The Best Wines for Cooking and How to Use Them
Wine is indispensable in the kitchen. It adds complexity to dishes that water or broth can’t (try making coq à l’eau and get back to us). First things first: you shouldn’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink with your meal, but your selection doesn’t need to break the bank, either. After all, bad wine will only get worse in the pan, but Domaine de la Romanée-Conti won’t necessarily make the best boeuf Bourguignon.
Most good-quality wines work for cooking, but there are some things to avoid. Sweet wine may be called for in specific dishes but won’t suit the vast majority of recipes. Cooking wine concentrates its sugars, making reds “jammy” and off-dry whites taste syrupy and imbalanced. Heavily oaked wines should also be avoided, since oakiness can become bitter and awkward during cooking. And wines that are extremely full-bodied can overwhelm a dish as it reduces in the pan.
Acid, however, is your friend, as it provides a refreshing counterbalance to richer elements in the dish.
Here are our top picks for white, red, and rosé under $15 that will work perfectly both in the pan and in your glass. That they’re also ideal for cooking is just a bonus.
The Best White Wines for Cooking
Grillo is a remarkable value for everyday enjoyment. It’s rich fruit is balanced by crisp acidity, subtle savoriness and salinity that work beautifully in cooking.
Other crisp and low-to-no-oak whites to look for include Muscadet, Albariño and Sauvignon Blanc, whose high acidity and citrus fruit characteristics work well with most dishes.
Recommended white wines for cooking: Pinot Grigio, Grillo, Muscadet, Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc
White wines to avoid: Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Sémillon, Marsanne
Inexpensive Pinot Grigio has a neutral quality that can give it a bad rap, but its delicate notes lend well to cooking and won’t overwhelm other flavors.
Leave bolder, aromatic wines like Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Sémillon and Marsanne in your glass, as their bolder flavors won’t as easily compliment a wide range of ingredients.
Recommended Whites Under $15
The Best Red Wines for Cooking
Pinot Noir is a good go-to cooking wine as it can provide freshness, structure and bright fruit. This wine shows red fruit and an herbal quality, with a richness that never feels heavy.
Recommended red wines for cooking: Pinot Noir, Barbera, Chianti, some Cabernet Sauvignon
Red wines to avoid: Beaujolais Nouveau, Grenache, Shiraz, Zinfandel
Save your Beaujolais Nouveau and inexpensive Zinfandel, Grenache and Shiraz for the glass. When reduced in cooking, their punchy berry flavors can turn into perceived sweetness, especially if you don’t have acidity to balance. Instead, look for high-acid Italian reds like Barbera and Chianti or crisp, fresh styles of Cabernet Sauvignon without heavy oak.
Recommended Reds Under $15
Cooking with Rosé
While few recipes call for it specifically, try substituting dry rosé in recipes that ask for white wine to add a bit more fruit and wine flavor. Look for fruit, acid and a savoriness that’s common to French rosés.
Don’t worry about whether the wine skews more to the red or white side of the spectrum. Tavel is the only rosé that would make more sense as a substitute for red rather than white. Rosé is popular year-round now, and most wine shops will have an assortment of value bottles.
Look for dry rosés from the West Coast as well as Portugal and France. In the $10 to $15 range, Provençal rosé offers terrific value and wide selection, with crispness and an almost saline minerality that will work very well in cooking and drinking.
Recommended Rosés Under $15
Recipes to Try
Here are three easy dishes that will help show you how to utilize the power of white, red and rosé wines in cooking. Click start to view them all, or jump straight to a recipe.
Braising beef in white wine yields all the depth of a red wine braise, but with more beef flavor. This dish can be delicious with rice or mashed potatoes, but try it alongside a big Greek salad. The crisp vegetables and briny feta offset the richness of the meat.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2 medium onions, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 4 whole star anise
- 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
- Pickled Peppadew, cherry or jalapeño peppers, sliced (for garnish)
Heat oil in Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add beef in single layer, but don’t crowd. Brown very well on all sides, and transfer to plate. Add onions to pot with 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until brown, about 10 minutes. Add wine. With wooden spoon, scrape up browned bits stuck to bottom of pan. Return beef to pan, and add honey, star anise and pepper. Bring to boil, and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 1½ hours. Uncover and simmer for another 30 minutes, or until sauce reduces almost to glaze. Add salt, to taste. Remove star anise, and sprinkle with sliced peppers before serving. Serves 4.
In this deliciously winey version of an Italian classic, the grapes become a sort of compote that complements the sausage perfectly. Most shops that sell Italian sausage will have both hot and sweet, but choose what you enjoy, this dish works well with both. Serve over polenta or orzo.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1½ pounds hot and/or sweet Italian sausage
- ½ red onion, minced
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 cups seedless red and/or green grapes
Heat oil in large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage in single layer, and brown on all sides. Transfer sausage to plate. Add onion, and cook until golden brown, about 8–10 minutes. While onions cook, whisk together wine, vinegar, and sugar in separate bowl until sugar dissolves. Add wine mixture to pan. With wooden spoon, scrape up any browned bits on bottom of pan, then add sausages and grapes. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until wine reduces and mixture is thick, about 10–15 minutes (most of the grape skins will pop as they cook; press gently on any that don’t). Add salt and pepper, to taste. Serves 4.
Rosé is a fun alternative to white wine in cooking, as it lends a slightly fruitier and more wine-forward flavor. The color doesn’t usually remain in the finished sauce, but you can add a touch of paprika here to pump up the rosy color.
Most pre-packaged supermarket scallops are soaked in a chemical bath to extend shelf life and add water weight. Always buy scallops from a reputable fishmonger and ask for “dry” scallops, which have better flavor and texture. They’ll caramelize beautifully when seared.
- 1¼ pounds "dry" sea scallops (or 4 per person)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup minced shallots
- ⅛ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1 cup dry rosé wine
- ½ cup cream
- 2 tablespoons minced tarragon
- ¼ teaspoon paprika (optional)
Pat scallops dry with paper towels, and season with salt. Warm olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter in large nonstick pan over high heat. When very hot, add scallops. Sear on both sides until deep golden brown, about 90 seconds per side. Transfer scallops to plate.
Reduce heat to medium, and add 1 tablespoon butter to pan. Add shallots with ⅛ teaspoon salt. Cook until soft and sweet but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add wine, raise heat to high, and boil for 5 minutes. Add cream, tarragon and paprika. Boil until cream thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add salt, to taste. Return scallops to pan, and cook about 1 minute. Toss gently in sauce until scallops warmed through. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
- 1White Wine-Braised Beef with Star Anise
- 2Italian Sausage and Grapes in Red Wine
- 3Seared Scallops in Rosé Cream Sauce