Which White Wines Are Best For Cooking?

January 23, 2018 - By 

Great chefs and home cooks alike have been cooking with white wine for centuries. And why wouldn’t they? Once the majority of the alcohol has dissipated from the pan, what’s left of the wine is an unbeatable depth of taste, a subtle fruitiness and spiciness which is impossible to replicate with any other ingredient. It’s what gives much of European gastronomy its distinctively elegant character, and it’s an easy way of adding a real punch of flavour to all kinds of dishes.

There are other great benefits to cooking with white wine, too. It’s a sensible way to add bulk to sauces which could be left bland or too thin with the addition of water, and perhaps most importantly of all, it makes pairing a wine with your dish an absolute breeze. The vast majority of recipes out there calling for the addition of wine will probably not require more than a glass or so… meaning you’ll have an opened bottle of perfectly paired vino to enjoy at the table!

Selecting Your White Wine For Cooking

Knowing which white wines to cook with can leave many people a little puzzled. After all, it’s the flavour profile of the wine that you’re looking to impart to the dish… and white wines range from being bone-dry, crisp and minerally, to being intensely fruity, deeply oaky or floral, sweet, and even nutty and honeyed in flavour.

Firstly, we can generally say that unless your recipe very specifically instructs you to use a sweet wine, we aren’t likely to be needing this particular subcategory of white wines in the kitchen when preparing savoury dishes of white meats, vegetables and seafood. They’d simply be too overpowering in the mix, and add a cloying level of sugar where it isn’t going to be wanted. We can also do away with anything labeled ‘cooking wine’ (if it’s no good for drinking, why would you want to put it in your food?)… but other than that, you’ve got a massive range of dry white wines you can choose from.

One nice way of selecting a white wine for your dish is to think about regionality. Many traditional dishes have grown and evolved side by side with local wine styles, and as a result, are likely to work very well together in both the cooking and the pairing. If, for example, you’re preparing a French seafood dish that hails from the south of the country, it wouldn’t be surprising if white wines from the same region would work beautifully in the sauce you’re preparing.

Wines for Creamy Sauces

Cream sauces and gravies are a classic addition to a wide range of meat dishes, and will work especially well with delicate plates of chicken, as well as veal, pork, turkey and other such meats. The addition of a dry white wine to such a sauce brings a degree of sophistication, and real sense of aromatic beauty to the dish, and it’s a staple of fine French gastronomy which has influenced the tastes of the wider world.

When making a cream sauce for your meat, you’ll want to opt for one of the more voluptuous, heavier and more full-bodied white wines out there. The classic choice would be a Chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France, although great quality Chardonnay is produced all over the Old and New worlds. Similarly excellent results could come from using a Viognier, too.

It’s fair to say that cooking at home with white wines and cream sauces is something that takes a bit of practice. Unlike in other sauces where the wine is the base and makes up the majority of the liquid, in cream sauces it can be a little tricky to ascertain how much the wine has reduced by. You don’t want the sauce to overcook, or for the wine to have not lost its alcohol content… as both of these factors could spoil your meal!

White Wine and Seafood

Has there ever been a greater pairing than shellfish, seafood and white wine? This is truly one of those rare matches made in heaven, and cooking your shellfish and seafood in white wine is the perfect way to enhance their flavour, bring in new complementary flavours to the dish, and dip into a culinary tradition that is beloved around the world.

Most seafood requires wine which is crisp, with a decent minerality and a balanced fruitiness. Many people claim that Pinot Grigio (and especially its French counterpart, Pinot Gris) is as good as it gets in regards to cooking with seafood, and it’s difficult to disagree. However, Spanish varietals such as Albarino, and tried-and-tested classics like Muscadet would certainly give it a run for its money. The key is to keep the levels of acidity reasonably low, and the brightness and zestiness quite high.

White Wine and Vegetables

We love our vegetables for one key reason; they’re packed with delicious flavours, and they communicate these flavours in our dishes with fantastic directness and clarity. However, with the addition of a great white wine, these flavours can be wonderfully enhanced, with the wine acting as a synergising force which unites the various tastes and allows them to dance on the palate.

The undisputed king of white wines with which to cook vegetables is Sauvignon Blanc. This grassy, herbaceous wine brings an incredible dimension to any vegetable dish, and is used by chefs around the world alongside melted butter and lemon juice to create vegetable dishes of the highest order. However, it’s far from alone, and perhaps isn’t even the best wine out there for cooking with vegetables. For veggies with a very strong ‘green’ vegetal flavour (think asparagus etc), Gruner Veltliner might even exceed the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc, and other varietals such as Verdejo and Vermentino would also be superb.

Top Tips for Cooking With Dry White Wine

  • When cooking almost any white meats or vegetables, use a decent splash of white wine to deglaze the pan – this allows you to capture even more flavour in your sauces and dressings.
  • Steam your shellfish (clams, mussels and oysters especially) in white wine instead of water, and use the same wine as the base for your sauces.
  • Use white wines in your marinades. The acidity and alcohol will help to break down the proteins in the meat, meaning it will end up being even more tender and delicious!

Benjamin Norris

Benjamin Norris

Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris is a wine critic and journalist from Bristol, UK. He is a lover of life's finer things and has a particular fondness for Alsatian and Eastern European wines, which he fell in love with during his three years working in Budapest.
Benjamin Norris

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