Some recipes call for white wine, while others call for red. Others still call for “cooking wine.”
While “white” or “red” is certainly a start, it doesn’t narrow things down nearly enough to be useful. So how should you interpret that ingredient request?
Simply put, if you’ve got a bottle of something already open in specified colour that isn’t fancy, go ahead and use it. The re-corked leftover quarter-bottle in the fridge from last weekend’s dinner party? Fine, too. The lovely bottle your friend gave you for your 25th wedding anniversary? Don’t waste it by cooking with it.
If you’re one to plan ahead, it’s good to have a couple of less expensive bottles of wine handy for use in the kitchen. Keep an eye on the flyers, and pick something up on sale. If you’re spending more than $8 on a sale bottle, you’re spending money on flavour you’re not going to taste in the finished, cooked dish.
In short, don’t cook with something you’d never drink, but don’t overspend on flavour that’s going to be cooked out. After it’s been boiled in a sauce, stew or soup, most diners would never be able to discern a splash of pinot noir from a splash of merlot. The wine should be drinkable, but subtlety and complexity isn’t what you’re after.
If you don’t finish the bottle with your recipe, you can close it up again (screw caps are great for this), write the date you opened it on the bottle, put it in the fridge and use the rest of it up within one month.
You should assume that recipes calling for wine, either red or white, are calling for a dry wine unless it clearly states otherwise. Don’t cook with a sweet moscato, riesling or gewürztraminer unless the recipe specifically calls for it, as it will affect the flavour of the dish. Similarly, using red when a recipe says to use white will yield a very different result.
The “cooking wine” sold at grocery stores should be avoided if possible, as it’s usually spiked with salt, and that’s going to have flavour consequences if you’re already adding salt to your dish.