Which Dry White Wines Are Best For Cooking? White Wine Guide

Ah, cooking wine. With its relatively straightforward name, we're pretty sure you know what cooking wine is. Cooking wine is made for cooking — not drinking. Mind-blowing, we know! Because cooking wine is made explicitly for cooking, it is pretty different than drinking wine. While sure, you could still drink it like regular wine; we wouldn't suggest it because it wasn't intended for that purpose. We are gonna talk about the best white wines for cooking and some favorite recipes for food & wine pairings. 

Is Cooking Wine Different From Regular Wine?

The primary differentiation between cooking wine and drinking wine is the alcohol content. Drinking wine has a lower alcohol content (typically 10% or less), and cooking wine has a higher alcohol content (usually 18% or more). This difference in alcohol content is because the alcohol is burned off while cooking. If cooking wine did not have as much alcohol, it would leave your food tasting like burnt wine, which is not the flavoring people are typically hoping for when cooking with wine! 

Wine has four chief applications in the kitchen: a marinade ingredient, a cooking liquid, a flavoring in a finished dish, and lastly, and most importantly, for enjoying while cooking. In general, the purpose of wine in cooking is to enhance the food's flavor and aroma.

The concept of "sugar and spice and everything nice" is true for seasoning your food. Like all seasoning, there's a fine line between enhancing the dish's flavor and overbearing it. Add too little wine, and you won't get the taste you're hoping for; add too much wine, and it will be extremely overwhelming. Neither of these options is ideal or what you're looking for when cooking. 

Adding wine too late in the preparation process creates a harsh, metallic taste that won't make the food taste good. Instead, wine should simmer amongst your food and sauces, providing the opportunity to enhance the dish's flavor. As wine cooks, it reduces and becomes an extract which flavors.

While wine does belong alongside every dish, it does not belong in every dish. More than one wine-based sauce in a meal can be a little monotonous; it is best to have one wine-based sauce per course.

Which Is Better for Cooking: White or Red?

The trick to cooking with wine is knowing what characteristics the wine brings to the dish you are cooking. Sweet wines will add sweetness; dry wines will add a drier flavor. If you are hoping for a sweet dish, try a sweet wine, and vice versa. If you use sparkling wine, no worries, it works much like a white wine would too!

When choosing white or red wine, what is most important is what you are cooking. Either one is great, and both have their place in any meal. However, don't think you need to stick to one style of wine for a whole meal. A crisp white wine goes well with shellfish and cream sauces, while a full-bodied red pairs nicely with grilled or smoked meats.

Rich, dry wine, such as a Chardonnay, is best for creamy chicken dishes; crisp wines, such as Pinot Grigio, work well with lighter options like seafood dishes; and light, fruity white wines are perfect for veggies. Sherry wine is a sweet fortified wine typically used to add a nutty flavor to dishes along with the sweet flavor. 

Some people opt to use white wine in the kitchen for purposes other than drinking and cooking. One of these ways is to deglaze a pan. A deglaze is the process of removing bits of food from a dirty pan with wine — or, in this case, making your pan shine after a long day of work. Unless you are some sort of god when it comes to cooking, sometimes bits of food is leftover in your pan. 

Red wine is a popular choice for meaty dishes such as beef stews, bolognese, and reductions. The tart flavor and deep color of wines like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz/Syrah, and Cabernet Franc make them perfect for rich, savory meals.

If you're making dessert, sweet red wines are the way to go. Much like Riesling, Madeira, and Sauternes, sweet reds pair well with poached fruit in tarts or cakes. They also make fantastic glazes for meat and vegetables.

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

Why Is Dry White Wine Used for Cooking?

In general, you should choose a dry white wine when cooking unless your recipe calls for something different. You want the wine to add acidity, not sweetness. For most cooks, white wine is a pantry staple because it is incredibly versatile. 

Dry white wine serves many purposes, from deglazing brown bits for a pan sauce for sauteed fish, pork, chicken, or mushrooms to using it in risotto for a touch of acidity. A dry white wine is essentially any wine that isn't sweet. For cooking, you want a wine with high acidity. 

Why Do Cooking Wines Need a High Acidity?

Wines with 10 to 14 percent alcohol content are suitable for cooking because they have the right combination of acidity and alcohol. A wine that's too alcoholic will not have enough acidity to tenderize your food, so it will take a lot longer to cook. 

What Recipes Can Use White Wine?

There are very few food items that aren't improved by white wine. Delicious Italian pasta dishes, mussel dishes, oysters, and a ridiculous amount of chicken recipes are made even better by simply adding white wine. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Sautées
  • Risotto
  • Shellfish
  • Bisque
  • Chicken Marsala

What Are the Best Dry White Wines for Cooking?

  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Grigio
  • Chardonnay
  • Sauvignon Blanc

Will Cooking With Wine Get Me Drunk?

Drinking cooking wine might get you drunk; however, cooking with drinking wine will not. 

Can I Substitute Anything for Cooking Wine?

Doing a dry month or happen to not have any on hand (because you drank it all?) Been there, done that! There are plenty of non-alcoholic substitutes you can use while cooking that are equally as delicious as wine! While some replacements, such as grape juice, replace wine equally in recipes, others need other components, like added ingredients, to be an adequate substitute. 

The vital thing to remember when looking for wine at the grocery store, as we've mentioned, is remembering that wine is added to create the desired flavor. So when replacing wine, keep that in mind! Here are some options: red and white wine, fruit or veggie juices such as tomato, pomegranate, cranberry, grape, apple, or stocks, such as chicken, beef, veggie or lemon juice. Whether the wine is from California, New York or Italy, make sure that you know how it is going to add subtle nuances to your dishes.