White wine is a pantry staple for most cooks, and it's really versatile. Use it to deglaze the brown bits for a pan sauce for sautéed fish, chicken, pork, or mushrooms. Use it in risotto for a good touch of acidity. Add it to a pot of shellfish just before you put the lid on for steaming (check out our Steamed Mussels with Chorizo recipe for instructions). A dry white is any white wine that isn't sweet. But for cooking, you want a wine with a high acidity known in wine parlance as "crisp." Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sémillon, and dry sparkling wines are especially good. Fuller whites with strong, oaky flavors, like some Chardonnays, don't work as well for cooking. They're lower in acidity and don't lend as much punch as crisper wines. When reduced, oaky, buttery flavors turn bitter and don't add anything pleasant to a dish.
You can almost always substitute dry Vermouth for white wine (a handy substitution since an opened bottle of Vermouth lasts longer than an opened bottle of white wine). Lemon juice or even white wine vinegar can substitute for wine when just a splash is called for, but use a tiny bit less.
Heat won't improve the undesirable qualities of bad wine—it will only accentuate them, so cook with something you wouldn't mind drinking. Conversely, heat kills the subtle nuances in a complex wine, so save the good stuff solely for drinking.
Because wine also contains alcohol, you usually add it at the start of cooking so the alcohol has a chance to burn off. Splashing wine into a dish at the end of cooking usually results in an unpleasant raw-wine taste.
Store unopened bottles in a dark, cool, place. Once opened, wine will begin to oxidize, which adversely affects flavor. Recork opened bottles and refrigerate them to slow down the process. Use an opened bottle within a few days.
More on Wine
For information on how to store wine for drinking (as opposed to cooking), read Tim Glaiser's expert Wine Storing Tips and check out our handy cheat sheet for pairing food and wine. Visit our dedicated Drinks page for more expert advice on cooking with and enjoying wine.