I am not an expert cook. Nor am I a food writer or any other type of culinary professional. Like a lot of people I just like to cook. Over the last few years I have tried to improve my ability in the kitchen and in the process have watched, read and consumed quite a lot of information from so called professional culinary masters. Aside from the subject of eggs and if they are healthy or deadly (which changes bi-weekly) the type of wine to use for cooking changes so frequently David Bowie wrote a song about it. Before I begin let me just say I am not an advertising executive for any of the wine companies I talk about in this article.
Now everyone knows that you never cook with anything that says cooking wine on the bottle. If you didn’t know that don’t feel bad. Just remember consumer brands of cooking wine have so much salt or sugar added you are better off using water. Putting that out of the way, the constant change in thinking is does it matter if the wine is crap or fine dinning quality. What I have found is that the flavor of the booze is the most important aspect. This does not mean it should be worth drinking. What you want is the flavor of the alcohol to improve the final flavor of the dish. So a dry cheap white will improve fish or veggies and a robust red will add to a red meat even if it tastes like ass by itself.
This being said I like to spend as little as possible for cooking wine and the best option is a little winery called Charles Shaw. Not only is it cheap, Two Buck Chuck is its’ name in California ($3.00 in any other state lucky to have it), it is also perfectly fine to serve as a second serving once your guests have enjoyed (are drunk) from the first super fancy and yummy bottle you served. I like the merlot for red and the Australian chardonnay for white but the cab and syrah are not terrible either. Unfortunately I live in a state where Charles Shaw is unavailable so I have to find other options. This is where the idea of finding a wine that has a specific flavor that works for the dish even if it tastes horrible as a drinking wine comes in. I find a dry white and a slightly fruity red are the best way to go for most dishes thus I buy magnums of Pinot Grigio (dry and white) and Shiraz/Syrah (fruity and red) for most of the dishes I cook. I try not to exceed $6 cost for a large bottle. Or I go to St. Louis and buy cases of Two Buck Chuck.