I suspect that many of us will agree on one thing; that leftover wine is something of a myth. In my case it is about as comprehensible as quantum physics theory. I just cannot get my head around it. But with age comes a little wisdom. Not that I am any closer to understanding the laws of the universe, but I have learned that it is better to save the remains of a bottle of wine for another day rather than bracing myself for the inevitable thick head.
Supposing you've had a party and there are several half-opened bottles left. (It happens, apparently.) There is no need to pour it away. (Sadly, I have seen this happen too.) If you look after the wine properly it will keep for at least another day, if not more. It is unlikely to taste the same (although in some rare cases, I have found that red wines have improved, but that probably says more about my taste buds).
Your wine will need to be tightly resealed, whether you use the original cork or a rubber one with a vacuum pump sealer, to remove the air. If you only have a small amount of wine left, then it is best to decant it into a smaller bottle or a clean jar. I have to admit that I have never found the vacuum pumps to have made much of a difference. If the wine is left open to air for any length of time, it will begin to oxidise. If you put the resealed bottle in the fridge, this will help show the process.
Wine that has been opened for a few days and is perhaps a bit past its prime is perfect for cooking or for using in marinades and salad dressings, and gives a boost of rich flavour and intensity to all sorts of sauces, soups and stews, or makes a good base for poaching fruit such as the classic pear in red wine. In the summer, a beautiful dessert can be made by macerating strawberries and other soft fruit with a little sugar, wine, rose or champagne.
I have been asked whether there are hard and fast rules about which wines to use in which dish. The classic combination is to use red wine with duck and game as well as red meats, and white wine for seafood, eggs and white meat. Personally, I think these sorts of rules are made to be broken; just work with what you've got. I have found that in some cases the colour of the wine can be interchanged. While I prefer to drink the sort of robust, full-bodied, tannin-rich wines that make you feel as if you have just inhaled the contents of a cigar box, I find that young, fresh, fruity red wines are best for cooking. In any case, no matter which wine you use, you will lose many of its drinking qualities through cooking; all the subtleties, nuances and top notes of flavour are often destroyed by heat.
1. Sangria chicken
In the cookbooks I inherited from my mother, the authors of the 1960s and 70s seemed to love hurling any old exotic ingredient into a dish and then giving it some glamorous Mediterranean name redolent of the Riviera set. I think it was a reaction to postwar rationing and frankly some of the recipes sounded horrible and looked worse. However, this recipe is something of an exception and was a family favourite.
1 small orange
125ml red wine
4 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
24 green olives
2 tbsp capers in vinegar, drained
1 tbsp pickling vinegar (from the capers)
4 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2kg chicken legs (about 8 whole legs, including thigh and drumstick)
2 tbsp honey or light brown sugar
Quarter the orange and then cut into thin slices. Remove any pips. Do the same with the lemon half.
In a large bowl, combine the orange and lemon slices with wine, olive oil, vinegar, olives, capers, caper pickling liquid, bay leaves, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper and honey. Make sure that it is well mixed.
Add the chicken pieces and massage them in the liquid to ensure that they are well-coated in the marinade.
Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight in the fridge.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4.
Spread the chicken legs out in a large baking dish, (skin-side up). Pour all of the marinade over the chicken.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and golden brown. Baste every 15 minutes or so.
2. Prawns with garlic and chilli
Prawns, garlic Aleppo pepper and white wine. Photograph: Rachel Kelly
This is one of the simplest of recipes, based on the classic Spanish tapas dish. It is best served piping hot with lots of crusty bread to mop up the spicy juices
I have used Aleppo pepper which has a mild, fruity flavour, but chilli flakes will be just as good, if a little hotter.
Serves 4 to 6
500g raw king prawns, peeled
4 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, very finely sliced
1 tsp Aleppo pepper (or dried chilli flakes)
60ml white wine
fresh parsley, very finely chopped (to serve)
Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium to high heat. The oil at the point where it starts to develop a haze, (although not burning). Add the garlic and Aleppo pepper into the hot oil, where they will start to immediately sizzle.
Tip in the prawns and stir to coat in the fragrant oil. They will immediately begin to cook and turn opaque. As soon as the prawns have turned from grey to pink, add the wine, which should bubble nicely. Cook for a further minute and the prawns are ready to serve, lightly seasoned with salt. Sprinkle with a little chopped parsley.
3. Last year, Felicity Cloake's Readers' Recipe Swap Wine challenge had some truly splendid entries. But Betty Bee's Moorish braised partridge with cinnamon and raisins was an inspired winning recipe.
4. A basic tomato sauce is enhanced by the fruity intensity of red or white wine. A splash of wine in a simple tomato soup is lovely too.
5. Wine of either colour is essential in a Bolognese sauce. Personally I prefer red, but to be honest, I can rarely tell the difference after a long, slow cook. Take a look at Justina at Food for a King's amazing duck ragu.
6. I can't think of many seafood dishes that would object to a healthy slug of white wine, from a classic moules marinières to seafood chowder or bouillabaisse. I also use white wine in a classic butter or cream sauces, although you should be careful as the sauce can separate.
7. Felicity Cloake's perfect moules marinières also proves that simple classics can be "fast food" too.
8. For those of us who like our chicken well roasted, with a crisp skin, then the Chinese way of poaching chicken can look a bit anaemic. But in fact it gives the chicken the most incredible flavour and moist texture, even if a bit pale. A recipe that I particularly like is for "drunken" chicken - a name that is only really applicable if your cheap date of a chicken is drunk on a mere glass of wine or sherry!
10. During the legendary Save a Banana Day, during which I managed to save a goodly few bananas and take them to a better place, one of the recipes I made was for a Filipino ketchup which used bananas as its main ingredient. It was delicious. I took the leftovers home and started to get requests. So the next time I made it, I added white wine and then used the ketchup as a marinade for chicken. This banana ketchup recipe, which benefits from perhaps a week of aging in the fridge, really is rather good.
Banana ketchup and chutney includes leftover white wine. Photograph: Rachel Kelly
11. On my list of things to try is Camilla at Fab Food 4 All's amazing slow cooked pulled lamb in white wine recipe.
12. One of my favourite dishes is the classic oeufs en meurette (eggs poached in a red wine). You might think it sounds a bit odd. And I have to confess that I have never been able to make it look pretty, as the egg white takes on a washed-out purple colour. Ignore the looks, go for flavour.
13. Elizabeth's gorgeous slow-cooked beef brisket in red wine is another delicious recipe that benefits from a little red wine.
14. Since I love history and historical recipes so much, I could not pass up the opportunity to share Hannah Glasse's 1747 recipe "To dress a duck with cucumber" from The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Simple, which includes a small glass of claret.
15. Try Rupert Kirby's tipsy slices (rabanadas) - a Portuguese version of pain perdu (French toast) spiked with port, although red or white wine would work well too.
16. Summery sausages and caramelised onions is something of a family favourite and uses a mere two tablespoons of wine, added to a caramelised onion gravy to accompany sausages and a pea puree. It's the kind of recipe that is perfect for those times when we have at least three seasons in one day; hot, cold, grey, wet or perhaps just a normal summer in England.
17. For those of you that like wine and chocolate, you might like to try this Spanish-style pigeon recipe.
18. Claire from Out of the Ordinary (and also a frequent commenter on Word of Mouth as "Steenbeck") has some gorgeous dark chocolate and red wine cookies. Check out her food blog - she has playlists to cook to as well.
21. Another of Claire's fantastic recipes is fennel and carrots braised in white wine with star anise, which is on my list of things to cook the next time I do a Sunday roast.
23. An intriguing idea I saw was to use leftover red wine to make a red-wine flavoured salt, to season roasting meats, soups and stews. Although having read that red wine also has a beneficial and softening effect on your skin, it might be worth using as a bath salt too!
What do you do with yours? Red or white? Sweet or savoury?
Sangria chicken recipe using leftover red wine. Photograph: Rachel Kelly