The best wines to cook with. photo: Dina Alfasi / EyeEm/Getty Images

Here are the five wines chefs recommend for everything from fine fish dishes to exquisite desserts. 

Jillian Kramer
November 09, 2018

When it comes to cooking with white wine, you don’t want to grab just any ol’ bottle. So, we reached out to chefs to find out what white wines are best for cooking. Here are the five wines they recommend for everything from fine fish dishes to exquisite desserts. 

Champagne

Champagne isn’t just for celebrating. Cole Dickinson, executive chef of Layla at MacArthur Place says that one of his “go-to” cooking wines is champagne. He says, “A dry brut is a great baseline for a lively champagne butter sauce served over just about any type of fish.” That’s because, as Dickinson explains, “the liveliness of the dry sparkling wine offsets the richness of the butter and fattiness of the fish,” and he recommends turbot and salmon.

The key to using champagne in cooking, he says, “is to use a dry sparkling wine, and use it within a few days of opening.” Plus, Dickinson adds, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a good cooking champagne. “Most decent bottle of bubbles will do the trick,” he says.

Chardonnay

A nice, dry chardonnay “is an all-cases go-to in my kitchen,” says Dave Woodall, co-owner and executive chef of Red Herring. “It can be purchased anywhere, and it’s a great way to bring a little more structure to the flavor profile of almost anything.” But even though this white wine works well in many dishes, Woodall recommends using it in shellfish dishes and tomato-based meals. “I also like to liberally use chardonnay when preparing my Bolognese,” he adds. “Not only does it work to deglaze the pan after my meats are seared, but it also helps to stabilize the milk [I use] and keep it from curdling as the sauce cooks.” 

Sauternes 

This wine is bright and sweet, Woodall describes, which makes it the perfect wine for a dessert. “It’s a favorite of mine for egg-based dessert sauces like sabayon, which can get a little rich and eggy,” he says. “The wine cuts through that and lends some nice floral notes to the dish.” But, he warns, this is one wine you should use sparingly—at least until you’re comfortable cooking with it. “Too heavy a hand can lead to cloyingly sweet results,” he says.

Chablis 

Chablis is a dry white wine, with less oak than many other wines produced in Burgundy. “I use Chablis in the broth for its crisp but not-too-distracting acidity, low alcohol [content], and clean minerality that really accents seafood flavors,” Dickinson says. In fact, he uses the wine in Layla’s soupe de poisson, so this wine works can also well in soup-based dishes too.

Marsala

“This is great fortified wine to play with, as it carries nice caramel notes while not being too dry,” describes Woodall. But, he adds, “any time you’re using a fortified wine, make sure you give it enough of a cook to remove the alcohol—unless you want it to be a little boozy, which I sometimes do.” Consider using Marsala with wild mushrooms, Woodall suggests, “and as an addition to macerated berries in the spring and summer. With the berries, I use a light hand and leave the alcohol raw to give my strawberry shortcake a grown-up edge.”

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