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Cooking Wines - What to Choose and What to Avoid

Fri, Dec 02, 22  |  news

One of the most common questions asked by our customers is “What wine should I use for cooking?”  

Another related question we hear a lot is  “Will a cheaper wine impact the quality of my cooking?”  

Of course we ask what is being cooked, but then generally turn to certain kinds of wines for our recommendations.  To help illuminate our thought process, we decided to break down the differences between cooking wine, “wine product”, and drinking wine – and provide guidance on which to use — so your dinner comes out tasting as you planned.

Cooking wine is a wine that is formulated especially for cooking. That sounds obvious enough, right? Well…it’s slightly more complicated than that. Cooking wine, such as Holland House, is processed with salt and preservatives. This allows the cooking wine to have a long shelf life after being opened, without it turning into vinegar (up to a 1 year shelf life as opposed to the few-day shelf life of a table wine.) These wines can legally be sold in a grocery store because they contain little or no alcohol.  The additives in these wines can have an adverse effect on your food, so we recommend skipping this option all together.

New York state laws also allow grocery stores to sell ‘wine products’ in the beverage aisle,  along with beer and other low- alcohol content beverages. These wine products may have no more than 6% alcohol. They are inexpensive and convenient…but not ideal for drinking with food or for cooking. They are essentially the ‘Cheez Whiz’ of wine. Chateau Diana for example is one of the many ‘wine products’ available in grocery stores.  The ingredients for this “French table wine” include water, sugar, and juice concentrate to dilute the flavor and potency of the wine.The flavor ends up being similar to a wine cooler.

As alluded to earlier, it is the additives that eliminate both  [Cune-white] cooking wine and “wine products” as options with which to cook. Why?

When we cook, we use heat. Heat burns off alcohol in a wine, and concentrates the flavors. If you are making a dish with a heavy focus on the wine flavor (ex: Coq au Vin) using these types of cooking wines and ‘wine products’ is a mistake as you will taste the additives as well as the grapes.  

If you need a relatively small amount of wine in a dish, the flavor of the wine is not going to be a defining a factor, and therefore a ‘wine product’ would be a passable alternative. However, if you plan on sipping while you cook, or your recipe calls for a larger amount of wine, go to a wine store and pick out a table, or drinking, wine.

So, which table wine do you choose for cooking? There’s no need to buy an expensive wine, in fact, there are a variety of wines for under $15 which are perfect for both cooking and sipping! A knowledgeable salesperson should be able to help you match the perfect wine for what you intend to cook be it a dry white, bold red, or a port.