What's the Best Type of White Wine for Cooking?

Does the type of white wine you choose really matter? Food Network’s resident sommelier weighs in.

August 29, 2022
sauteed clams served in a local seafood restaurant

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sauteed clams served in a local seafood restaurant

Photo by: Bruce Yuanyue Bi/Getty Images

Bruce Yuanyue Bi/Getty Images

By Dana Beninati for Food Network Kitchen

Dana is a host, chef and sommelier.

We’ve all heard the age-old phrase “cook with wine you enjoy drinking”, but what if you don’t like wine? Does that mean you will not like a recipe made with wine? Or what if you are a fan of red wine, and the recipe calls for cooking with white? In this article, our resident sommelier will answer these questions and more to help you make you maximize flavor when cooking.

Wine plays a very important role in the kitchen. Not only is it a significant component of the dining experience, but also it is also a trusted ingredient chefs lean on time and time again to infuse dishes with deep, rich flavor. If humans have been making wine for thousands of years and chefs have been cooking with it for centuries, there must be something to it, right? Well, wine adds dimension, flavor and complexity to just about any dish with minimal effort. No dicing, chopping, or squeezing needed here.

Senior woman adding white wine while preparing fish with her husband at home

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Senior woman adding white wine while preparing fish with her husband at home

Photo by: miodrag ignjatovic/Getty Images

miodrag ignjatovic/Getty Images

Rules for Choosing White Wine for Cooking

  • Choose a wine you’ll enjoy drinking. Rarely does a recipe call for a full bottle of wine, so it is prudent to enjoy what remains in the bottle with your meal. If you don’t finish a bottle of white wine with dinner, the remnants may be the perfect inspiration for tomorrow’s meal – perhaps this seafood cioppino could be a good fit? When storing wine for future use in the kitchen, be sure to close the bottle tightly and store in the refrigerator – yes, even red wine. Open bottles of wine should be used within two weeks, as their flavors can turn if left open for too long.
  • Pick an inexpensive wine. Wine enhances flavor in a recipe, which makes it an ingredient like any other. Therefore, it should not break the bank. When choosing a white wine for cooking, reach for one of many fantastic options in the $8 to $10 range.
  • Choose a wine with depth and acidity. Wines with high acidity levels like sauvignon blanc or chardonnay make excellent cooking companions.
  • Don’t use an old white wine. While most wines improve with a bit of age, this isn’t always applicable to white wines. If you notice white wine has orange hues or debris floating in the bottle, it is likely too old to use. A good rule of thumb is to use a wine within five years of the vintage date (the year the grapes were harvested, which is usually on the label).
Hispanic woman cooking with wine in kitchen

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Hispanic woman cooking with wine in kitchen

Photo by: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Best Type of White Wine for Cooking

When selecting a white wine for cooking, you have many options to choose from. No matter the style, white wine adds two components to any dish: structure and acidity.

Style: Still vs. Sparkling

The first decision you will need to make on the wine aisle is the choice between still wine like chardonnay or sparkling wine like prosecco or champagne. Our recommendation is still wines, as they are simpler to work with in the kitchen. Because they don’t have bubbles, still wines are easy to pour and measure. Nowadays, many can be found with screw cap enclosures, making the bottle supremely easy to open and store for later use. That being said, sparkling wines are not without their advantages. Wines with effervescence usually have higher levels of acidity. This means they will have a greater impact on the flavor of a dish as they will add more brightness. Instead of tossing an open bottle of sparkling wine that has gone flat, put it to good use in a recipe like these Champagne-Vanilla Cupcakes. If you are selecting a sparkling wine that you intend to cook with, opt for a bottle that has “Brut” on the label. This means the wine is completely dry and will not impart unwanted sweetness to the dish.

Flavor: Dry vs. Sweet

In the world of wine, the word “dry” doesn’t describe a degree of moisture like it normally does. Instead, it refers to a lack of sweetness in the wine’s chemical composition. Dry white wines strike the perfect balance between bright fruit flavors, refreshing acidity and natural minerality, making them an excellent cooking companion. Fortunately, dry wine is the most common style found on the wine aisle, so you will not have trouble finding it. Look for grape varietals like pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, vermentino or chardonnay. Avoid white wines like moscato or riesling, which may include words like sweet, auslese or demi-sec on their labels. Sweet wines like these dessert wines or ice wines should be reserved only for post-dinner sipping, as they are likely to add unintended sweetness to a recipe. Also, fortified wines like sherry, port or madiera will make too great an impact on most recipes and should only be used when specified.

Type of Grape

You may or may not know that wine is usually named after the type of grape squeezed to make the juice in the bottle. For example, chardonnay, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc are all names of white grape varietals, so the wines made from these grapes carry their respective names (white wines can also be made from red grapes, but that’s a story for another article). Any sommelier will tell you that these grapes have unique aromas and flavors. These characteristics are determined by the location where the grapes are grown (think weather + altitude) and winemaking style. Despite the differences between grapes, all white wines have similar chemical makeups, so they will all a positive impact when added while cooking. The lesson here – the type of grape is not what’s important in your selection, but rather the quality and style.

Cooking Wine

Cooking wine is an unregulated term used to describe the sad supply of grape juice found on the stock aisle of your grocery store. While it does contain a small amount of alcohol, it should not be called wine. The flavor of this product is flat and one dimensional at best. It is unlikely to enhance the flavor of your dish in any remarkable way, so save the cost of this ingredient and spend it on some fresh herbs instead.

Non-Alcoholic Wine: Dealcoholized vs. Alcohol Free

This category of wine is rapidly expanding, and the labels can be quite confusing. Believe it or not, non-alcoholic wine is different than dealcoholized wine, which is also distinct from a third category known as alcohol-free.

  • Non-Alcoholic Wine: This is simply grape juice. It has not undergone fermentation and therefore, does not contain any alcohol.
  • Dealcoholized Wine: Grape juice that is fermented into wine. Then, the alcohol is removed through advanced scientific processes like reverse osmosis.
  • Alcohol Free Wine: Grape Juice that is not fully fermented, to prevent the conversion of sugars into alcohol.

While these are all viable options when cooking, our top recommendation would be dealcoholized wine, as its flavor and structure most closely mirrors that of regular wine thanks to its full fermentation process. Be aware, all these options may contain up to 0.5% alcohol by volume.

Skillet Chicken Thighs with White Wine Butter Sauce

Skillet Chicken Thighs with White Wine Butter Sauce

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

Best White Wine for Cooking Chicken

The protein that benefits most from the addition of a splash of wine during the cooking process is chicken. With a neutral flavor and a texture that all too frequently dries out, chicken gains a flavor boost and added moisture from wine. Consider chicken the blank canvas for which wine is just the right shade of paint. To taste all the magic white wine brings to chicken, try my favorite recipe for Chicken Thighs (pictured above). While numerous recipes lean upon wine as a flavor booster for chicken, the most infamous is Coq au Vin, which you can prepare with both white and red wine.

Substitute for White Wine In Cooking

If you don’t have or don’t wish to use white wine in your recipe, stock and broth make a fine substitute. Chicken and vegetable stocks can be used as a direct substitute with equal measurement. However, I recommend adding a splash of citrus juice or vinegar (about 1 tablespoon of acid for every cup of stock) to replace the acidity that stock lacks.

Recipes that Use Up Leftover Wine

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

One of the most classic uses of white wine in the kitchen is paired with shellfish. Follow this easy recipe for the most flavorful mussels and know that it works well with clams too!

There is arguably no higher use for wine in the kitchen than the humble yet indulgent cheese fondue. Legend says that if one loses a piece of bread in the fondue, they must drink what remains in the wine bottle.

You may think that wine can only be used in savory recipes, but its functionality extends to desserts as well. White wine gives these pears a level of elegance unlike any other.

Food Stylist:  Anne Disrude 
Prop Stylist: Pamela Duncan Silver

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Food Stylist: Anne Disrude Prop Stylist: Pamela Duncan Silver

Photo by: Yunhee Kim

Yunhee Kim

While some may not consider this cooking, a summer picnic or BBQ is not complete until the pitcher of sangria arrives. On hot summer days, I like a white sangria best.

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