Often times, people aren't overly stressed when scanning the shelves and choosing a wine for the evening. But, when it comes to choosing a wine to cook with, the story changes. What wines are the best to cook with is an ongoing question and intimidating topic for many, but it doesn't have to be.
What Wines Can You Cook With? How to Choose
First things first: people often think that because they aren't drinking the wine, the quality doesn't matter. Not true! While you don't have to spend too much on a bottle that you plan to glug into your Le Creuset, you don't want gas station garbage either. Find something middle of the road. A good rule is that (pending there is enough) the wine should be good enough that you enjoy sipping on a glass while cooking.
The second takeaway is that you want a dry wine. Adding wine to a dish adds aromas, flavor, and acidity, while the alcohol evaporates. Generally, you want to steer clear of sweeter wines that contain residual sugar, as it will remain behind, sweetening the dish unnecessarily.
Best White Wine for Cooking
Overall, you're looking for a crisp, brightly acidic white that won't overpower a dish but rather enhance it with additional aromas and flavors. Avoid oaked wines, as these tertiary flavors will clash and turn bitter during a sauté.
There are a few classic white varietals when it comes to adding wine to a dish.
- Sauvignon blanc is a great choice, as it has zippy acidity with some savory herbaceous characteristics.
- A sharp pinot grigio is another great option for delicate dishes like white fish. It adds just enough complexity without taking over the entire dish.
- A dry, unoaked chardonnay is a great option if you are making anything creamy, like risotto or a pasta sauce. Lean into chardonnay from cooler regions with good acidity and bright notes.
- Other good white to cook with are albariño, white bordeaux, or muscadet.
- Avoid using heavy, oily textured white like viognier or sémillon.
Best Red Wine for Cooking
If you are making a hearty stew or braising short ribs, you're going to want to add complexity to the dish with a red wine. While you can go with light, medium, or full-bodied wine here, you'll still want to avoid anything oaked and stick to dry, high-acid reds. You'll also want to avoid highly tannic reds, as they don't translate well when cooked.
- Pinot noir is a great go-to option. It's fresh and bright with enough structure and earthy forest floor notes to add the right amount of savory to a dish.
- Chianti is another one that adds sharp acidity with plenty of savory character.
- A few other good red wines to cook with are Côtes du Rhône, cabernet, and merlot.
- Anything that is a chillable glou-glou kind of fruity red won't really enhance the savoriness of a dish; rather, the berry flavors will become more concentrated and generally clash with your bœuf bourguignon.
Get Cooking With Wine
Whether you are making a fresh, herby sauce for your grilled fish or marinating your steak in red wine, stick to something dry that you'll want a glass of while tinkering in the kitchen. Skip the undrinkable cooking wine and instead opt for a bottle you'd enjoy sipping.