Cooking With White Wine

Almost everyone has cooked a spaghetti Bolognese, or made a beef stifado and sloshed a liberal amount of decent red into it, then given it a stir and a good simmer and sat back to reap the rewards. Red is easy to work with as it stands up to the most hefty foods – beef, lamb, dark beans and strong spices – and it’s very forgiving.

A lighter hand

Except, that is, for when you’re cooking something delicate and pale, of course. That’s when you need the lighter touch of a good white wine. White wine requires a bit more subtlety as it tends to go into dishes with more delicate flavors and appearances. There’s no point using a bullying (ahem, sorry, a forgiving) red in your saffron risotto, for example, as it’ll cover up both the flavour of the saffron and the color.

All about the acid

It’s not only about the transparency with white wine, though, it’s simply a trickier animal. For cooking, you usually need crisp whites. Crisp is wine-speak for more acidic, which in turn translates to Pinot Grigio, Sémillon, or Pinot Blanc. Dry sparkling wines are also handy here as they tend to be more acidic.

You can’t use just any old white

What you don’t want to use is the heavier, oakier whites, like Chardonnays or white Burgundies, because these flavors don’t cook well, becoming bitter and not offering much acidic buzz or punch.

If you’re not a big white drinker, a good solution is to buy a bottle of Vermouth for your mussels, or your risottos, as Vermouth lends the same taste and effect as a good dry white, but keeps for longer.

Dessert wines

These sweet, almost syrupy white wines are very rarely drunk these days, instead people tend to use them in – you guessed it – desserts. If you suddenly come into possession of a bottle, don’t despair – poach some pears in it, make an old-fashioned English pudding like a syllabub, or use it to replace some of the sugar and butter in a sponge cake.