Here’s a common dilemma: Say you want to make a recipe that calls for dry red wine to deglaze your pan to make a sauce, or maybe you need a dry white wine to make risotto. How do you decide which wine to buy? When it comes to shopping for the ingredients, nothing presents as many choices at the market as does wine, and the biggest mistake you can make is to pick something simply because it’s cheap. Heat tends to exacerbate unpleasant qualities in wine, so remember this maxim: If you wouldn’t drink it, you shouldn’t cook with it. Therefore, avoid “cooking wines” like the plague.
Heat also blasts away wine’s subtle nuances, so it’s not a good idea to cook with a fine, expensive wine, either. What you want is something good but inexpensive; see the suggestions below. If you’re not sure what to buy, ask for help. Describe what you want the wine for, and a good merchant should be able to help you find what you need.
Tips from the expert
White wines used for cooking should have zippy acidity and shouldn’t be heavily oaky or sweet. Try California Sauvignon Blancs from makers like Geyser Peak or Delicato. Red wines should be soft, not overly oaky or tannic. Australian Shiraz blends from Rosemount and Lindemans fit this description and are good values. When it comes to fortified wines like vermouth, sherry, and Marsala, quality is even more critical. Look for imported brands in the $8 to $10 range.
—Tim Gaiser, contributing wine editor