One day not so long ago, Casey Cobb was cooking a recipe that called for half a cup of dry red wine. This launched one of those existential moments:
"I suddenly thought: What the heck is a 'dry red wine'?" Finding "about fifty million different red wines" at his local supermarket, he asked employees for advice on which variety would be best in his dish. No one knew. He felt so intimidated that he went home and made a different recipe, sans vin.
"When people cook with wine, they tend to just dump anything in there, like it's interchangeable. But it's not," says Cobb, whose newly launched Concord-based Academie Wines is the nation's first winery to offer premium wines only for cooking. Sourcing the components from five other wineries in Napa, Sonoma, and Lodi, he creates "mosaic blends" to complement a range of main ingredients from pork to pheasant.
The way a wine tastes in the glass is radically different from how it tastes once it's heated and reduced: "Cabernet becomes harsh and acidic, for instance," Cobb says. "Its oakiness and tannic qualities get emphasized as it reduces down, and those flavors don't do well in most dishes."
He plans to start hosting educational seminars soon at which participants can sample a wide selection of wines in the glass, then taste these varieties after they've been heated to various temperatures for various lengths of time.
"It's a shame that in this culinary epicenter of the United States we spend all this time picking out the perfect organic vegetables and fruits but think nothing of pouring just any wine into the dish to cook them with," Cobb says. "And when a recipe calls for simply 'half a cup of wine' -- or even 'red wine' or 'white wine' -- that's like saying, 'Go to your spice cabinet and throw in half a cup of any spice you want.'"