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Marketview Liquor Blog

How to Choose a Cooking Wine

How to Choose a Cooking Wine

Cooking with wine for the first time can be overwhelming. As a beginner, you may find it difficult to determine what type of wine you should cook with, where you should purchase it and what dishes it would taste best with. Additionally, you may not have extensive knowledge of different wines and grape varieties.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a wine expert or a master chef to cook delicious meals with wine. In this complete guide to choosing cooking wines, we’ll go over some basics of cooking wine, tips for picking a good bottle, how to match wines with different foods and the best places to buy cooking wines.

The Basics of Cooking Wine

Cooking with wine can complement and enhance different flavors of foods. Many people like to cook with wine to add more acidity to their dishes, which helps round out accompanying flavors. Because wine contains alcohol, it’s important to add it to your dish near the beginning of the process and let it cook along with your food. This gives the alcohol a chance to burn off as the dish cooks.

Because wine contains alcohol, it's important to add it to your dish near the beginning of the process and let it cook along with your food.

You can select a specific cooking wine depending on your preferred variety and the other ingredients in your dish. Cooking wines come in many different styles such as the following:

  • Dry red wines: Dry red wines are less sweet, so they won’t burn as easily. This makes them ideal for slow-sauce making.
  • Dry white wines: A dry white wine that’s high in acidity is excellent for cooking. Try using a crisp Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc or dry sparkling wine.
  • Dry and sweet oxidized wines: An oxidized wine has been exposed to oxygen during the winemaking process. Oxidized wine has a unique taste that rounds out other flavors of a dish, and both dry and sweet varieties can be great for cooking.
  • Sweet fortified red wines: Fortified wines and spirits pair nicely with various recipes, especially French dishes and elegant desserts. They can be used to make wine-based sauces for meats as well. Their unique and complex flavors make them excellent wine choices for cooking. 
  • Sweet white wines: Lightly-sweet whites such as German Riesling are bursting with delicious fruit flavors, making them well-suited for vanilla and fruit-based desserts. Because these wines tend to be sensitive to air and light, try to use the bottle soon after opening it.
  • Rice wines: While most wines are created from fermented grapes, rice wine is made by fermenting rice. Rice wine adds excellent flavor to Chinese- and Japanese-inspired dishes. It’s commonly used in marinades to tenderize seafood and meat.

While you can technically cook with any wine, it’s important to note that certain types may not complement some dishes as well as they do others. This largely depends on factors including the sweetness level, acidity, tannins, body and alcohol content of the wine. 

When deciding how to choose a wine to cook with, a general rule is that dry reds and whites pair nicely with savory dishes while sweet wines such as Moscato, Sauternes or sweet Riesling are typically recommended for dessert recipes. Later on, we’ll go more into detail regarding different cooking wines and foods they tend to pair well with.

A general rule is that dry reds and whites pair nicely with savory dishes while sweet wines such as Moscato, Sauternes or sweet Riesling are typically recommended for dessert recipes.

Cooking Wines vs. Regular Wines

What exactly differentiates a cooking wine from a “regular” wine? Generally, regular drinking wines such as dry reds and whites add a more flavorful and stronger taste to your dishes. They often have higher quality than generic cooking wines. While some cooking wines can help add desired flavors, they’re not typically enjoyable to drink on their own and are not usually intended for drinking.

While grabbing a bottle labeled “cooking wine” from a store shelf seems like the simplest option, this isn’t the ideal choice if you want to cook an impressive dish. Cooking wines tend to offer a salty and unpleasant taste, and they can often resemble vinegar more than wine. You’re more likely to find cooking wines in the vinegar section of a grocery store than you are in the wine section.

To cook delicious and flavorful meals, choose an authentic drinking wine made from fresh and natural ingredients. We also suggest shopping at a liquor store that specializes in wines, beers and other spirits, as they’ll have a more experienced staff who can help you find a good wine for your dish.

To cook delicious and flavorful meals, choose an authentic drinking wine made from fresh and natural ingredients. We also suggest shopping at a liquor store that specializes in wines, beers and other spirits, as they'll have a more experienced staff who can help you find a good wine for your dish.

Important Wine Characteristics

Before you can determine effective cooking wine and food pairings, it’s important to understand what gives these wines their distinctive tastes, as well as why they complement some foods more than others. When choosing wine for cooking, here are some basic characteristics to keep in mind:

  • Sweetness: A wine’s sweetness can significantly affect how your dish will taste. While sweet wine can be added to certain desserts, it doesn’t tend to suit most savory recipes. Try to opt for a dry white or red wine when cooking a savory dish. Generally speaking, it’s also better to avoid cooking with oaky wines as these may cause your food to taste bitter.
  • Acidity: Acidity refers to the tartness of a wine. You’ll likely want to cook with a wine relatively acidic, as this can bring more flavor to a dish while enhancing accompanying flavors.
  • Tannins: Tannins are naturally-occurring compounds found in grape skins that help produce wines, particularly reds. Tannins are what create that dry and slightly bitter taste in your mouth when sipping wine. When making desserts and sweeter dishes, try using a soft Pinot Noir to avoid tannins. However, it’s typically safer to cook savory meats with red wine, as proteins in meat can help break down tannins.
  • Body: The body of a wine refers to how light or heavy it feels in your mouth. Keep in mind that big, full-bodied reds such as Shiraz, Zinfandel and Syrah can bring out tannin flavors that may turn chalky when cooked. If you’d prefer to avoid this taste, you might consider a Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot that offers more moderate tannins.
  • Alcohol: It’s typically best to choose a wine with a mid-range alcohol content of 10% to 13% when cooking. Wines with a higher alcohol content typically have less acidity, which can take longer to tenderize meats. However, fortified wines can also be great cooking choices despite having a higher alcohol content of 20%. They can help bring out more complex flavors of meats, poultry and shellfish. Remember that the longer you cook the wine, the less alcohol will be present in the dish.
Tannins create a dry and slightly bitter taste in your mouth when sipping wine.

Tips for Picking a Good Bottle of Cooking Wine

Now that we’ve covered the basic identifying factors of wine, it’s important to know the best practices when shopping for your cooking wines. When browsing wine products from a store, you’ll want to look for a few specific things that can help you make effective purchasing decisions. It’s important that you don’t gloss over the labels — reading the bottle carefully for important details can go a long way.

To pick a cooking wine, keep these seven important tips in mind:

1. Consider the Recipe

Pay careful attention to the instructions of the recipe so you know what type of wine should be used. The recipe will often provide wine recommendations that complement the dish. If not, you can determine the right wine to use based on other ingredients. For example, a crisp, dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio pairs nicely with the ingredients used to make shrimp scampi.

In addition to using wine for sweet and savory food recipes, you can also use it to make delicious and refreshing cocktails. Try searching for some fun and creative wine cocktail recipes to make in addition to your dishes — this is another way to put your wine to excellent use!

2. Read the Label

Reading the wine bottle label is especially important for checking the alcohol content, as some white cooking wines have lower alcohol content than others. Additionally, if a label describes the wine as “fruity,” this doesn’t necessarily mean it has high sugar content — this simply refers to its concentrated fruit flavor.

The more details this label has, the more reliable the brand likely is. Reading the label can help you make a more informed decision when selecting a bottle of wine. In addition to the name of the winery, you can also find a brief description of the wine that includes the specific grape variety, the year these grapes were harvested, the region they were grown in, the alcohol by volume (ABV) and tasting notes.

Reading the label can help you make a more informed decision when selecting a bottle of wine.

Additionally, knowing the different characteristics of various wine types can help you better understand the descriptions written on wine labels.

3. Choose a Wine You Like

As a general rule of thumb, you should try to cook with wines you enjoy drinking. If you don’t like how it tastes when sipping it, chances are you won’t like the flavor it adds to your food either. Choose your cooking wine carefully and pick something you know you’ll love.

When deciding how to choose cooking wines, think of different aromas or flavors you tend to like. If the flavors in the description sound appealing to you, you’ll likely enjoy the taste. Whether you enjoy subtle notes of berries, citrus, hibiscus, mocha or chocolate, you’re sure to find a wine you’ll love to drink and cook with.

4. Taste Different Wines

It’s a good idea to sample a few different wines before picking one to add to your dish. This can help you determine which one will best compliment your dish and give you a better idea of what the food will taste like.

This can help you determine which one will best compliment your dish and give you a better idea of what the food will taste like.

Additionally, it’s helpful to keep track of the different wines you try. While one variety may not mix well with a dish you’re currently cooking, you may be able to use it for a future dish. Make notes of the wines you taste as you go along and write down ideas for dishes you can cook with these different wines.

5. Consider the Alcohol Level

As mentioned previously, a cooking wine’s alcohol content can heavily influence the taste of your food. When choosing a wine for cooking, try picking one with a mid-range level of alcohol — this can help provide the ideal amount of acidity to effectively bring out delicious flavors. However, sweet fortified wines with higher alcohol content can also be great for preparing savory sauces for seafood and sweet sauces for fruity desserts.

6. Consider if You’ll be Drinking Wine With Your Meal

If you plan to have a glass of wine alongside your meal, keep in mind that specific wines tend to pair better with certain foods than others. For example, white wines such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc tend to complement the softer flavors of chicken and turkey. On the other hand, bold red wines tend to pair nicely with heavier meats like steak and beef. Try pairing these dishes with a rich Zinfandel, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon. 

7. Don’t Stress Over Price

When selecting and purchasing your cooking wines, try not to let price intimidate you. You don’t have to choose the most expensive option in the store — you can easily find quality cooking wines at affordable prices. Additionally, buying these by the case can help you save money, as many retailers offer bulk discounted prices. Buying multiple bottles is a cost-effective option, and you’ll have extra bottles for future recipes!

Buying multiple bottles is a cost-effective option, and you'll have extra bottles for future recipes!

Matching Cooking Wine to Food

After learning some important tips regarding how to pick a good cooking wine, you may want to start thinking of effective wine and food pairings to spark some imagination for your next meal. Let’s look at some different types of wine and foods they tend to cook well with:

  • Dry red winesIf you’re planning to cook with a drier red, these wines tend to pair wonderfully with bourguignonne sauce, beurre rouge and red wine reduction sauce for meats and vegetables. A Zinfandel or Shiraz is great for braising lamb, beef roast, ribs or other red meats — these bold wines are excellent complements to heartier dishes. When cooking beef stew, try using a Merlot, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Dry white winesDry white wines are great for preparing lighter dishes such as vegetables, pork, poultry and seafood. They can also be used for soups, cream sauces and to deglaze your pan. Try out a crisp Sauvignon BlancPinot Grigio or Chardonnay for one of these light and delicious meals!
  • Sweet fortified red winesSweet fortified red wines are excellent for sweeter dishes such as chocolate cakes, chocolate sauces and port wine sauces for steak. For one of these dishes or a similar dish, try cooking with a Ruby Port or Vintage Port, or drizzle one of these wines over some fresh strawberries. Additionally, try flavoring a berry glaze or caramel sauce with a sweet Madeira or Marsala.
  • Sweet white winesWith their high acidity and delicate flavors, sweet white wines can accompany both sweet desserts and savory fish recipes. They’re great for poaching pears and creating sweet sauces for fruit tarts, and they can also be used to create buttery sauces for fish, shrimp and lobster. Try using an elegant Sauternes, sweet RieslingMoscato or Gewürztraminer.

Where Can You Buy Cooking Wines? 

Earlier, we briefly discussed the importance of shopping for cooking wines at a reliable liquor store or wine retailer. These stores specialize in a wide variety of wines, beers and spirits, and their experienced staff members can easily help you pick out your ideal products. These individuals don’t have to be cooking experts to help you find the right wines to pair with your foods.

Some liquor stores will offer online wine buying options in addition to in-store shopping. Browsing wines online allows you to read complete descriptions and information about every product in a single interface. Online shopping also offers the convenience of having your wines delivered right to your doorstep.

Browsing wines online allows you to read complete descriptions and information about every product in a single interface.

Here are the main reasons to consider buying your wines online or in-person from a liquor store rather than a superstore:

  1. Larger product selection: Because liquor stores specialize exclusively in alcohol products, you’ll likely find a larger and more diverse selection of wines, beers and other spirits than you would in a grocery store or supermarket. This gives you more options to choose from, and you’ll be more likely to find the particular product you’re looking for.
  2. Higher quality spirits: Smaller wine brands and companies typically don’t use mass production facilities to make their wines. Many of these products are created from more complex and personalized fermentation processes and use fresh, natural ingredients to produce delicious flavors. You likely won’t find these unique tastes and aromas in mass-produced wines from larger corporations.
  3. More convenience: Buying from an in-person or online liquor store tends to offer more convenience than shopping at a giant superstore. With in-person shopping, checkout lines tend to be shorter in smaller stores. When shopping from a liquor store online, you’re free to buy wines at any time — online shops are open 24 hours a day, which makes purchasing excellent wines simple and convenient. While many superstores offer online buying options as well, you likely won’t be able to find wines of such high quality.
  4. More personalized shopping experience: Smaller liquor stores tend to offer a more personalized shopping experience for their customers. You won’t find this kind of attention with larger stores. The skilled staff members and wine experts at liquor stores can help you find the right products, offer professional wine recommendations and answer any questions you may have.
  5. More budget-friendly: While big grocery stores and superstores often mark up their products, smaller liquor stores typically offer discounted prices, especially when you purchase alcohol by the case. Bulk purchasing makes buying from liquor stores a more cost-effective and budget-friendly option.

If you’re looking to buy your wines from a liquor store that embodies the above qualities, look no further than Marketview Liquor. We believe that you should never have to spend a lot to purchase high-quality wine and spirits. For this reason, we offer an extensive selection of fine wines with several online purchasing benefits and promotions.

You can receive the following perks when you buy from our favorite selections and varieties:

Browse and Order Your Cooking Wines Online at Marketview Liquor 

You don’t have to spend a fortune on wines to cook delicious and impressive meals. At Marketview Liquor, we offer a quality selection of reds, whites, rosés, champagnes and other wines at affordable prices — consider purchasing one of our wines for your next tasty recipe!

No matter your preferred sweetness level, flavors and notes, we provide exceptional wines to satisfy any unique taste. Browse and order your wines online at Marketview Liquor today!

Browse and order your cooking wines online at Marketview Liquor. Shop now!