How to Choose a Dry White Wine for Cooking
"How did you make this taste so good?" For the seasoned chef, cooking with wine is just one of their many flavor-boosting secrets. Although underutilized in home kitchens, adding a little bit of wine to your dinner—both in the dish and glass—can take your meal to the next level. The most intimidating part of cooking with wine is picking the correct bottle (or box!).
Before we dive in, the one thing you need to understand is what happens when you cook with wine. Adding wine (typically 10 to 16 percent alcohol by volume) to a hot pan will cause the wine to transform. The alcohol will burn off, leaving your dish with beautiful flavor but none of the booze. This means that it's safe for everyone, including children and adults who do not drink. The remaining wine left in your dish is a powerhouse of flavors as the wine intensifies the natural essence of your dish without overpowering it.
Wine for Cooking Versus Wine for Drinking
When picking out a bottle of wine to cook with, first throw out your preconceived notions of what makes a vino great. Most of these are founded on your knowledge of drinking wine and when it comes to cooking, you're going to burn off a majority of what can differentiate an expensive bottle from a less expensive one. When selecting a bottle to cook with, your dollar is going to go a lot further than it does with drinking wine. That said, there is a thing as too cheap. Avoid wines labeled "Cooking Wine" as the poor quality will diminish your dish.
Have half a bottle of white wine leftover from dinner two nights ago? Feel free to use that up instead of pouring it down the drain. Sometimes cooking is about using what you have in order to make a delicious meal that's way tastier than the sum of its parts. That's the magic!
Dry White Wines for Cooking
To buy a bottle intended for cooking, head down the wine aisle of your local store and select a crisp, dry white wine. There are a myriad of great choices but we tend to favor pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc. These lighter-style wines will bring out the flavor of your dish without overwhelming it. Avoid robust and oaky white wines like chardonnay. Once the food is cooked, the oak-influence may cause your dish to taste bitter.
Make sure you aren't spending too much! When choosing a bottle of white wine to cook with, it should be between $4 and $10 a bottle. There's really no reason to spend more, especially because once you open it, you have about 48 hours before it expires due to oxidation.
If you cook with wine often, don't be afraid to purchase something boxed. We like Black Box Pinot Grigio ($15.99, wine.com). It's shaped conveniently to store in your pantry and lasts about six weeks because of the airtight wine-bladder. The wine is neutral in flavor and low in alcohol, making it the ideal cooking wine. You may be surprised to know that many great restaurants and chefs use Black Box as their cooking wine. It's neutral, economical (about $1.33 per cup), and leads to delicious results.