Raise a glass if you've heard this one before.
You receive a bottle of wine as a gift during the holidays. After cracking it open, one taste says it all: this gifted wine is just awful, and no amount of holding your nose can change that. At the same time, you can’t just regift it or throw it out—nobody in their right mind “wastes wine,” no matter how "bad" it is.
I went to the pros at Union Square Hospitality Group to solve this problem: Chef Eric Korsh of North End Grill, Chef Howard Kalachnikoff of Gramercy Tavern, and Sam Lipp, general manager at Union Square Cafe. They've all had brushes with bad wine and had plenty of suggestions for putting those bottles to good use.
A note on etiquette before we start: “I’d thank my guest regardless of how crappy the wine is,” says Kalachnikoff. After all, “some recipes exist because somebody didn’t want to waste wine.”
The Bad Bottle: Overly Sweet Riesling
Even though the riesling grape offers a huge scope of flavor, from honey-sweet to bone dry, bad rieslings nail you with one flavor: sugar. They're way too sweet for the dinner table but don't make the cut for dessert, either.
Luckily, with a little added sharpness from mustard, you can use riesling to braise a rabbit or chicken. "You need to add enough of really excellent mustard,” says Korsh. “There needs to be a counterpoint to that ultra sweet riesling.” After browning and removing chicken, add the wine for reducing and scraping up the brown bits. In the pan, add a high-quality Dijon mustard, shallots, garlic, and, of you've got it, dried porcini powder, which gives the braise a deeper flavor.
The bad bottle: Overoaked Chardonnay
Chardonnay can pick up lovely buttery, vanilla notes when it ages in an oak barrel. But this is a slippery slope—holding the wine too long in oak can impart some "off" flavors, sawdust being one of them.
If you can’t drink that chardonnay without thinking of a lumber yard, look to the punch bowl. Both chefs Korsh and Kalachnikoff make a sangria using chardonnay. Korsh adds saké, plus lots of colorful fruit like kiwis, strawberries, and pineapple.
The bad bottle: Tannic Cabernet Sauvignon
Know that dry feeling in your gums when you drink red wine? Those are the tannins, which help give wine structure and an ability to age. When a wine is too tannic, it can taste like a mouthful of cotton balls. If you don't want to use the wine in a braise like you would with a zinfandel, you can transform a cabernet sauvignon into a vermouth by infusing it with some seasonal spices.
Simmer the wine with fall spices like cloves and cinnamon, then add a neutral grain spirit like Everclear. Strain, transfer to a bottle and keep refrigerated. You can now use this aromatized wine in place of vermouth in cocktail recipes. And if your guests ask why you cocktails are so good? Take a cue from Lipp: “You don’t necessarily have to let your guests know where this vermouth came from."
Check out more ways to deal with bad wines.
More from Epicurious