When I began holding small dinner parties for friends at home, I relied on the French secret of 'cooking with wine'. In my case it was less a matter of tenderising poor cuts of meat, and more one of hiding my less-than-perfect kitchen skills. I was only 20 and still quite a novice in the culinary department. If there was a mite too much salt, if the chicken was a bit scorched or the potatoes were undercooked, half a bottle of Bordeaux in the mix worked wonders to smooth everything over. My sauces were eagerly lapped up. But as my cooking skills improved I've learned that the real secret of wine cookery, be it beef bourguignon or pears poached in brandy, is that there is no such thing as 'cooking wine'. You might think guests would not notice a cheap bottle of sherry or red in a stew, but you would be mistaken. In fact, the wine can make or break the dish. A good rule is always to pour into the pot the same wine you will be drinking. The difference it will make to your sauce is unbelievable. And pairing the wine with the food is a snap. Coq au vin, which I've been making for years, continues to garner rave reviews. What has changed is that these days the ingredients are cooked correctly, and I pull it together with a good cabernet sauvignon. Sheila Lukins, an old friend and fellow New Yorker, includes a recipe for coq au vino bianco - or chicken cooked in Italian white wine - in her popular New Basics cookbook. She also mentions that in Flanders they add beer to this popular chicken recipe. In Provence it is tomatoes and black olives with the red wine. In Normandy they substitute cider, and the Alsatians top it off with egg yolks and cream. Navarin of lamb owes its special sticky texture to the addition of dry red. Traditional bouillabaisse takes on new life when you add a bulb of fresh fennel and a few glasses of gewurtztraminer. I put soave bolla in white clam sauce, red wine in tomato-basil pasta sauce and always include a glass of hearty madeira in my famous soup of porcini-shitake-morel mushrooms. Tuscan chicken, lively with the unexpected jolts of olives, raisins, capers and shallots, reaches sublimity when simmered in a deep pool of chianti classico. So be creative. Start off by swirling a dash or two of decent port into your next batch of onion soup. Then, for a really big finish, fill a goblet with frosted grapes that spent the day in the fridge soaking up grappa.