What’s the Difference Between Cooking With Red Wine Versus White Wine?

Wondering why certain types of recipes call for a specific type of wine and if it’s ok to swap one for the other? The Never Cook Naked Guys weigh in.

A pot filled with wine corks as illustration of 'What's the Difference Between Cooking With Red Wine Versus White Wine?'
: Tyler Delgado

Dear Never Cook Naked Guys:  What’s the deal with using red versus white wines in cooking, especially when braising? I always use a dry red, thinking it’s tastier and prettier, but many recipes call for a white.—Sloshed in the Pot

Dear Sloshed: Most foodies know the cardinal rule about cooking with wine: Skip the cheap swill and use a bottle you’d happily drink. But consider this an extension of said rule: Only use a bottle of wine you’d happily drink with the dish you’re cooking. If you’d consider drinking a Riesling with brisket, try braising said brisket in said wine. It’s not to our taste, but it might be to yours.

That said, if you’re using a tested recipe from a trusted website (ahem), author, or cookbook, go with the wine recommendation in the ingredient list. Otherwise, why are you using a wine-based recipe from said website, author, or cookbook? You’ve invested in expertise. Use it.

But don’t be hamstrung by it. You can play around a little. Adding wine is essentially about adding sweetness. As a general rule, whites add more sweet stuff, which can perfectly balance sour and spicy components but tends to play less successfully with bitter and umami notes.

So while you can’t go substituting red wine for white wine willy-nilly, you can play around with basic flavors. Yes, white wines are seemingly made for fish, but there are terrific recipes for salmon poached in red wine with rosemary, sliced oranges, and onions. And true, red wines usually go well with robust meats, but we’ve written recipes for, say, goat shanks braised in white wine. And we can assure you, whatever didn’t go into the pot made it to the table.

Our very clever, very clothed Never Cook Naked columnists are at your disposal, able to troubleshoot everything from questionable table etiquette to tricky cooking techniques (as well as, natch, proper cooking attire). Ask us your question in a comment below!


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