Wine is indispensable in the kitchen. It adds complexity to dishes that water or broth can’t (try making coq à l’eau and get back to us). First things first: you shouldn’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink with your meal, but your selection doesn’t need to break the bank, either. After all, bad wine will only get worse in the pan, but Domaine de la Romanée-Conti won’t necessarily make the best boeuf Bourguignon.
Most good-quality wines work for cooking, but there are some things to avoid. Sweet wine may be called for in specific dishes but won’t suit the vast majority of recipes. Cooking wine concentrates its sugars, making reds “jammy” and off-dry whites taste syrupy and imbalanced. Heavily oaked wines should also be avoided, since oakiness can become bitter and awkward during cooking. And wines that are extremely full-bodied can overwhelm a dish as it reduces in the pan.
Acid, however, is your friend, as it provides a refreshing counterbalance to richer elements in the dish.
Here are our top picks for white, red, and rosé under $15 that will work perfectly both in the pan and in your glass. That they’re also ideal for cooking is just a bonus.
The Best White Wines for Cooking
Grillo is a remarkable value for everyday enjoyment. It’s rich fruit is balanced by crisp acidity, subtle savoriness and salinity that work beautifully in cooking.
Other crisp and low-to-no-oak whites to look for include Muscadet, Albariño and Sauvignon Blanc, whose high acidity and citrus fruit characteristics work well with most dishes.
Recommended white wines for cooking: Pinot Grigio, Grillo, Muscadet, Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc
White wines to avoid: Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Sémillon, Marsanne
Inexpensive Pinot Grigio has a neutral quality that can give it a bad rap, but its delicate notes lend well to cooking and won’t overwhelm other flavors.
Leave bolder, aromatic wines like Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Sémillon and Marsanne in your glass, as their bolder flavors won’t as easily compliment a wide range of ingredients.
Recommended Whites Under $15
The Best Red Wines for Cooking
Pinot Noir is a good go-to cooking wine as it can provide freshness, structure and bright fruit. This wine shows red fruit and an herbal quality, with a richness that never feels heavy.
Recommended red wines for cooking: Pinot Noir, Barbera, Chianti, some Cabernet Sauvignon
Red wines to avoid: Beaujolais Nouveau, Grenache, Shiraz, Zinfandel
Save your Beaujolais Nouveau and inexpensive Zinfandel, Grenache and Shiraz for the glass. When reduced in cooking, their punchy berry flavors can turn into perceived sweetness, especially if you don’t have acidity to balance. Instead, look for high-acid Italian reds like Barbera and Chianti or crisp, fresh styles of Cabernet Sauvignon without heavy oak.
Recommended Reds Under $15
Cooking with Rosé
While few recipes call for it specifically, try substituting dry rosé in recipes that ask for white wine to add a bit more fruit and wine flavor. Look for fruit, acid and a savoriness that’s common to French rosés.
Don’t worry about whether the wine skews more to the red or white side of the spectrum. Tavel is the only rosé that would make more sense as a substitute for red rather than white. Rosé is popular year-round now, and most wine shops will have an assortment of value bottles.
Look for dry rosés from the West Coast as well as Portugal and France. In the $10 to $15 range, Provençal rosé offers terrific value and wide selection, with crispness and an almost saline minerality that will work very well in cooking and drinking.
Recommended Rosés Under $15
Recipes to Try
Here are three easy dishes that will help show you how to utilize the power of white, red and rosé wines in cooking. Click start to view them all, or jump straight to a recipe.