Wine Basics: The Best Wines for Cooking


Knowing what wine to go for when selecting wines for cooking is an important step in knowing what dish to prepare and what recipe to follow. More often than not, most of us tend to go wrong with our cooking-wine choices that end up messing or denying us the desired tastes to our dishes, thus leaving us detesting and avoiding their use altogether.

Many books and recipes have been made available for cooking wines, guiding people on how to pair wine and food but people are different and so are their experiences of what is termed enjoyable. Scientifically, the difference in how the different active elements in food and wine in terms of flavors and texture react bring about the difference in the dining experiences to each individual. Be sure to also check out “What is Cooking Wine?” for a guide on the differences between wine you drink and wine you cook with.


Going for an alcoholic or non-alcoholic cooking wine is purely a case of personal preference and going for either of these does not mean a compromise on the quality and flavor of the resulting dish of the other. They both are intended to and are capable of adding flavors to a dish.  

Generally, wine is identified and classified by its distinct basic tastes-bitter, sweet or sour- which are in turn identified by their primary components. The bitter taste, for instance, can be traced from wine tannins (the skins ad stems of grapes). The sweetness from the residual sugars left in the wine after fermentation and the sourness from the acidity of the grapes used.

Cooking Wines are Classified Into These Six Categories:

  • Dry reds and whites– These are best paired with heavy and creamy dishes like beef stews, pork chops, and wine-based dishes.
  • Nutty dry wines-These wines are best paired with mushroom, chicken and some fish gravies like shrimp. 
  • Nutty sweet wines– Nutty sweet wines are paired with desserts containing nuts, caramel, and vanilla ice cream. In most cases, the wine is poured on top of the dessert. They include the Tawny Port, Vin Santo, Pedro Ximinez, Italian Passito Wines and Cream Sherry.
  • Sweet fortified reds– These wines are best paired with rich and sweet chocolate desserts. These include wines like Ruby Port, Vintage Port, and Late-Bottled vintage Port
  • Sweet whites– Sweet whites are very sensitive to light and air and advisably should be consumed immediately after opening. they are paired best with sweet fruit tarts and flaky fish with faintly sweet butter sauces like Lobster and Shrimp. They include Sauternes, Sweet Riesling, Ice wine, Moscato and Late Harvest Whites.
  • Rice wines – Rice wines are available in two categories (Chinese/Taiwanese and Japanese) Rice wines are the best combination with marinades, stir-fries, and Asian dishes. While Chinese Rice wine works best with stir-fries in adding acidity, the Japanese counterpart with its salty-sweet nature works well as an aperitif and in glazes and BBQ sauces.

Looking to already pair one of these wines with dinner tonight? Check out “What Wine Should I Drink With Steak” for pairing options.

View Our Cooking Wine Suggestions Here

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Selection of Wines

This can be a tough exercise, especially when one is not versatile and familiar with the wide range in the market. The beauty is that most grocery stores have now made it easy and quick for that particular class of people who might not necessarily have grasped the concept by providing a “cooking wine section”.

While most people select a cooking wine depending on their desire at a particular time, their instincts or mood, the rule here, you can’t cook with that which you can’t drink. Looking for an alternative to these wines already for cooking? Check out “Try Out These Amazing Wine Substitutes to Make Alcohol-Free Dishes” for more options.

Heat & Wine

Because of the different components and elements in food and wine, heat acts differently on them. What to pair with what then becomes vital as your combination is what will heighten your perception of food flavors and ultimately, your cooking experience. It, therefore, is very important to make the right selection.

Wine tends to lose its integral nuances when subjected to heat. Adding your high-quality cooking wine at the end of the cooking process will, therefore, help retain its taste and features. But should you wish to incorporate wine from the beginning of the cooking process (depending on the cooking style and recipe), a cheaper or rather moderately priced wine should be considered.

Sweetened wine, on the other hand, can caramelize and add unwanted sweetness flavors to recipes while very dry wines might turn bitter in the process. It is therefore advisable that cooking wine is unoaked, dry and moderately alcoholic. Looking for a sweet wine to try out? Check out “The Most Popular Sweet Wines” for a whole list.

Here are a few tips to help you in making a proper selection:

Go for a Mid-Range Alcohol Content Category (Between 10-13% Alcohol)

Alcohol content dictates a wines body and weight.  A higher alcohol content translates to a higher wine weight and vice versa. Ironically, highly alcoholic wines are less acidic, and this acidity is what is greatly sought as it completely transforms dishes by adding brightness and tenderizing effects to them. Wines like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Unoaked Chardonnay are known for their mid-alcohol content.

Know the Available Tastes & Flavors

You are often advised to sample and familiarize yourself with the different kinds of flavors in the market. This will not only save you time spent at the store but will help you make a perfect pick. Get the kind of wine you would be comfortable drinking with a meal without necessarily having cooked with it. You can’t cook with which you can’t drink with a meal.

Take a look at “Best Wine for Beginners” or “Beginner Wines that You Need to Try” for a list of wines you can try out for both drinking and cooking with.

Understand the kind of recipe to follow and what is required of you. One limiting factor with overly sweetened wine is that it has a tendency of caramelizing and giving your dish an uncalled-for sweetness. This might otherwise have been avoided at the wine-selection stage, so always be careful. Thank you for reading with us today! Be sure to also read “What Wine Goes With Salmon?” to see how you can pair your seafood dishes.

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Bottoms up! We’ll uncork ya later!! ?

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