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Ask a Somm: What's the Best Wine for Cooking?

Welcome to Ask a Somm, a column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine. Wondering about a bottle? Drop us a line.

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Matt Glassman is one third the team behind The Greyhound Bar & Grill, a neighborhood joint proffering thoughtful American food and drink in Los Angeles' Highland Park neighborhood. Despite its unfussy pub aesthetic and straightforward-sounding menu, recipes are deceptively sophisticated. There's also Blue Bottle coffee on offer, in addition to an expansive craft beer list and slew of proper cocktails. As for wine, Glassman curated a mix of funky, eclectic, Old World glass pours that jibe with chicken wings and cheeseburgers. Below, he offers 545 words of advice on cooking with wine.

Q: I've heard mixed suggestions on cooking wines. Some say it's good to cook with cheap wine, while some say the quality of the wine matters. What's the deal?

Glassman: Choosing the right wine to cook with is tricky because you don’t want to spend too much money on a bottle that you are going to dump into a pot filled with carrots and celery. But at the same time, after you reduce the wine and cook off a lot of the alcohol, you’re really concentrating those flavors and aromas, so you better like those flavors. An easy (but not entirely helpful) rule is to cook with something you would like to drink on its own. A more thoughtful approach would be to try and treat the wine you’re cooking with almost like a wine you would pair with the dish once it hits the table.

... try and treat the wine you’re cooking with almost like a wine you would pair with the dish once it hits the table.

First, I would avoid anything labeled "cooking wine." Cooking wine is actually only a salty, preservative-laden cousin to real wine. There’s a reason this stuff is in the same section as vinegar. Also, only use sweet wines if you want to actually make the dish sweeter and keep that concentration of flavor effect in the back of your mind as you cook. Wines over heat can quickly go from off-dry to very sweet and syrupy.

So, keeping that in mind, when cooking with red wines, it’s really dependent on what you’re preparing. A big and rich dish can see a lot of benefit from a big and rich wine. It’s super easy to find a $12 Napa Cab, or you can find a young, Merlot-heavy Bordeaux, typically from the right bank of the Gironde river for around the same price. While both are going to pair wonderfully with your pork chop or bolognese, the Bordeaux will be a bit more restrained and complex and should integrate really well with the rest of the dish. If you have something more elegant like a coq au vin or a duck dish, go with something more (you guessed it) elegant and fruit forward. While Pinot Noirs are home run cooking wines, they tend to be a bit too expensive for cooking . As an alternative, you could find something Grenache-forward from the Southern Rhône or a Primitivo from Italy at a great price.

When cooking with white wine, think of the wine as a more interesting alternative to lemon juice or vinegar, as a tool to add acid.When cooking with white wine, think of the wine as a more interesting alternative to lemon juice or vinegar, as a tool to add acid. Here, you’re looking for lower alcohol (11 to 13 percent) wines with generous acidity. I personally, love to drink bright, refreshing Old World whites like Sancerre, Muscadet, or Albariño. And while these particular wines may be a bit pricey to cook with, you can find great affordable alternatives. One I always recommend is white wine from the Côtes de Gascogne region in Southwest France. These are like bargain versions of white Bordeaux and you can usually find them for less than $15 a bottle.

Finally, bear in mind that a lot of recipes call for a cup or even less of wine. You’re going to have an open, more than half full bottle of wine right in front of you while you finish the dish and plate it. Now is when you get to collect your bonus prize for thoughtfully choosing the right bottle. Pour yourself a glass and congratulate yourself on your dish and that great wine you now get to drink.

The Greyhound Bar & Grill

933 South Brand Boulevard, , CA 91204 (747) 240-6825 Visit Website

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