It can be not easy to choose which wine to cook with, but once you understand the basics, you’ll be well on your way to creating delicious, flavorful dishes. There are many different wine flavors to choose from, and knowing what wines go well with which foods and flavors can aid you in your search for the ideal cooking wine. For cream or chicken dishes, choose a rich, dry wine like Chardonnay, a crisper Pinot Grigio for seafood, and a lighter Sauvignon Blanc for vegetables. Although sweet white wines are less commonly used in cooking, try a Chenin Blanc, Muscat, or White Zinfandel if a recipe calls for one.
Choosing a wine to cook with isn’t as complicated as it appears. In general, use a wine that you would drink yourself when cooking. You can cook with an open bottle of wine or even a generic bottle from the corner store. Spend a little more time looking for a wine that you’d enjoy on its own if you drink the exact wine with the meal. You probably only use a splash of wine in your cooking, so save that top-shelf, limited-release vintage for another night. Most of what makes that expensive wine special (complex aromas, maturity) will be lost in the cooking process.
What to Look for When Choosing a Cooking Wine?
Choosing a wine to cook with can be difficult for even the most experienced chef, but here are some essential tips for choosing a cooking wine:
Consider the Recipe
Pay careful attention to the recipe’s instructions so you know what type of wine should be used. The recipe will often provide wine recommendations that complement the dish. If not, you can determine the correct wine based on other ingredients.
For example, a crisp, dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio pairs nicely with the ingredients used to make shrimp scampi. In addition to using wine for sweet and savory food recipes, you can also use it to make delicious and refreshing cocktails. Try searching for some fun and creative wine cocktail recipes to make in addition to your dishes — this is another way to put your wine to excellent use!
Read the Label
Reading the wine bottle label is especially important for checking the alcohol content, as some white cooking wines have lower alcohol content than others. Additionally, if a label describes the wine as “fruity,” this doesn’t necessarily mean it has high sugar content — this refers to its concentrated fruit flavor. The more details this label has, the more reliable the brand is. Reading the label can help you make a more informed decision when selecting a bottle of wine. In addition to the winery’s name, you can also find a brief description of the wine that includes the specific grape variety, the year these grapes were harvested, the region they were grown in, and the alcohol by volume (ABV) and tasting notes.
What are the Indicators of Wine Quality?
Here are four indicators of wine quality:
Higher quality wines are more complex in their flavor profile, and they often have numerous layers that release flavors over time. Lower quality wines lack this complexity, having just one or two main notes that may or may not linger. With high-quality wines, these flavors may appear on the palate one after the other, giving you time to savor each one before the next appears.
Wines with good balance will be of higher quality than ones where one component stands out above the rest. The five components – acidity, tannins, sugar/sweetness, alcohol, and fruit – must be balanced. For wines that need several years of aging to reach maturity, this gives them the time to reach optimal balance. Higher quality wines don’t necessarily need moderation in each component – indeed, some red wines have higher acidity while others have higher alcohol content. What makes the difference is that the other components balance things out.
Another indicator of wine quality comes from typicity, or how much the wine looks and tastes the way it should. For example, red Burgundy should have a specific appearance and taste, and it’s this combination that wine connoisseurs look for with each new vintage. An Australian Shiraz will also have a certain typicity, as will a Barolo, a Rioja, or a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Intensity and Finish
The final indicators of both white and red wine quality are the intensity and finish. High-quality wines will express intense flavors and a lingering finish, with flavors lasting after you’ve swallowed the wine. Flavors that disappear immediately can indicate that your wine is of moderate quality. The better the wine, the longer the flavor finish will last on your palate.
What’s the Difference Between Cooking Wine and Regular Wine?
The term “cooking wine” usually refers to a regular table wine suitable for both drinking and cooking. However, you may come across bottles with the same name in grocery stores, usually near the vinegar and seasonings. Consider it like making “wine”: Although these wines contain alcohol, they also contain salt, sugar, and other spices to keep them shelf-stable and flavorful. (Shaoxing wine, also known as Chinese cooking wine, is a seasoned rice wine popular in Chinese cuisine.) Cooking “wine” should not be consumed.
Best Varietals of White Wine for Cooking
There are three common white wine varietals, but as with anything in cooking, improvise as best you can if you don’t have it. Higher residual sugar varietals, such as riesling or Gewürztraminer, aren’t recommended for cooking because the sugar can caramelize and make a savory dish too sweet. Wines like Albarino or Chenin blanc, which have a similar dry character to the ones listed below, work well.
- Pinot grigio is a standard white used for cooking, thanks to its dry, crisp, and uncomplicated nature. It complements the more delicate character of most seafood dishes by brightening a seasoned broth for steamed mussels or adding a nudge of dimension to shrimp and linguine showered in fresh herbs. Learn more about pinot grigio here.
- Sauvignon blanc is a crisp white wine that can add citrusy and herbaceous elements to a dish. This style of white works in harmony with a fresh, kicky marinade or sautéeing fresh fish—but it’s also the preferred choice when making risotto. The acidic, juicy character of Sauvignon blanc is a perfect pairing for the dense creaminess of the risotto; including it in the cooking process lays an outstanding echo of that pairing into the dish itself. Learn more about sauvignon blanc here.
- Chardonnay is a classically buttery, rich, and full-bodied wine whose wine works well in preparing a creamy chicken dish or a pasta sauce. Avoid a chardonnay that’s too oaky because it will likely turn bitter throughout the cooking process; an unoaked chardonnay gets the job done nicely.
Best Varietals of Red Wine for Cooking
- Cabernet sauvignon is a famous full-bodied wine. It’s an excellent choice for braising proteins such as ribs. The braising effect will soften the meat while it cooks and enriches the flavors of the additional ingredients. The leftover braising liquid can then be used as a glaze. When deglazing with a cabernet, its lack of sugar will prevent it from caramelizing over a hot pan.
- Pinot noir is a much lighter varietal that cooks nicely with a meaty stew. The light wine will tenderize the meat as it cooks and works with the fatty flavors. This method will call for a few cups of wine, so pinot noir is a go-to varietal that’s not too bold or overpowering.
- Merlot is a silky red wine that’s fruit-forward with low tannins. Like cabernet and pinot noir, this wine also cooks well with proteins. Use merlot for a pan sauce or a reduction. This process involves heating the red wine with a few other seasoning ingredients in a sauté pan on low heat until it simmers. This thickens the wine and makes those bold flavors much more concentrated. It produces a rich sauce when finished.
What to Substitute for Wine in Cooking?
If you can’t get some wine in time for dinner, it’s not the world’s end. Many substitutes produce a similar result, albeit with less flair.
- Stock. Chicken, vegetable, or beef stock will provide flavor and aroma. You can use chicken or vegetable stock for a white wine recipe and any of the three stocks for a red wine recipe.
- Red or white wine vinegar, whether you’d use red or white wine.
- Juice. A rich, fruity juice like grape, cranberry, or pomegranate can substitute for red wine. Apple, white grape, or lemon juice can substitute for white wine.
- Water. When in doubt, use water. Using wine in a dish is primarily a way to add complex flavor without fundamentally changing the amount of liquid. If you add water instead, season along with it to make sure you don’t dilute the final flavors of the dish.
It’s essential to select the best wines for cooking. You only need to grasp a few concepts. Cooking with wine can enhance and complement a variety of flavors. Many people enjoy cooking with wine because it adds acidity to their dishes and helps to round out the flavors. Because wine contains alcohol, it’s best to incorporate it into your dish early in the cooking process and allow it to cook alongside your food. This allows the alcohol to burn off while the dish cooks. Choosing the best cooking wines