4 Best Dry White Wines For Cooking
For decades, armchair experts have theorized about what separates restaurant-quality dining from homemade cooking.
Is it simply the expertise of a top-trained chef? Is it the amount of butter and salt in each dish that might give your cardiologist a panic attack? Or is it simply the setting, plating, and appearance that sets the expectation of a great meal?
Maybe it’s all of the above.
However, we know one factor that certainly makes a difference — wine. No, we’re not talking about the amount of wine consumed by each customer (although that may play a part). This secret lies not on the drinks menu but in the kitchen.
While homemade chefs often reach for “cooking wine” to add complexity to their mussels and braised brisket, restaurant chefs almost always incorporate perfectly suitable drinking wine into their dishes.
Why? Well, let’s just say they know what they’re doing.
Let’s explore the difference between “cooking wine” and drinking wine, uncovering 4 top vino choices to elevate your next night of homemade cooking to a Michelin-quality culinary experience.
How To Pick A Dry White For Cooking
You know how to select a dry white for drinking. But how should your preferences adapt when you’re looking for a cooking wine?
The first thing to remember is that you won’t taste much of the alcohol you fell in love with in your favorite vintages.
When you add wine to a hot pan, it fundamentally changes the liquid. The ethanol burns off quickly, infusing your dish with a new dimension of flavor without any extra alcohol content. This also means that if you cook your dish long enough, any wine-infused dish should be safe to eat, even for children.
So, unless you’re looking to flex your financial muscle, you probably shouldn’t look for a top-shelf vintage. Of course, there is the risk that you could reach for a bottle that’s too cheap, and the lackluster flavors ruin the complexity of your dish. Avoid any wines labeled “cooking wines,” as these are typically low-quality and not to be trusted.
It’s all about finding that golden mean.
If you have a half-empty bottle of wine that’s been sitting in your fridge for a few days, it might be the perfect candidate to add a new dimension to your next pasta or chicken dish. Open bottles of vino often sit in storage for weeks or months and sour before they’re finished.
Steer clear of this all-too-avoidable tragedy by incorporating your leftover wine into tonight’s dinner. It gives your drinking wine a second life and enriches the flavor of dozens of wine-friendly dishes.
Why Dry White?
Certainly, dry white isn’t the only option available when it comes to cooking wine. Chicken Marsala took advantage of fortified wine to become one of the most famous dishes around the globe. Meanwhile, many meaty stews utilize a light red like Pinot Noir to coax out the smoky flavors.
So, what’s so special about a dry white? The key lies in versatility.
With low alcohol content and light flavor, a dry white adds an excellent finishing layer to a classic dish without overwhelming the palate like a rich, oaky white might. If you burn off the alcohol in an oaked, buttery Chardonnay, you’re often left with overwhelming wooden, earthy notes that taste bitter and astringent.
On the other end of the spectrum, sweet white wines can caramelize during the cooking process, adding too much sweetness to a dish that really should be savory.
Dry whites strike the perfect balance as a cooking wine, providing texture and flavor without dominating the meal.
Alright, now that we’ve covered the foundations you’ll need to find the perfect cooking wine, let’s explore our four favorite dry whites when it comes to whipping up new dishes!
Our number one go-to dry white is Pinot Grigio. White Pinot is perfect for cooking due to its incredible versatility and crispness, especially after the ethanol has cooked off.
Pinot Grigio can add a much-desired fruity character to seafood dishes like smoked salmon pasta and light Italian dishes like pesto chicken.
This herbal dry white infuses fruity, floral flavor into whatever it touches. This makes it a prime pairing for vegetable dishes, as well as your first white to reach for when sauteéing asparagus or other veggies.
Adding a pad of butter and a squeeze of lemon to the pan will accentuate Sauv Blanc’s natural herbaceous character with bright acidity and delicious flavor.
Pro-tip: Once you’ve finished sauteéing your vegetables, shake some wine into the pan to deglaze it naturally!
While you want to steer clear of oaked Chardonnay, the unoaked variety is your best bet for big chicken dishes and creamy sauces.
With a richer character and fuller body than Pinot Grigio or Sauv Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay can infuse delightful acidity and new dimension to coq au vin blanc and Cioppino seafood stew.
While you probably shouldn’t pop open a fresh bottle of Prosecco for a late-night snack, sparkling wine is a great option for cooking wine, especially if you have a tad leftover after a small celebration.
A bottle of bubbly is perfect for completing a Champagne vinaigrette or sorbet, and it also works wonders in a beurre blanc (butter sauce). The bubbles cook off (just like the alcohol), leaving you with much of the same infusion of flavor and complexity as a dry white does!
Dry White Wine Substitutes
If you don’t have a dry white on hand, you can always find a worthy substitute in a pinch.
One of our favorite replacements for a dry white is dry vermouth. This fortified wine not only gives you a longer shelf life, but it replicates much of the same flavors and textures you’ll find with a Pinot Grigio.
If you don’t have vermouth on hand, reach for a can of chicken or vegetable stock. These liquids provide an extra dimension of texture and flavor in comparison to plain tap water. To give it that acidity you’re looking for, add in a splash of lemon juice and/or vinegar.
Of course, remember that using chicken or vegetable stock will infuse a much saltier, more savory flavor when compared to a Pinot Gris. You might not have to add any extra salt to your dish at all!
Find Your Dry White With Wine Insiders
We may never know what separates restaurant-quality cooking from our best homemade efforts.
However, we can come a little closer to replicating our favorite dining-out experiences by taking a page out of a top chef’s book — forgo the cooking wines. Reach for a bottle of crisp, drinking wine instead, and taste the difference for yourself.