The acids in wine can actually transform the composition of food, especially tough meats. It acts as a tenderizer, penetrating the fibers, and softening proteins to make chewy meat soft to the teeth. Only because of color, chicken and seafood should be marinated with white wine, while red wine should be used for red meats. But if all you have is red wine and a couple slabs of chicken, then feel free to indulge -- your chicken will be purple but tasty. Marinate meats for at least two hours or more in the fridge to achieve results, and soak seafood no more than two hours because the delicate flesh will actually begin to cook.
Sometimes it's the wine flavor you'd like to keep. For instance, wild mushrooms are amazing saut?ed with port wine and garlic (see recipe). But a little dab'll do ya. Too much wine and all you'll taste is wine, even if you try to boil it all out. A light touch is best, and a few minutes of boiling will mellow the sharp alcoholic taste.
Normally, you'd want to use dry wines for savory sauces and marinades, but a sweeter wine like Madeira, port or late harvest can add depth to a sauce for gamey meats like duck, and give a dessert sauce some added zing. Some dry varietals to stick with: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
But does quality of the wine matter? Yes, in some circumstances. If you're only using wine to marinate and not create a sauce, then go ahead and use something in the less expensive range. But, if you're making a sauce that will add to the flavors of a dish, then the quality of wine used makes a big difference. Think "Garbage In, Garbage Out." Would you want to taste cheap wine in your painstakingly prepared coq au vin? Now, would I suggest using a $50 bottle of wine? Uh...no. Don't cook with what you wouldn't drink. Period.
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