Cooking Wine: What's The Best Wine For Cooking?


Cooking wine is the unfun sibling that, for lack of better words, isn't as fun. And by that, we most definitely mean that it is used for cooking instead of consuming, as the name probably already gave away. But, we are guessing a nice Google search brought you here, and you are eager to fill your brain with all of the knowledge on cooking wine you can possibly find. Perhaps one day, it'll be a trivia question, and you will wow the crowd with your knowledge of cooking wine. Whatever brought you to want to learn more about the world of cooking wine is great, and we'll feed you the knowledge you crave. 

As we said, cooking wine is for cooking and not for drinking. It's not just leftover wine from your last trip to the grocery store, a pinot noir left with no more shelf life, or a bottle of wine you don't intend on drinking. Cooking wine and regular wine (aka drinking wine) have two different purposes, and because of their objectives, they are created differently. So if you are wondering if you can drink cooking wine, let's take a pause here: there is a huge and glaring difference between can and should. There are a lot of things you can do, but you do not do because you have values and or are a good person. For example, you can tell your boss you hate their suggestions and get a life. But should you tell them? Probably not if you like your job and want to keep it. Therefore, yes, you can drink cooking wine, it most definitely will not kill you, however, should you drink it? Probably not when there are so many other delicious options out there that are made for consumption! 

They can both be nutty, oaky, or expensive wines, but if you're making risotto or a cream sauce, you might think you need to buy a bottle of dedicated cooking wine. (Spoiler Alert: You don't!) The main difference between cooking wine and drinking wine is the amount of alcohol content. Cooking wine is moderately high, mainly because most of the alcohol will burn off during the cooking process. If cooking wine had a low level of alcohol, it would burn off far too quickly, and therefore, your food would taste yucky and like burnt wine instead of the wine's underlying flavors. Additionally, cooking wine also adds salt and a few other preservatives that are typically not found in your average drinking wines. Why the salt? Because of the flavor, of course! While cooking wines can be either white or red, you will find that they are more commonly red wine. 

How to Use Wine for Cooking

Ah, so we've enticed you into wanting to give cooking with wine a try, have we? * pats self on the back* Alright, wine has four main uses in the kitchen: a marinade ingredient, a cooking liquid, a flavoring in a finished dish, and lastly, and frankly most importantly, for enjoying while cooking. In general, the function of wine in cooking is to intensify, enhance, and accent the food's flavor and aroma. 

As with all seasoning in cooking, there is a fine line between enhancing the dish's flavor and overbearing it. Too little wine will not add the flavor you crave, but too much wine will be overwhelming. Let's be honest: neither option is what you're looking for when cooking. 

For best results, wine should not be added to the dish immediately before serving. Adding wine too late in the process results in a not-so-crave-worthy harsh quality that will have you and your guests not so happy. Therefore, wine should simmer amongst your food and sauce, allowing it the opportunity to enhance the flavor of the dish. Here's why: as wine cooks, it reduces and becomes an extract, which flavors. 

Keep in mind that wine does not belong in every dish. (Keyword is belong IN every dish, it does, in fact, belong WITH every dish) More than one wine-based sauce in a meal can be a little monotonous. 

Avoid Anything Labeled “Cooking Wine”

Earlier, we explained the difference between cooking wine and drinking wine. And one of the things we highlighted is that cooking wine is packed full of preservatives and additives. So our friendly little tip: avoid cooking with anything labeled cooking wine. 

Choose a Moderately Priced Wine

Now that we have convinced you to use drinking wine for cooking let's discuss what to look for when selecting a cooking wine. We'll be upfront with you and share that knowing which wine to cook with can be challenging, but once you get to know the basics well, you will be well on your way, preparing the most delicious, flavorful dishes you have ever created. As you know, wine comes in various flavors, and understands what wines pair with what foods and flavors will set you up for success. 

The first step into cooking with wine: read the darn recipe! Narrow down your search and make cooking more simple by doing what you should and already are doing. Even though you might not fully grasp the difference in wine types, just knowing the types of wine you should be looking for makes your job a lot easier. 

Second step: tasting wine. This is the step that we excel in! Try different wines and taste for sweeter and dryer flavors. Typically, use sweet wines when you are baking desserts or sweets and dry wine when you are gearing up to make a savory dish. 

Third step: check the alcohol content. Usually, wine with an alcohol content between 10 to 14 percent is best for cooking because wines that are too alcoholic will have less acidity, and acidity is crucial when tenderizing. Plus, they will take a lot longer to reduce. 

Know What the Wine Is Adding to the dish 

Before we get into what white or red wines are perfect for cooking, let’s set the record straight. The most important aspect of cooking with wine is knowing what the wine is bringing to the dish. If you are hoping to bring sweetness, opt for a sweet wine. If you are hoping to bring a dry flavor, opt for a dry wine. 

Best White Wines for Cooking

Well, that depends on what you're cooking! So let's break it down. 

Dry white wines are best if you are cooking white meat, fish, or creamy sauces. A crisp, dry wine is best known and associated with adding incredible flavor to creamy sauces, chicken, shellfish, and soups. 

While a rich, dry wine, such as a Chardonnay, is excellent for creamy, chicken dishes, a crisp wine, such as Pinot Grigio, is better for lighter options like seafood, while a light wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, would be perfect for veggies. 

And what about sweet white wines, you ask? Well, they are typically used less in cooking, but if your recipe calls for a sweeter, white wine, we suggest grabbing a Chenin Blanc, Muscat, or White Zinfandel. 

Another way to use a crisp white wine in the kitchen: deglazing your pan. Essentially, deglazing is a fancy-dancy way of saying, "removing bits of food from a dirty pan with wine." Unless you are some sort of food cooking god, when you cook, bits of food often remain in the pan. Deglazing allows you to maximize their flavor by mixing in some white wine to create a flavorful broth and stew sauce. 

Finally, if you are curious about cooking with sparkling wine, that is also an option! Usually, sparkling wines are used when whipping up sorbets, savories or tangy vinaigrette. 

Best Red Wines for Cooking

If you are opting to cook with red wine, you are likely hoping to make a meal filled with rich flavors. Dry red wines are perfect when cooking reductions, sauces, meaty stew, or Bolognese. In particular, we choose to use Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz/Syrah, and Cabernet Franc.

Making dessert? Then opt for a sweeter red! Sweet red wines are perfect with poached fruit and also work fantastic in cakes and glazes. In particular, we opt for sweet reds that include Rieslings, Madeira, and Sauternes. 

Cooking with rose wine is also an option if you are opting for lighter flavors. The dryer varieties of rose wine are perfect for items like marinades and casseroles. 

What to Substitute for Wine in Cooking

Drink all of the wine or doing a dry month? Don't worry! There are plenty of non-alcoholic substitutes you can use to cook with to make your favorite chicken marsala that are equally as delicious. While some ingredients, such as grape juice, may replace wine equally in recipes, other components may need to be mixed with other ingredients to make an adequate substitute. 

The most important thing to remember when substituting wine is recognizing the desired flavor you have in mind. For instance, if you are looking for a sweet taste, opt for a sweet ingredient! 

Here are some good wine options: red and white wine, fruit or veggie juices such as tomato, pomegranate, lemon, cranberry, grape, or apple, or stocks, such as, chicken, beef, or veggie.