Pass me the cooking Barolo

My wife* is reading a book called Angelina’s Bachelors by Brian O’ Reilly. It’s billed as ‘a novel with food’ because it contains recipes by his wife or maybe mother, Virginia O’ Reilly. One in particular caught my eye, ‘Gorgonzola Beef Tenderloin in a Barolo Reduction’. The author not only suggests some Barolo producers but also recommends vintages. . . to cook with! Apparently the Pio Cesare 2004 is ideal for this recipe though, by implication, the 03 isn’t – too warm a vintage perhaps. This is clearly madness. Once you’ve reduced your wine and you’re tasting it through a mouthful of beef and blue cheese, the difference between vintages will be moot. Call me greedy but I’d keep the Barolo to drink and use a decent Nebbiolo (the Barolo grape) in the recipe. The Malvira Langhe 08 has a lot of the tannin and perfume though not the grace of its big brother. It’s £11.99. Pio Cesare 04 will be about £30.

It made me think about how good a wine should be to cook with. Received opinion in the wine world is that you should only cook with a wine that you would drink though I keep a bottle of slightly oxidised red by the hob for putting a slug in pasta sauces and it seems to work fine. I suppose it all depends on how long you’re going to cook the wine for and what role it plays in the dish. If it’s a major component or you’re not cooking it for long then you’ll need something decent. I made a disappointingly thin Bouef Bourguignon with a bottle of Romanian Pinot Noir last year. It would be fun (though not much) to make a dozen Bouef Bourguignons with wines ranging from a Chilean Pinot Noir to a decent Volnay. Which would taste best? I’ve made the dish many times and find that a good French country red such as a Cotes-du-Rhone works very well indeed. To be avoided are wines that might not taste sweet but have a lot of sugar in them, e.g. certain commercial New World reds. Some of them also have strange confected fruit which can strike an incongruous note in gravies and reductions.

The other wine-based dish I make often is a family concoction my wife calls swarthy chicken. We invented it during those happy days when we had lots of good Terre Arse (stop sniggering at the back) marsala in the house. When the marsala ran out I replaced it with a sherry, Botaina Amontillado, which was different but also delicious. I then got complacent and tried cheaper fortified wines: supermarket own-label finos, cooking marsala, white port. The results were a little sad. You really need an intense old wine to make the dish. So perhaps I’m being too hard on Brian and Virginia O’ Reilly. Perhaps they did try a wide variety of wines to make their dish and found that the most suitable were the Barolos mentioned in the recipes: Sordo 2007, Pio Cesare 2004 and Renato Ratti 2004. Or perhaps they’re just showing off.

*Apparently as a novel it’s not a success though there are lots of recipes she wants to cook.

About Henry

I’m a drinks writer. My day job is features editor at the Master of Malt blog. I also contribute to BBC Good Food, the Spectator and others. You can read some of my work here. I’ve done a bit of radio, given some talks and written a couple of books (Empire of Booze, The Home Bar and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary).
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5 Responses to Pass me the cooking Barolo

  1. Chaz Folkes says:

    I’ve come across a recipe that suggests a bottle of Barolo once before and shied away because of the cost. On the subject of Bouef Bourguignon, I’ve argued for a while now that it isn’t the real thing without a bottle of Burgundy in it, and that the name changes accordingly: eg: Bouef pays d’Oc, Bouef Cotes du Rhone et cetera. As for cooking with fortified wine, I’m afraid my taste buds are quite content with Sainsbury’s Fino, although I’ve been having a certain amount of success using Cinzano of late…

  2. We quoted two London chefs on this issue in our e-book, Wining & Dining

    Rowley Leigh, formerly of Kensington Place and now Le Café Anglais, says that “Whereas there’s no point cooking with really awful wine, I see even less point in cooking with anything really good. Winemakers spend a great deal of effort to arrive at a harmonious balance of sweetness and acidity, of fruit and tannin, which is dissipated practically the minute you put the wine in the pot …I could as easily pour Côte Rotie into the oxtail as give caviar to the cat.”

    But Jeremy Lee, the Blueprint Cafe chef who now cooks at Quo Vadis, says that “Quality does show. Even in a casserole that’s slow-cooked. If you use the thin, cheap stuff you have to use twice the amount to get any flavour. Of course, there is a cut-off point… and you want to cook with a bottle you can have a glass of, that’s for sure.”

    The final point is surely of key importance, and where your bottle of oxidised red by the hob may let you down…

  3. Henry says:

    Thanks for these wise words from well-known cooks. I have a horror of throwing anything out hence the old red for making pasta sauces. I know I should use something better but then there would be less for drinking.

  4. Pingback: Food Links, 06.02.2013 | Tangerine and Cinnamon

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