There are cooks who insist that you should only ever cook with a wine you would drink, but walk into any restaurant kitchen, and you’re sure to find large bottles of inexpensive wine used exclusively for cooking. Here are some tips about selecting wine for cooking.
What kinds of wine should you use?
For a recipe that calls for white wine, it is best to use something that is dry and has some acid—Pinot Grigio is a great go-to for cooking wine. What you don’t want is an oaky Chardonnay or any other full bodied white wine that could potentially overwhelm or even mask the other flavors in the dish. As for reds, a dry red wine like a Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, or even a Malbec works well as long as it’s not too spicy or oaky. Inexpensive Bordeaux is also a great option. You want a red wine that’s dry but mellow in its flavor profiles so it doesn’t clash.
If you find a wine you like to cook with, it’s not a bad idea to keep a bottle in the fridge just for that purpose. You can keep a bottle of wine specifically meant for cooking in the fridge longer than you would a bottle meant for drinking.
Is it okay to cook with inexpensive wine?
Regardless of price, you should use a wine that you like as the wine will contribute its flavors to the dish. So using a wine you don’t like will only introduce flavors you don’t like into your meal. If the wine is a significant ingredient in the dish (Beouff Bourgignon or a white wine-braised chicken), you might want to spend more on the wine you use because it is a big part of your dish’s flavor profile. The same is true if you’re making a wine-based sauce or reduction.
If the wine is not a significant ingredient in the dish—for example, if it calls for one cup of wine or less to deglaze a pan (get all the browned bits unstuck from the pan) and to add acid to a dish—an inexpensive wine will do the trick. Stay away from “cooking wines” as they tend to be cheap wines with added salt and food coloring that will not enhance the flavors of your dish.
Do you need to cook with the same wine you are serving with the dish?
Consider the kind of wine you’ve chosen to cook with. Did you use just a splash of inexpensive wine at one point in the recipe? You could drink that wine with your meal, but it might not do much to enhance the dining experience. However, if you’ve chosen a dish that really features the wine, drinking that wine with your meal is a wonderful idea.