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Cooking with white wine

Unsure which cooking white wine to choose for that perfect dish? Let´s unravel the mystery.

Anyone can learn how to select a wine that complements their cooking, bringing out the best flavors without overwhelming the palate. We have put together tips for cooking with white wine that will elevate every meal.

Elevate your dishes

  • Choose a white wine for cooking that you would enjoy drinking, with a preference for dry, crisp varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or dry Riesling, and avoid heavily oaked or buttery wines which can turn bitter when cooked.
  • Opt for medium-bodied, unoaked white wines with high acidity for cooking, and steer clear of ‘cooking wines’ with additives and salt; for light dishes or meat tenderizing, use wines with an alcohol content between 10-13 percent.
  • Store leftover white wine in the refrigerator upright and sealed, using a vacuum pump or inert gas system to extend its freshness for future use, and always sample the wine before adding it to your cooking to ensure it suits your taste.

Choosing the right white wine for your kitchen

When it comes to cooking wine, the mantra “if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it” rings especially true. The ideal cooking wine should be one that you’d enjoy sipping from a glass—dry, crisp, and capable of complementing your culinary endeavors without overpowering them. This is why many chefs reach for bottles of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or dry Riesling when preparing their dishes. These varietals are not only delightful to the palate but bring the necessary acidity and freshness to enhance the flavors of a wide array of recipes.

A good rule of thumb when browsing the aisles for the best white wines for cooking is to avoid the temptation of the bottom shelf. The sweet spot for a bottle’s price ranges between 10 to 15 dollars—a small price to pay for a significant boost in meal quality. Remember, the heavy oak and buttery profiles of some Chardonnays might be great for drinking, but in the heat of the pan, they can turn bitter and dominate other delicate flavors. Opt instead for unoaked chardonnay or other medium-bodied, dry white wines that complement rather than compete.

The essentials of cooking with white wine

The art of cooking with white wine necessitates a balance of flavor, acidity, and alcohol. The dry white wines that excel in the kitchen are those that bring out the best in your ingredients without taking center stage. Hence, a moderately-priced, unoaked, medium-bodied white wine with high acidity often shines in most recipes. These wines lend a crisp, clean backdrop that elevates your favorite recipes without overshadowing the other elements of the dish.

Beware of bottles labeled as ‘cooking wines.’ These are often laced with additives and salt that can wreak havoc on your dish’s flavor profile and seasoning balance. Instead, when cooking lighter dishes, add an Italian wine that will introduce bright flavors and aid in tenderizing meats, thanks to an ideal alcohol content between 10 and 13 percent and a generous dash of acidity.

For dishes requiring a touch of sweetness, a bottle with higher sugar content is recommended, especially to keep white meats juicy and tender.

Perfect pairings with the best white wine and food combinations

The perfect white wine can elevate a meal just as the right dance partner brings harmony and balance to a performance. Whether it’s a light Pinot Grigio gliding alongside a delicate fish or a robust Chardonnay that can stand up to the richness of lobster, the right white wine pairing can transform a meal into an unforgettable experience.

Seafood dishes & crisp white wine

Seafood enthusiasts can transform a simple dish into something extraordinary with the zesty and herbal notes of a well-chosen Sauvignon Blanc. The pronounced acidity of this varietal is a natural complement to the briny freshness of the ocean’s bounty, bringing out the subtleties in flavors much like a squeeze of lemon would do. It’s not just about the wine’s taste; its aroma also plays a pivotal role, adding an additional layer of sensory pleasure to the dining experience.

Light white Burgundy or dry Rieslings also deserve a place at the table when it comes to seafood. These wines share a harmonious relationship with fish such as cod and haddock, whose delicate flavors are enhanced rather than overpowered by the wine’s crispness. When you add wine like this to your cooking, you’re not just seasoning your dish; you’re infusing it with a subtle complexity that can only come from a perfectly paired wine.

Chicken and cream sauces with smooth whites

The smooth character of an unoaked Chardonnay pairs well with creamy sauces and tender, succulent chicken. This varietal, with its subtle nuances, adds a touch of sophistication to cream sauces and chicken dishes without overwhelming the palate with oaky overtones. The unoaked Chardonnay, with its unassuming elegance, is a great companion for creamy dishes, providing a velvety depth unique to cooking with the right white wine.

Dry Riesling is another ally in the kitchen, particularly when paired with creamy chicken dishes. Its zesty profile cuts through the richness, allowing the flavors of the poultry to shine through without being overshadowed by the creaminess of the sauce. When the goal is to add wine to enhance rather than dominate, a dry Riesling stands ready to answer the call, ensuring that each bite is as memorable as the last.

Vegetables and delicate flavors with lighter wines

In the culinary world, vegetables are unsung heroes, often needing only a hint of additional flavor to truly stand out. Enter Pinot Grigio, the versatile partner for any veggie-centric meal or light pasta dish. With its low sugar content, racy acidity, and fruity undertones, Pinot Grigio respects the natural flavors of vegetables, enhancing them without competing for attention.

Sauvignon Blanc is another exemplary choice when cooking with a cornucopia of vegetables. Its high acidity and refreshing flavor profile have the remarkable ability to bring out the best in dishes featuring artichokes, bell peppers, and mushrooms, among others. A splash of Sauvignon Blanc can turn a simple vegetable sauté into a dish that’s bursting with flavor, where the inherent qualities of the produce are celebrated in every bite.

Fortified wine in cooking is a hidden gem

Beyond the usual, fortified wines such as Madeira, Marsala, and Sherry offer a cornucopia of flavors enhancing the depth and complexity of your dishes. These wines have been fortified with spirits, such as brandy, which enriches them and allows them to impart a unique richness to both sweet and savory recipes. Whether you’re browning meats or crafting a decadent sauce, a splash from a bottle of Marsala wine can transform the ordinary into the sublime.

Sherry, with its versatility, can do an excellent job of enhancing the flavors in a diverse array of recipes. It lends itself equally well to a hearty seafood chowder as it does to a refined cream of mushroom soup, or a delicate cream sauce. Fortified wines are not just for drinking; they’re also for discovering new dimensions in your favorite meals.

White wines for cooking

The key takeaway is the transformative power of the right white wine; it’s not just an ingredient but an essential component that can elevate a dish from the everyday to the exceptional.

When not to use white wine in cooking

While white wine and dry vermouth can be assets in cooking, there are occasions when the bottles are better left corked. Certain diners may have dietary restrictions or preferences that call for alcohol-free dishes. In such instances, alternatives like verjus, which offers a similar tartness, or a combination of chicken or vegetable stock with a splash of lemon or white wine vinegar can mimic the wine’s acidity without the alcohol content.

The key is to adapt and identify substitutes when a recipe calls for ingredients that will add a robust flavor to your dishes.

How to store and preserve opened white wine for cooking

Upon uncorking a bottle of white wine for cooking, one wonders: how should the remaining ‘liquid gold’ be stored? The refrigerator is your best friend in this scenario, as it can keep your white wine fresh for up to five days, slowing the oxidation process that can dull the flavors. But don’t just toss the bottle in any which way. Store it upright, minimizing the surface area exposed to air, and if possible, create a seal with a wine saver vacuum pump or inert gas system to extend its freshness even further.

If you find yourself without the original cork, don’t despair. An improvised seal using plastic wrap and a rubber band can work wonders, as can a wine stopper designed for the task. And remember, keep your cooking wine away from heat sources to maintain its quality for the next culinary adventure.

Test before you taste and the art of sampling wines for cooking

Prior to adding a drop to the pan, take a moment to conduct a taste test. The wine you choose for cooking should be one that you’d be happy to drink on its own. Varietals like Riesling, with its balance of acidity and sugar, or the crispness of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, should be enjoyable to your palate.

Even Champagne and dry sparkling wines, often reserved for toasts and celebrations, can find their way into your recipes, lending a festive note to dishes from dawn till dusk.

A reminder

Remember to choose a white wine that is dry and crisp, one that harmonizes with the flavors of your recipe without overwhelming them. Be mindful of the alternatives when cooking for those who abstain from alcohol, and always store your opened bottles with care to maintain their essence for future use. Now armed with this knowledge, you are ready to experiment with confidence, adding a touch of vinous magic to your next meal.

You can use dry, crisp white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or dry Riesling for cooking as they enhance flavors without overpowering dishes.

It's best to cook with a wine that you would enjoy drinking, as it can positively impact the flavor of the dish.

You can keep an opened bottle of white wine for cooking in the refrigerator for up to five days if it's sealed and stored upright.

You can use verjus, chicken or vegetable stock with lemon or vinegar as alcohol-free alternatives to white wine in cooking. Date not required.

No, you don't need to use a pricey bottle of white wine for cooking. A moderately-priced bottle can provide great flavor.

Cooking with white wine and cooking with red wine wine are not the same, as each type of wine imparts different flavors, colors, and characteristics to a dish. 

Red wine
  • Flavor Profile: Red wine generally has richer, more robust flavors with notes of dark fruits, tannins, and sometimes spices.
  • Color: It adds a deep, reddish hue to dishes.
  • Uses: Red wine is often used in heartier dishes such as beef stews, braised meats, and tomato-based sauces. It's also common in marinades and reductions.
White Wine
  • Flavor Profile: White wine tends to be lighter, with flavors that can range from fruity and floral to crisp and acidic.
  • Color: It adds a subtle yellow or golden tint, but it's usually less noticeable than red wine.
  • Uses: White wine is typically used in lighter dishes like chicken, fish, seafood, and white sauces. It's also used to deglaze pans and in risottos.
In both cases
  • Acidity: Both wines can add acidity to balance the richness of a dish, but white wine's acidity is usually sharper.
  • Sweetness: The sweetness of the wine can also affect the dish. Dry wines are generally preferred for cooking to avoid altering the flavors too much.

While they are not interchangeable, you can sometimes substitute one for the other if it fits the overall flavor profile you’re aiming for, but the result will be noticeably different.