“Ok it is fine, just grab a cheap 2€ bottle, it is just for cooking”. Please, please, please – don’t. Sure, you will cook it after marinating, so you’ll be removing the alcohol, but you are still concentrating the flavors. So if you concentrate bad flavors, with a cheap wine, you’ll get a bad base for your marinade; and even more important, you want to eat it … think about it …
So not a 2€ wine, but of course not a 50€ wine either, or just half of it if you can afford it, and drink the rest.
A great rule of thumb in terms of wine marinades is if you can drink the same wine as you used for marinating your meat, or fish; you will definitely have a good balance of flavors. So which wine for which marinade: white or red, or both?
You need to understand first that marinating a dish was used in the past to preserve food, especially meat: using oil, sugar, and the acidity of the wine. It has very powerful flavors and mainly to tenderize the meat. Thus, the marinating time is very important.
The 3 types of marinade
The most popular marinade, where the meat is (usually) covered with wine and aromatic herbs and vegetables (olive oil, thyme, savory, shallot, garlic, bay leaves, cloves, pepper). Let it rest for at least 24 hours depending on the meat; the more the stronger & tougher the meat, the more it has to marinate to become softer and moister.
I usually use a strong tannic red wine for marinating meats, beef or pork, which are not very strong in flavor and white wine for game or lamb. You don’t need to overpower the meat with overly strong wine, as it would be too much.
And always taste your marinade, if it is too acidic, or too sweet, it is not ok: as always, it has to be balanced. And no salt in the marinade, it will cook the meat too much and will tighten the meat fibers, which is the opposite of what you are aiming for when marinating.
Same garnish but you would be pan searing your meats and seasoning before deglazing it with wine and continue cooking till done. And then let it rest and cool down: it is better if you are marinating a whole leg of meat (big pieces). This is the old-fashioned way of stewing.
There is usually no wine in this one, but the acidity is replaced with lemon or vinegar, but sometimes light white wine can be used. It is a great marinade to cook a fish or seafood, keeping all the flavors.
Well now you have the tips, so get cooking!