How to Choose the Best Organic Wines for Cooking?

Vintage Roots

You’d be amazed by how a splash of wine can make your food more delicious! Do a quick Google search for “recipes with wine”, and you get a list of amazing treats like:

  • Drunken Cheesy Bread (white wine, Gruyere cheese, and baked bread)
  • Coq au Vin (chicken specially prepared in red wine)
  • Pork Chops with Mustard Sauce (Dijon mustard and white wine)
  • Cheese Fondue (melted cheese with white wine, mmm)
  • Scallop and Corn Chowder (corn, potatoes, bacon, scallops, and white wine)
  • Lentils with Red Wine and Herbs (healthy lentils cooked with dry red wine and flavourful herbs)

As you can see, there are so many amazing recipes you can prepare with wine – both red and white. You can get creative and make your own dishes, or follow these wine-rich recipes to bring that unique depth of flavour to dishes and it can use up the leftover wine in the bottom of your bottle (not a frequent problem in my house!).

But if you want to get truly fancy in the kitchen, it’s better not to just use the “leftovers”. Instead, you can find your own proper wines for cooking. A useful guide is to use the wine you would want to drink with that meal.

On this page, you’ll find out about how to choose both the best red wine for cooking and the best white wine for cooking. It may seem as simple as picking a bottle off the shelf, but that’s not the case! Cooking with wine isn’t easy, so it’s vital that you find a good white or good red wine for cooking. With the right wine, your meals will be AMAZING!

Why to Avoid “Cooking Wine”

In the supermarket, you will find a number of cheap wines that are considered “cooking wines”. These wines can be dry or sweet reds, dry or sweet whites, or even fortified wines like Sherry or Port.

DO NOT make the mistake of using red cooking wine or white cooking wine!

These wines are usually made from a cheap base, and have had salts, sugar, and food colouring added to make them “look” good. They are not a good choice, and will alter the flavours of your food.If you’re going to cook, it’s better to look for good quality wines to use. It may be a bit pricier, but for the sake of your food, it’s worth it!

cooking with red wine

Best Red Wine for Cooking: Dry Reds

Dry red wine is often used for meat dishes, and can be added to chicken, pork, lamb, beef, and even veal dishes. However, when using dry red wine for cooking, consider what you are preparing.

Hearty meats like lamb or beef may need an equally hearty red wine, such as Zinfandel or Syrah.

Lighter meats like poultry or fish may need an equally light red wine, such as Chianti or Pinot Noir.

Using dry red wine for cooking is great for:

  • Wine-based sauces and gravy
  • Cream soups
  • Mushrooms
  • Stews
  • Risottos

When cooking with red wine that is dry, try to find a wine that pairs with the meal you are preparing.

The same applies to using dry white wines for cooking. Find a dry white that matches your food, and use that to add flavour to your recipe.

Looking for a good dry red or white? Our VintageRoots sommelier recommends:

  • Stellar Live-a-Little Really Ravishing Red is a brilliant dry red for cooking. With a jammy sweetness and hints of blackberry and blueberry, it can add a fruity undertone to your meals without overwhelming the flavour.
  •  Horsmonden Dry White is a quality dry British wine with a super-fresh citrus flavour that has enough flavour and acidity to make it a good white wine for cooking.

Best Dry Nutty/Oxidised Wine for Cooking

Oxidised wines- both reds and whites – will add a sort of “nutty” or “umami” flavour to your meals. There are a lot of dishes that pair beautifully with oxidised wines, but you’ll find that these wines are used most commonly in gravies to serve over pork, chicken, and rich fish.

The beauty of these wines is that each has their own unique flavour. The oxidation process alters the flavours of the grape, meaning no two harvests will taste the same.

If the recipe calls for a specific wine (Madeira, Marsala, Vermouth, Dry Sherry, etc.), then try to use the specific wine that is recommended. If you can’t then try to match the sweetness of the wines, for example if it says use a sweet Marsala, then a sweet Madeira would be a good substitute.

We at Vintage Roots love the Dorado Seco, a dry and nutty sherry-style wine, with highly expressive characteristics that makes it a perfect for cooking (and for drinking!).

Best Sweet Nutty/Oxidised Wine for Cooking

What sort of dishes will you cook with these sweet wines? Well, considering that these wines are often aged for ten years or more before opening, you can expect them to be sweet, rich, and complex. They are the perfect addition to any dessert!

You’ll find that these sweet wines are often used to make syrups to serve over ice cream, as they reduce to a beautiful caramel-like sauce with bold flavours of wine mixed with a rich nutty aftertaste.

In fact, the thicker wines, such as Pedro Ximinez sherry can even be poured directly over the dessert, making for a simply delicious addition.

Wines like Tawny Port, Malvasia, Cream Sherry, and Vin Santo are all the perfect wines to use for your desserts – try the Casal do Jordoes Tawny Port.

Best White Wine for Cooking: Sweet Whites

Sauternes, sweet Rieslings, Moscato, Ice Wines, and any Late Harvest Whites tend to have a much higher sugar content, making them sweet and delightful. They can be used to poach pears and apples, to create a sweet sauce to pour over fruit tarts, and other dessert sauces.

However, they can also be used to create a sweet buttery sauce for prawns, crab, lobster, and flaky fish. The sweetness and high acidity of these wines will complement the natural sweetness of the meat.

There’s nothing like a good Sauternes for cooking! We love how the wine is ripe and rich, but light enough that it won’t drown out the delicate flavours of seafood. It has just the right balance of sweetness and acidity to make it an excellent sweet wine for cooking.

A Good Red Wine for Cooking: Fortified Red Wines

Fortified wines – like Vintage Port or Ruby Port – are rich and sweet, with a very high alcohol content. They can be used in a number of ways:

  • When added into chocolate sauces, they help to thicken the sauce and bolster the chocolate flavour.
  • They’re ideal for adding moisture to chocolate cakes.
  • When reduced, they make a delicious wine reduction to serve with a wide range of meat and poultry dishes – venison with port sauce is a classic.
  • When poured on top of brownies, they can bring out the bitterness of the chocolate while adding to the sweetness.

Remember: cheaper fortified wines can ruin the flavours of your food, so only cook with fortified wines of a good quality.

It’s good to have a bottle of Ruby Port or Vintage Port on hand for cooking, or why not try the Domaine Bousquet Fortified Malbec, for something different that still packs a fruity and chocolatey hit. These wines can keep for up to two weeks once opened.

We at Vintage Roots love the Maynards Late Bottled Vintage Port, a quality Portuguese Douro that mixes the flavours of dried black fruits with ginger, biscuits, nutmeg, and cloves. Definitely a good organic Port to add spice to your desserts and meat dishes!

Best Rice Wine for Cooking

It may sound odd, but rice wine makes for a delicious addition to your Oriental dishes. Both Chinese and Japanese rice wines can be used for cooking, though their applications are somewhat different:

  • Japanese rice wine (also known as Mirin) has a salty-sweet flavour that makes it the perfect addition to any Oriental-style BBQ sauce. It’s also brilliant for glazes for chicken and pork.
  • Chinese rice wine helps to add acidity to your veggie-heavy stir fries, but it can be used to flavour meat-heavy dishes as well.

The Chinese/Taiwanese rice wine has an ABV of 35%, while Japanese rice wine has an ABV of 8 to 12%. Keep that in mind when adding these wines into your dishes.

Following the advice above, you can find the perfect wines to add to your meals.

You’ll find that cooking with wine – both white and red – can improve the flavour of your dishes and bring your cuisine to life. It’s worth investing in quality wine that will complement your cooking!


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