The Best Dry White Wines For Cooking

The old adage is true: If you wouldn't drink it, you shouldn't cook with it.

The indomitable Julia Childs is credited with the phrase "I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes, I even put it in the food." That is a lovely thought, but while many of us enjoy a glass of wine while we are cooking, that same wine may not be the right type to add to what we are cooking. For instance, you may not want to mix an earthy Pinot Noir into a light and breezy summer pasta dish. Adding wine is a fun way to build new flavors and nuances into your recipe; many cooks especially enjoy using dry white wine, which is ideal for cooking dinner with seafood, chicken, pork, or mushrooms. Here are some of the more popular dry white wine varieties and tips on how to cook with them.

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What Is Dry White Wine?

A dry white is simply any white wine that isn't sweet. For cooking, you want a wine with a high acidity, known in wine-speak as "crisp." When added to a dish, the acidity can balance out a heavy cream sauce or serve much the same role as a squeeze of lemon on your chicken or fish.

Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, and dry sparkling wines are especially good choices. Fuller whites with strong, oaky flavors, like some Chardonnays, don't work as well for cooking because they are lower in acidity and don't provide as much punch as the crisper wines. When reduced by cooking, the oaky, buttery flavors turn bitter and don't add anything pleasant to a dish. If you use a Chardonnay, select an unoaked bottle for the best results.

Picking A Quality Wine

Cooking won't improve upon the undesirable qualities of bad wine—it will only accentuate them. If you wouldn't serve it to your guests, don't bother cooking with it. That's a good reason to bypass bottles marketed as cooking wine, which generally isn't pleasant to drink. On the other hand, heat kills the subtle nuances of a complex wine, so you don't need to spend a bundle on a bottle you only plan to use for cooking. Save the really good wines for sipping.

How To Cook With Wine

You normally add wine at the beginning of cooking so the alcohol has a chance to burn off. Splashing wine into a dish at the tail end usually results in an unpleasant raw-wine taste.

Wine does an excellent job of deglazing a pan, allowing you to incorporate all the tasty brown bits when braising meat or making a sauce or gravy. White wine can also be used for poaching or steaming fish. A dry white is often called for in buttery risottos and some creamy pastas, helping to cut through the richness of the dish.

What To Substitute

In most cases, you can substitute a dry Vermouth for white wine. Lemon juice or even white wine vinegar is a good sub when you just need a splash. A dry Sherry, Marsala, or Madeira can also do the job. All of these options have a more intense flavor from higher alcohol content or higher acidity, so use a tiny bit less.

White grape juice stands in nicely if you want to add sweetness when deglazing a pan. You can also choose chicken or vegetable stock instead of wine when you want to add depth of flavor to a dish. Stock can add a substantial amount of salt, so you may need to reduce the added salt a recipe calls for.

How To Store Wine

Store unopened bottles of wine in a dark, cool place, preferably at 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The key is to keep the bottle below room temperature so it doesn't lose flavor or age too fast. If the bottle has a cork, store it on its side to keep the cork from drying out. Once opened, wine will begin to oxidize, which negatively affects the flavor. Recork and refrigerate opened bottles of white wine and use them up within a few days.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What makes white wine "dry"?

    Dry white wine is a blend of white grapes fermented until all the sugar is gone. It is typically available in the following varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscadet, Albariño, Pinot Grigio, Soave, Picpoul, and Grenache Blanc.

  • Which dry white wine, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, is better for cooking?

    Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are dry white wines but add different flavor notes when cooking based on their sugar content. Chardonnay pairs well with poultry or when reduced in a cream sauce, while Sauvignon Blanc adds a crisp, fruity, floral, and herb flavor to vegetables.

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