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Vegetarian Journal May/Jun 2000

Classical Wine-Based French Sauces

By Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD


Selecting a wine for cooking is the same as selecting a wine for enjoying at the table. Wines used for cooking must intensify, complement, and match the selected ingredients. See the sidebar below for some suggestions for doing just this.

Commercial wines are not all vegetarian. Usually all the ingredients are vegan, but during the filtration process, filters may contain animal products, such as bone char. See VRG's website,, for a complete article on vegan wines. When inquiring at your favorite winery about the vegetarian status of their wine selections, ask detailed questions about the filtration process. Do not assume that all the wines from a particular winery are vegetarian, as you really have to ask about each variety. Some wineries produce a combination of vegetarian and nonvegetarian wines.

The method of food preparation is very important to decide on before selecting a wine. Ingredients that will be poached call for a fragile white wine, while a simmering brown sauce calls for a hearty red wine. Be sure to purchase enough wine when it comes to cooking and serving. The wine used in the sauce or the salad dressing may be perfect for serving at the table. For example, a smoked portobello "steak," quickly seared and deglazed with a Pinot Noir or a Merlot can be served with the same wine at the table.

Wines to create sauces can either complement or contrast the flavors of the ingredients. Complementing wines intensify and add richness to ingredients, while contrasting wines play off the ingredients, such as a fruity wine played against a spice combination or a higher-acid wine played against a high-fat ingredient, such as soy cheese or fried foods.


Wine sauces are rich in flavor, enhanced by soymilk (rice and grain milks lack the right texture for these sauces), oil or margarine, herbs, or by natural reduction. One rule that must be followed, though, is that garbage in equals garbage out, meaning that if you wouldn't drink it at the table don't put it in the sauce. Underflavored, over-acidic wines do not magically transform into wonder ingredients somewhere in the sauce-making process. That doesn't mean you have to use a $100 bottle of champagne for your sauces, but don't use the $2 bottle either. A simple red house wine may do for a hearty marinara sauce, but an exquisite sherry may be required for a sauce to be served with a delicate summer squash with poached Rainier cherries entrée.

A word about cooking wines: cooking wine is usually salted, an extra preservative method for wine which is produced to be around a lot of heat. A common kitchen myth is that cooking wine is salted to deter kitchen staff from imbibing while stirring the sauce.


Deglazing is a perfect way to create a simple, wine-based sauce. Hot wine is swirled in a sauté pan that has just been used to prepare meat or vegetables. Swirling the wine releases the juices and particles remaining from cooking, extracting all the flavor. The deglazing liquid is then reduced over high heat and can be served as a sauce on its own, or added to other sauces to enhance the flavor.

Reduction and the addition of roux is a classic way of building a sauce. Reduction is merely allowing the liquid to cook until a portion of it has evaporated, concentrating the flavors and color of the liquid. Roux is made with equal portions of flour and fat, worked into a paste and added slowly to hot stock as a thickener. Reduction is a lowfat method for flavorful sauce preparation, and the addition of roux allows for a creamy appearance without using milk or cream.

Classic sauces are "built" in stages. First a liquid is prepared, as in a stock or a deglazing. The liquid is then flavored or allowed to concentrate flavor with the addition of vegetables, dried fruit, chopped nuts, fresh or dried herbs, and wines and may also be allowed to reduce. Sauces are not finished with ingredients that either don't stand up well to heat (such as soymilk) or have strong or delicate flavors that do not react well to prolonged cooking. An example of the former would be broccoli florets and of the latter would be cilantro or chives. When preparing sauces, especially wine sauces, think about how you want the wine to influence the flavor of the sauce. This will help you to decide when to add it; at the beginning it will give you a pervasive wine flavor and at the end it will give a hint of wine.

Classic wine sauces may be derivatives of leading sauces, such as veloute or demiglaze (see sidebar on next page) or sauces in their own right. To prepare a simple red wine sauce, combine 1 quart of dry red wine with 2 ounces of chopped shallots or onions and allow to reduce until very syrupy. Add 1 quart of demiglaze or mushroom stock and allow to reduce by one third. Strain before serving and finish with 2 ounces of margarine, if desired. To create a red wine garlic sauce, sweat 4 ounces of minced garlic in 1½ ounces of margarine and add to the red wine sauce, as described above.

Port is a fortified red wine with a full, rich flavor. To prepare a port wine sauce, combine 1 quart of ruby port, 6 ounces of fresh orange juice, and ½ ounce of fresh orange zest. Cook over high heat until reduced to syrup. Add 1½ quarts of vegetable stock and reduce by one half. Strain the sauce and finish with 2 ounces of margarine, salt, and pepper, if desired.


Wine is a wonderful addition to sauces, enhancing flavor and color. The number of calories from alcohol in a dish will depend on the amount of alcohol that is cooked off before it is served. The longer the heating, the more alcohol calories are lost. However, even the longest heating time does not dissipate all the calories or alcohol. When alcohol is added at the end of cooking or to cold items such as salad dressings, all the alcohol and calories remain. This may be an issue for those diners who are counting calories or who are avoiding alcohol for other reasons.

Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that foods that are prepared with any type of alcohol, even alcohol-"free" wine or beer (since it is impossible to remove all the alcohol in any product) pose an issue for recovering alcoholics. Be sure to discuss this with your guests or family members if this might be a concern for them.


Wine sauces don't necessarily need to be cooked or hot to get on the menu. The tannins and acids in wines not only add flavor but can act as tenderizers for tough vegetables. You can simply allow ingredients to marinate in wine, in a combination of wine and wine vinegar, or you can create a wine-based marinade. For example, for a marinade powerful enough to stand up to turnips or carrots, combine a hearty red wine, sherry vinegar, olive oil, diced olives, dried thyme, minced garlic cloves, and fresh lemon zest. Always use nonreactive containers when marinating with wine to avoid having the metal of the container leach into the food.

Wines enhance the flavor of cold salad dressings and vinaigrettes, which by the way, can be used as marinades. For a speed-scratch solution, add wine, sherry, or port to prepared salad dressings.


Most wine experts will tell you that there is a wine for every cuisine and for every ingredient. Well, that's almost true.

Wine experts can recommend wines to add to chili, to complement Thai cuisine, and to add to the dressing on your cole slaw. The one ingredient that defies wine pairing is that thorny thistle, the artichoke.

Artichokes contain cynarin, an acid that tricks your taste buds into tasting flavors that just aren't there. For 80 percent of the world, cynarin creates a sweet taste, even for water. So, a lightly fruity wine will became cloying and overly sweet in the presence of cynarin, and even a tart, dry wine will taste slightly sweet, unpleasantly so. The only solution for this seems to be to cook the heck out of the artichoke (as in deep-frying); this appears to disable the cynarin reaction.


Wine can lift the spirits of any dish—soups, entrées, desserts, and especially sauces. Visit your local wine merchant and plan to include wine in more of your meal creations.

Variations on a Theme—with a basic sauce and a few ingredients, you can create thousands of sauces

1. Veloute To create 1 quart of veloute, beat 4 ounces of roux (2 ounces of flour and 2 ounces of fat, such as margarine or vegetable oil, worked into a paste) into 1 quart and 1 cup of hot vegetable or mushroom stock. Simmer for at least 45 minutes, skimming if necessary. Variations on Veloute: 2. Demiglaze To make 1 quart of demiglaze, combine 1 quart of mushroom stock and 1 quart of mushroom sauce (mushroom stock flavored with carrots, onions, celery, tomato purée, bay leaf, and thyme and thickened with roux) and allow to simmer until it is reduced by one-half. Variations on Demiglaze:

Pick and Choose: here are some cooking suggestions for just a few of the wonderful wines of the world


Excerpts from the May/June 2000 Issue

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

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