By Troy Knapp
“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food” is one of my all-time favorite quotes by W.C. Fields.
Now, of course, wine has a place in many dishes. However, cracking open a good bottle to sip on while preparing a great dinner and hanging out in the kitchen is what I’m talking about! A few sips and the stresses of daily life diminish and the senses of the kitchen start to engage.
So what to drink? Apéritif-style wines, or as I refer to them, “kitchen wines,” are recommended for the following purposes: They are great to sip on while you’re over the stove and also carry the qualities that are perfect for the typical recipe that may call for a splash of (dry) wine. Light bodied, bone dry, with no oak and an elevated acidity are the key points that make them recipe-friendly; in other words, “… two birds with one stone.” Feel free to pour a little in the dish you’re cooking while you’re topping up your glass.
Apéritif-style wines are not over-complicated and are frankly quite simple; they deliver loads of citrus with a core of stone-like qualities and sometimes even a touch of effervescence. These wines are meant to be enjoyed young and showcase a youthful freshness with razor-sharp focus. Adversely, starting out with an over-the-top, rich, extracted wine can surely strain the palate, which is not where you want to be while creating a nice dish that requires your taste buds to be alert. Save the big wine for the meal itself.
Here are a few of my favorite apéritif wines:
Muscadet: This is the name of the cool wine region in the most western part of the Loire Valley where the Loire River meets the Atlantic Ocean. The wines are made from a grape variety known locally as Melon de Bourgogne. It’s important not to confuse this with grape with varieties such as Muscadelle or Muscat, otherwise known as Moscatel.
Vinho Verde: This wine shows a very slight effervescence and has wonderful, tart lemon-lime quality. Vinho Verde is not only the name of the wine, but also the name of the region from which it hails. Located in Northern Portugal, in close proximity to the oceanic influence, this wine can be made from a blend of indigenous grapes. It is said that Vinho Verde has a respect for intelligence as it is lower in alcohol and is therefore slow to inebriate. This is certainly a wine that is great to sip and won’t require a nap after a few glasses.
Aligoté: This grape is found in wines from Bouzeron. In Burgundy, France, where Chardonnay is the star, this small region lies in the South, specifically in the Côte Chalonnaise, and is well worth seeking out. Beautiful by itself, the wine can also be served with a touch of crème de cassis, which makes it become a classic apéritif known as kir.
Picpoul de Pinet: This wine is from the south of France. The grape variety Picpoul translates literally as “lip-stinger,” referring to the naturally high acidity. These wines display a generous amount of bright, fresh citrus that will surely stimulate your appetite.
Dry Riesling: Made in a classy style, this wine is quite nice for this occasion as well. Australia’s Eden and Clare valley, as well as Austria, are perfect for this. They are aromatic, racy and typically dry versus the sweeter styles of Riesling.
Sparkling: A sparkler, the wine of all occasions, is certainly well-suited to set the palate up for a good evening of enjoyment. Prosecco delivers great freshness and doesn’t carry the complexity or the price tag of Champagne, so it finds a comfortable spot in the apéritif category.
These wines are lesser known and are often underrated, especially considering they carry $9- to $18-price tags. Most of them can be found at your local wine specialty store and are sure to get your palate stimulated.
Cooking with wine can open your mind, stimulate your palate and aid in an exciting culinary journey; it may take you places you never imagined. So pop open a bottle, get out the pots and pans and find your inspiration!
Troy Knapp is the executive chef of the Hyatt Hill Country Resort and a certified sommelier.