The 5 Best White Wines for Cooking, According to a Wine Expert

updated Mar 7, 2024
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close up shot of chicken scallopini in a cast iron pan, topped with herbs, and a spoon drizzling sauce from the pan over the chicken.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Brett Regot

Do you remember your first bite of linguine with clamsFrench onion soup, or chicken scallopini? Cooking with white wine brings balance, fruit, and acidity to so many of our favorite recipes.

As a Certified Sommelier and award-winning wine maker, I advise you to move past grocery store “cooking wine” in favor of moderately priced white wine for cooking (leave that $40 Chardonnay in the wine fridge for drinking). Your cooking style will expand exponentially, I promise.

Here are 5 white wines that are each wonderful for cooking in their own way.

The Best Style of White Wine to Cook With

By far, the most versatile style of wine to cook with is a dry, crisp white wine. Rich, oaky whites can become bitter during the cooking process, while sweeter whites may caramelize during deglazing or add unwanted sweetness to certain dishes.

As wine cooks, it becomes an integrated part of the whole dish, and the subtle nuances are almost always lost; therefore, a high-quality wine is only appropriately used to finish a dish, where it will be the featured component. Unless that is the case, choose a moderately priced, quaffable white wine, and spend your extra money on quality ingredients instead.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani / Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

Crisp White Wine (Such as Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc & Unoaked Chardonnay)

This is your go-to category. If possible, choose a wine that has a moderate alcohol content (ideally between 10 and 13 percent) and generous acidity. Why? Highly alcoholic wines may take longer to reduce and often do not have the necessary acidity, which is what adds the bright, tenderizing effects we’re after.

My three favorite grape varietals for cooking are Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and unoaked Chardonnay. Pinot Grigio is the most neutral of the three, which makes it the most versatile. Sauvignon Blanc provides racy acidity, which is particularly delicious in seafood dishes or with sauces utilizing heavy cream. Chardonnay contributes the most richness of the three.

I know it seems counterintuitive, but avoid purchasing wines labeled “cooking wines,” as they often contain salt and other additives. In general, choose unoaked, dry, medium-bodied white wines. In a pinch, you can always substitute a dry vermouth. Bonus? While slightly more expensive, the vermouth has a longer shelf life, which makes it a great option for those who only imbibe occasionally.

5 Very Drinkable Crisp, Dry Whites to Cook With

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling; Jesse Szewczyk

Dry Sherry

Like Faith, I have a bottle of this in my kitchen at all times. Just this evening, I finished a pot of chicken and cauliflower soup with a dash of sherry, and it brightened the soup and added another layer of depth and dimension. Sherry is versatile — it is great for deglazing, brings depth to a creamy seafood chowder, cream of mushroom soup, or cream sauce, and is brilliant alongside appetizers like oysters.

My Pick: Taylor Wine Company Dry Sherry, $6.99 at Total Wine

Credit: Lauren Volo

Dry Marsala

It’s absolutely delicious in a classic chicken Marsala and pork chop Marsala, but you should also branch out and try incorporating this complex, dry wine in braised preparations and beef stew. My personal favorite way to use Marsala wine is in the decadent Italian dessert zabaglione.

My Pick: Cantine Florio Fine Marsala Dry, $11.97 at Total Wine

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Sparkling Wine

Of course, sparkling wine is perfectly suited for a Champagne vinaigrette or a sorbet, but it is a great substitute for dry, white wine in beurre blanc or a creamy risotto. The bubbles dissipate when cooked, so this is a great opportunity to use up any leftover bubbly after a party (not that this is ever an issue at my house!).

My Pick: Poema Cava, $13.99 at

Credit: Kelli Foster

Dry Madeira

Produced in four distinct styles, Madeira is a Portuguese fortified wine from the islands of Madeira. Choose “Sercial,” a dry style that doubles as a refreshing aperitif. Use Madeira in a creamy mushroom sauce for steak, as a savory addition to turkey gravy, or as a substitute for Sherry in virtually any recipe.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

The Best Substitutions for Wine When Cooking

There are a number of alcohol-free options you can use instead that still lend flavor to whatever you’re cooking. For something that almost mimics wine, try verjus, which is the pressed juice of unripened grapes. Beyond these, good ol’ chicken or vegetable stock, enhanced with a dash of lemon or vinegar, is a great choice that you likely already have on hand.