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Now that those chilly winter temperatures have arrived, our palates may be craving the more full-bodied and comforting experience of sipping — err, guzzling — red wine. But what happens if you didn’t kill all those wonderful bottles of summery white that are sitting in your fridge waiting patiently to be uncorked? Fear not!
Not only can you enjoy white wines all year long (because, duh), they’ll also lend themselves well to a variety of cuisines, thus guaranteeing that the quality of your home-cooked meals will be just as delicious as any gulp from your favorite wine glass.
And if you don’t have any leftover whites taking up space in your refrigerator, cooking with white wine can be a great way to enjoy the flavors of summer even in the depths of winter. Keep reading for some tips on how to cook with white wine, plus some of our favorite bottles for your culinary creations.
Avoid Cooking Wines
The first step to cooking with white wine is to avoid anything labeled “cooking wine.” These bottles tend to be chock-full of preservatives, salt and sweeteners that can significantly alter the taste of your food — and not in a good way. You want a drinking variety that is light and crisp so that it’s also easy to control: a little bit of alcohol (even before any of the unnecessary additions) goes a long way.
If you don’t have white wine on hand but want to capture its flavor profile in your cooking, you have two alternatives. First, any chicken or vegetable stock will do (with an added splash of vinegar to mirror white wine’s acidity). Second, ask your local wine shop if they carry verjus: the pressed juice of unripened grapes, which can certainly trick your mind into thinking you’re having the same thing. Cheers!
What to Look for in a White Wine for Cooking
Only invest in wines that you’d have no problem sipping on their own. The beauty of most mainstream whites is that they’re not only high in quality but also inexpensive. You can find excellent options for $10 and should never have to spend more than $30 per bottle, and be sure to keep the alcohol content moderate at 10 to 13 percent — the higher the alcohol, the longer it will take to reduce.
The purpose of white wine in cooking, whether it’s for a sauce, a dressing or even deglazing, is to be an accent that enhances and brightens a dish or tie all of its flavors together. It is never meant to overpower or be the star — leave that to your protein and other main ingredients.
If you’re having difficulty narrowing down the perfect bottle, check out our list of the best white wines for cooking, as well as our favorites in each category.
1. Light, Dry White Wines
Nothing is more versatile than a light, crisp white wine. These primarily include pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc and dry riesling. A safe bet like pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc is a great way to bring acidity (more so with the latter), fruitiness and balance to meals like seafood, vegetables and creamy risottos.
You’ll generally want to avoid oaked chardonnays (unless cooking heavy, rich sauces that can stand up to them), as they impart too much flavor.
Villa Sandi Pinot Grigio delle Venezie
This Italian-born pinot grigio has a light body and a sweet flavor. Tasting notes include dry, fruity and round with an alcohol by volume (ABV) of 11.5%. It pairs well with shellfish.
Osmosis Sauvignon Blanc 2021
This Chilian bottle of sauvignon blanc is naturally lower in alcohol with zero sugar and bright acidity. Tasting notes include citrus and candied pineapple notes with an APV of 9%.
Domaine LesSurre Dry Cuvee Classique Riesling 2019
2. Dry Vermouth
This fortified wine is not just a classic martini necessity; it’s an ideal addition for pastas and braised meats, with (sometimes) sweet, tart and even herbal flavors. Its high alcohol content of 16.5% means you should use it sparingly, though, which should be fine considering its extremely long shelf life of almost two months in the fridge.
3. Sparkling Wine
Don’t mind the bubbles — they disappear when cooked but can provide a playfully tingly mouthfeel in vinaigrettes and sorbets. Sparkling wines like Champagne, prosecco and cava are high in acidity, which means they perform great as marinades or paired with citrus-forward fish dishes, but one should be mindful of their high sugar content. Unfortunately, many varieties can add a bit too much sweetness and run the risk of caramelizing under prolonged heat.
4. Dry Marsala
It’s the defining component of chicken marsala. Still, it works successfully to brighten and tenderize heavy dishes such as roasted mushrooms, pork medallions and even sweet desserts, including chocolate cake and tiramisu. Its unique flavor is amplified even further with its apricot and brown sugar notes. Make sure you opt for “secco marsala” for the driest version and substitute it with Portugal-based Madeira if you want something with a similar taste.
5. Dry Sherry
Great for pan sauces and seafood with its distinct briny flavor and subtle sweetness, dry sherry has made the ultimate comeback as a pantry staple for many professional chefs. It’s the perfect ingredient to add saltiness to a dish without reaching for the shaker, but be sure to allow it to sit a bit and simmer, or it can quickly come across as too one-noted.