending on what wine I use for a dish can really affect the flavor.

    Dr. Debs, I will try to cook with plonk if any more comes across my wine glass.

  5. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve cooked with the good stuff, too, as any proper foodie would do. I just feel that I get into food/wine QPR issues here. I’d still rather have a ten-dollar glass of wine than a ten-dollar boat of gravy. It used to mean a lot more to me when I didn’t have as much good wine on hand as I do these days.

  6. I can certainly understand that feeling Winehiker…I’d rather have my wine dollars go to something I want to drink!

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