The Most Versatile Wines to Cook With

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Elegant poached lobster in white wine sauce

Drinking a glass of wine with a meal can elevate your dining experience to a whole new level, but combining wine and food isn’t always about pairing a glass with a dish. There’s another way to combine the two: cooking with wine.

Cooking with wine adds an element of acidity. Depending on how you use it, it can help to break down meats or help certain meats to retain moisture. Wine has numerous other applications, too. You can add it to a marinade, sauce, or glaze for a wide array of recipes.

The thing is, knowing which wine to buy for cooking can be a minefield. You want something that you’ll enjoy drinking (since you rarely need more than a splash for most recipes), but you don’t necessarily want to use a limited-release vintage. So, what do you choose?

In this article, we’ll explore some of the best and most versatile wines to cook with, helping you to find one that will best fit your recipe.

Why Cook with Wine?

You already know that drinking a glass of wine with a meal enhances your experience. A well-paired wine balances the flavors in a dish, and the dish can help to bring out certain elements of the wine. But why cook with it?

As we’ve already touched on, the acidity in wine can help to break down certain cuts of meat through cooking methods such as braising or slow cooking. In other applications, it can help lighter meats stay moist. As the alcohol evaporates out, wine also leaves behind flavors and aromas that add extra layers to the dish.

Regular Wine vs. “Cooking Wine”

In many cases, cooking wine refers to a wine that you use to cook. It’s a regular wine that you would typically drink, but you can also add it to a recipe that calls for it. Sometimes, however, you’ll see “cooking wine” on the shelf at the grocery store. These “wines” contain added ingredients such as salt, sugar, and other spices. These wines aren’t drinking wines. The wines we’re recommending are regular drinking wines that you can enjoy in a glass and a recipe. You might even enjoy a glass while cooking.

Best White Wines for Cooking

When it comes to cooking with white wines, you generally want to stay away from sweeter varieties. The sugars in the wine might caramelize during cooking, turning what should be a savory dish into something far too sweet. The best whites to cook with are dry and crisp:

Sauvignon Blanc

A crisp, acidic Sauvignon Blanc can add a citrusy, herbaceousness to your dish. One way to use it is to sauté fresh fish. The two pair wonderfully together. You can also use it in a creamy risotto. Adding it to the recipe adds an extra layer of flavor, and the acidity can help balance the creaminess. Or you can add a splash to vegetables to deglaze the pan. Add a touch of butter and a squeeze of lemon juice for a delightfully balanced side dish.

Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio is one of the most common cooking wines. It’s one of the most neutral whites, which means that it’s also one of the most versatile. It’s particularly good in seafood dishes, complementing delicate flavors or adding a touch of brightness.


When it comes to Chardonnay, the first thing to keep in mind is that you should look for unoaked varieties. Oakiness can add an unwanted bitterness to your dish. Unoaked Chardonnays that are full-bodied and buttery are perfect for cream sauces for chicken, seafood, or pasta.


Dry sherry is another excellent cooking wine. The aged, fortified wine works well in gravies, vegetables (such as green beans and mushrooms), and pork. It also works well with chicken and shellfish, and it can add an extra element of flavor when deglazing a pan. One of the greatest things about sherry is that it has a longer shelf-life than other wines, so you don’t have to worry about trying to finish the bottle quickly.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling white wines have a few applications. First, they’re perfect for Champagne vinaigrettes and Champagne sorbet (it’s in the name!). You can also add it to many different types of dishes, including chicken, scallops, pasta, and cheese (such as baked brie). It also works well as a substitute for dry white wines in recipes such as beurre blanc or risotto.

Best Red Wines for Cooking

Where white wines work well with lighter dishes, reds do exceptionally well with red and dark meats, as well as more savory dishes. Keep in mind, however, that full-bodied reds with lots of tannins aren’t the best choice here. A wine that’s too high in tannins could take on a chalky taste. Ideal reds for adding to recipes have moderate tannins. Here are a few reds that are perfect for cooking:

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is typically the go-to red wine for cooking. It’s a lighter red that can tenderize stewed meats without being overpowering the dish. It works well with beef as well as chicken. You can also use the wine to create a delicious sauce for pasta.


Merlot is a fruity, low-tannin wine that cooks well with proteins. You can use it for slow-cooking beef or chicken. Another way to use it is to deglaze a pan and make a bold sauce for topping the dish you just prepared.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t just popular for drinking, it’s also popular for cooking. Like Pinot Noir and Merlot, it’s an excellent choice for braising. It’s perfect for dishes like a rib roast, flat iron steak, or the classic beef bourguignon. The best part about deglazing a pan with Cabernet Sauvignon is that its lack of sugar means you won’t have to worry about caramelization and unwanted sweetness.


Chianti is a dry, less powerful red wine that’s also more on the acidic side. It works well in a number of applications, such as beef stew and braised lamb. The cherry flavors work well with the meat and the acid helps to soften the protein. As an acidic red, it also works well in pasta sauces.

Find the Perfect Wine to Cook With for Your Next Meal

No matter what recipe you’re making, JJ Buckley Fine Wines has just what you need. Our consultancy service can help you find a bottle you’ll enjoy cooking with and that you’ll enjoy drinking. Check out our selection today.