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Whether kitchen novice or pro-chef status, one thing’s for sure: people are spending more time than ever cooking up meals at home. If you’ve spent some time researching recipes, you’ve likely noticed that many sauces, marinades, and recipe bases call for wine—and seeking out said ingredient definitely shouldn’t be taken lightly. In other words, that sad excuse for vino on your grocery store’s shelf? Best to leave it behind.
So what exactly should one look for when seeking out white wine to cook with? Simply put, high acidity and little to no oak are key. This generally looks like unoaked chardonnay, dry riesling, pinot grigio, and beyond. And of course, one should always follow the cardinal rule: never cook with a wine you wouldn’t sip solo.
Carrie Lyn Strong, sommelier, wine educator, and founder of Strong Wine Consulting, has a few ideas. “I enjoy drinking white wine while I'm cooking so I usually just put the wine I'm enjoying into my recipe,” she says. “That being said, I enjoy whites with a little personality.” For Strong, this means that there needs to be acidity, balance, texture, and palatable flavors in the given wine.
Not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered. We’ve narrowed down a variety of solid styles of wine to use in the kitchen that are also perfect for sipping on their own.
Best Overall: Henri Perrusset Mâcon-Villages
Region: Burgundy, France | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Lemon cream, Citrus, Honey
Lightly oaked chardonnay is basically the Goldilocks of wine, in that when it’s made well, it’s generally just right. This delicious example from Henri Perrusset is no exception. Here, flavors of lemon cream, citrus, honey, and yellow fruit are balanced by ample amounts of acidity, which lead to a lasting, palate-coating finish. Perfect for sipping, cooking, and enjoying year-round.
“When cooking with white wine, I [usually] choose an unoaked wine so that the wine can do its job without altering the flavors of local produce,” notes Lucy Vanel of Lyon-based cooking school Plum Lyon. Noting where she’s based, Vanel specifically cites local chardonnay from the Mâconnais as one of her go-tos. “I always have a bottle in the kitchen and won't hesitate to use this in cooking for any recipe that does not call for a specific wine,” she reveals.
Related: The Best White Wines
Best for Cooking Mussels: Domaine de La Poultière Tuffo Vouvray
Region: Loire Valley, France | ABV: 13% ABV | Tasting Notes: Green apples, White flowers, Citrus rind
What’s better than preparing French-inspired mussels with a high-acid bottle of chenin? Doing so with one that’s delicious to drink solo, of course. This classic bottle from Damien Pinon is simply outstanding. Notes of green apples, white flowers, and citrus rind lead to a thirst-quenching finish. Like sunshine in a bottle!
Best for Cooking Chicken: Dreissigacker Riesling Organic Trocken
Region: Rheinhessen, Germany | ABV: 12% | Tasting Notes: Apple skin, Wet slate, Minerals
We’re setting the record straight once and for all. First, not all riesling is sweet! There are so many delicious, bone-dry examples (like the one listed here) to dive into. Second, these wines are some of the absolute best to cook with, as their lack of residual sugar and ripping natural acidity stands up to a variety of recipes and sauces. Expect flavors of apple skin, wet slate, and minerals from this bottle. Pour a splash on the side, savor on its own, and let your chicken do its thing. You’ll thank us later.
“Regional dishes will sometimes call for a specific wine, like Poulet au Vin Jaune or Poulet au Riesling, for example,” says Vanel. “These are iconic dishes that hail from the place where the wine was produced, and have become a part of the general French repertoire over time [and should be respected].” Her advice? “If a recipe calls for a specific wine or a specific kind of wine, it's for a reason. The dish is going to turn out better if you use it.”
Best for Cooking Salmon (and Other Sautéed Fish): Trimbach Pinot Blanc
Region: Alsace, France | ABV: 12.5% | Tasting Notes: Pear, Orange rind, Flowers
As noted above, riesling and other Alsatian varieties vinified dry are some of the most refreshing wines out there (and are seriously stellar to cook with). Trimbach is one of the region’s most well known and highly respected names. Their pinot blanc jumps with flavors of fresh pears, orange rind, flower petals, and honey.
In the realm of Alsace, Strong is a fan. “I stay away from wines with bitter characteristics (I'm looking at you sauvignon blanc), and gravitate towards dry rieslings & Alsatian varieties,” she says.
Best for Cooking Shrimp Scampi: Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio
Region: Trentino-Alto Adige / Südtirol - Alto Adige, Italy | ABV: 12.5% | Tasting Notes: Peach, Lime leaf, Acacia
Forget the bland and boring pinot grigios of your past. This stunning example from Tiefenbrunner shows just how textured, complex, and flavor-packed these wines can be. Here, notes of peach, lime leaf, acacia, and quince are balanced by tons of zesty acidity. Prepare your scampi with this gem, pour a splash on the side, and enjoy all together for a luxurious dinner at home.
Related: The Best Pinot Grigios
Best for Cooking Risotto: Heron Chardonnay
Region: California, USA | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, Tropical fruit, Green apple
While our first chardonnay of this lineup illustrates the delicious potential for lightly oaked expressions, Heron comes in strong as one of our top picks for unoaked examples. This fruit-driven wine from Mendocino bursts with flavors of citrus, tropical fruits, and green apple. Use in a variety of savory risotto recipes for an out-of-this-world base.
Strong recommends using white Rhône blends/varieties, as well as unoaked chardonnays when cooking. (Author’s note: Should you not be able to find a white Rhône blend or unoaked chardonnay at your local wine shop, a lightly oaked chardonnay should definitely do the trick!)
Related: The Best Chardonnays
Best for Cooking Beurre Blanc Sauce: Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie
Region: Loire Valley, France | ABV: 12% | Tasting Notes: Lemon, Salt, Wet stones, Crushed shells
They say what grows together goes together, and in the case of the classic French "white butter" sauce beurre blanc and muscadet, the saying couldn’t hit any closer to home. Beurre blanc finds its home in Nantes, which is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Loire Valley’s muscadet land.
This organic, thirst-quenching expression is loaded with weighty flavors of lemon, wet stones, coarse salt, and crushed seashells. Trust us, you won't’ want to miss savoring this stuff on its own.
Best for Cooking Sherry Sauce: Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Sherry
Region: Andalucia, Spain | ABV: 15% | Tasting Notes: Stone fruit, Almonds, Sea salt
Still haven’t explored the world of fortified wines? Refreshing, saline-driven expressions such as this bone dry sherry from Tio Pepe promise to blow your mind. Although this tasty wine makes a perfect base for the eponymous sauces that call for it, when sipped on its own, these sherries provide some of the most brilliant pre-dinner aperitifs out there.
Expect notes of stone fruit, marcona almonds, freshly baked bread, and sea salt to dominate the palate. If you love weighty, textured, and all around flavorful wine, this stuff is just the ticket.
Read Next: The Best Sherry Wines
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Vicki Denig is a wine and travel journalist based between New York and Paris. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators. Her work regularly appears on Wine-Searcher, VinePair and more. Denig is also the Content Manager for Verve Wine, a bi-coastal retail operation (New York & San Francisco).