If you have ever come across a recipe that calls for dry white wine, chances are you just grabbed whatever you had handy in the fridge, thinking that the kind of white wine you used didn’t make any difference. But, just like each style of white wine tastes different straight from the glass, they also have a different effect on your cooking. Here is a list of eight popular dry white wines for cooking – used for everything from an exquisite lobster dish to a decadent dessert – and what it is that makes them good for each purpose.
What Is Dry White Wine?
White wine is a versatile pantry staple that you use in a variety of dishes. Dry white wine is any white wine that isn’t sweet, and for cooking, you want to choose one with a high acidity. In wine terms, you would use the word “crisp” to describe a dry white wine with high acidity, and those are perfect types of dry white wine to use in recipes.
When you are choosing a white wine for cooking, it is important to know that adding heat will not improve a wine’s bad qualities. Instead, it will accentuate them. So, the conventional wisdom is that you should only cook with wine that you wouldn’t mind drinking. At the same time, heat will kill the subtle nuances in complex wine, so don’t use the good stuff in recipes and save it for drinking.
Because wine has alcohol, you don’t want to splash it into something at the end of cooking. That will most likely result in an unpleasant taste. So, add it at the start of cooking so the alcohol can burn off.
When storing white wine, put unopened bottles in a dark, cool place. And, after you open it, recork the bottle and refrigerate it to slow down the oxidizing process, which will adversely affect the flavor.
Is Dry White Wine Different Than Cooking Wine?
The key difference between dry white wine and cooking wine is the quality. Dry white wine is made for drinking, so it’s flavor is much stronger and more complex.
Cooking wine will add flavor to your dish, but it is not as strongly flavored and won’t taste very good if you try to drink it. Also worth noting, it is best to avoid purchasing wines labeled “cooking wines” because they tend to have high amounts of salt and other additives.
Instead, try one of the white wines on our list that are perfect for both cooking and drinking. At the end of the day, the purpose for adding wine to a dish is to enhance the flavors of the food, so cook with a wine you enjoy drinking.
You might think champagne is only used for celebrating, but the truth is that it is also perfect for cooking. It works well in recipes for vinaigrette and sorbet, and Cole Dickinson, executive chef of Layla at MacArthur Place, says champagne is a great baseline ingredient for butter sauce served over fish because the liveliness offsets the fattiness of the fish and richness of the butter.
Dickinson says the key to using champagne (or any other sparkling wine) in cooking is to use it within a few days of opening the bottle. Wine will turn to vinegar quickly, and if you wait more than a week, the wine will give your dish a sharp, vinegary flavor when you add it to a recipe.
On the sweetness scale, you will want to choose a “brut” champagne which is extremely dry because it has less than 1.5 percent sugar. And, as far as brands to use, inexpensive champagnes work just fine. The most important thing when deciding what champagne to use for cooking isn’t the brand, but where it lands on the sweetness scale.
Price Range: $14-$100
2. Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
Earlier we mentioned “crisp” white wines, and Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris is the perfect example of a crisp white wine. Pinot Grigio (Italian) or Pinot Gris (French) is a versatile option that you can find with the ideal alcohol content (10 to 13 percent) and high acidity.
Both Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris is terrific for pasta and seafood dishes, veggie recipes, and fried, roasted, or grilled chicken. Try Duck Pond Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley in Oregon. It will cost around $15, and it works well in a recipe while also tasting good in a glass.
Price Range: $15-$30
3. Unoaked Chardonnay
Another crisp white wine, Chardonnay will bring structure to your food’s flavor profile, and it works well in just about any recipe. However, you do need to avoid strong, oaky Chardonnays because of their low acidity, plus they can turn bitter when reduced.
Chardonnay works best in tomato-based recipes and shellfish dishes, and it is perfect for creamy milk-based sauces because it will stabilize the milk and keep it from curdling while the sauce cooks. Toad Hollow Chardonnay from California is only $14 a bottle, and a great brand option to consider for your cooking.
Price Range: $14-$50
4. Sauvignon Blanc
This popular white wine variety is a go-to for many chefs when a recipe calls for dry white because it is the driest of the dry. It has a bright crispiness and definitive fruit flavor that will distinguish it from other dry whites. It will provide high acidity and strong flavor that will complement the other ingredients instead of overpowering them.
Popular Sauvignon Blanc brands that work well in recipes include Black Box Sauvignon Blanc from Chile and Mouton Cadet from France.
Price Range: $14-$31
5. Dry Sherry
This versatile dry white should be in your pantry at all times. Just a dash of sherry can brighten up recipes and will often add another layer of depth and dimension. It works best in meals with robust flavors, but the earthy notes in sherry can dominate simpler recipes.
Taylor Wine Company’s Dry Sherry only costs $7, and it will last a lot longer in your fridge than other white wines.
Price Range: $21-$42
6. Dry Marsala
Of course, this dry white is a must for chicken Marsala or veal Marsala recipes, but you can also branch out with this complex wine and use it in recipes that call for braising. This fortified wine has a smoky flavor which is why it works so well in chicken marsala recipes. But, if you have a dessert recipe, a sweeter marsala works better.
Be sure to cook dry marsala long enough to remove the alcohol, so you don’t give your food a boozy flavor.
Price Range: $11-$12
7. Dry Madeira
This Portuguese fortified wine comes in four distinct styles, and the perfect choice for cooking is “Sercial.” It is a dry white that works well as a refreshing aperitif and is also a fantastic savory addition to gravy and sauce recipes.
Price Range: $16-$43
8. Dry Vermouth
Dry vermouth is similar to Marsala and sherry because it is fortified with a high-proof alcohol content, and you can store it for weeks in the fridge after opening it. You can substitute vermouth for any recipe that calls for dry white, and one of the best buys out there is Gallo, a California vermouth that only costs $6.99 a bottle. It does have a bit of sweetness but doesn’t overdo it.
Price Range: $8-$35
Wine can be an excellent addition to many recipes. When it comes to cooking with dry white wines, these eight selections will work well in your kitchen and take your favorite dishes to the next level.