What’s the Best Cooking Wine?

“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.” W.C. Fields

Question from Marla: What kind of wine makes good cooking wine?

Reply: Hi, Marla. Thanks for writing!

I think I’ll start with what not to use: “Cooking Wine” that you buy at the grocery store. It’s usually very cheap wine with added salt. 

I don’t know who was first with this advice, but it’s right on: “Never cook with wine you wouldn’t drink.” I’ve never actually tasted cooking wine, but a quick search revealed that anyone of any age can buy cooking wine because it’s considered unpalatable.

Think of the wine as an ingredient, just like any other. If you’ve gone to the trouble of buying lovely fresh herbs, vegetables and meat shouldn’t you also use a good-quality wine? You don’t need to spend big bucks, since the wine will be cooked down and mingled with other flavors, but it should be clean and pleasant and the flavor should enhance your creation.

Using the wine you plan to serve with the dish is a great way to go. It’s a time-honored way of creating a happy pairing. 

Using left over wine is a great idea. The problem there is that wine doesn’t keep well once it’s open, so be sure to taste it before you use it.

When the recipe calls for white wine, I usually reach for an un-oaked Sauvignon Blanc. It’s crisp, lively and brightens the dish. I avoid heavily oaked wine in general because the reduction accentuates it.

For a red ask yourself if it’s a hearty dish or a lighter one? That will help you decide on whether you want a full-throttle Syrah or Cab or something a bit more subtle like Merlot or Pinot Noir. I like Sangiovese and Barbera because of their solid acidity – they’re very food friendly. If you can find examples that go easy on the oak, all the better.

My husband always splashes a little dry sherry into the tomato soup. It seems to be good, in general, for soups and sauces. Julia Child used to cook with vermouth quite often, which has a nice, clean herbaceous flavor. Fortified wines like these (Port, sherry, vermouth, Madeira, Marsala) are kind of practical because they keep better than table wines once they’re open. You’ll want to check them for sweetness.

  Better and better wines are packaged bag in box, these days, which is another practical choice because it usually lasts for weeks. The trick is finding one you like.

I hope that helps. Happy cooking!

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