Cooking your favorite dishes with wine is always a good idea, for a few reasons.
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Adding a bottle of wine to your cooking routine to sip on is certainly a wonderful thing. But using it as an ingredient to prepare dinner may be even better. Dry wine adds acid, builds flavor, and can help deglaze pans to get all those crispy bits back into your dish. Cooking with wine is also a great way to use up the end of a bottle you opened a few days ago, or up the ante on a recipe you're a little tired of.

Dry wines typically work best for cooking, but what are dry wines, really? Hint: It has nothing to do with the actual liquid content. "Most still wines are vinified to dryness, which means that all the sugars from the grapes get converted into alcohol during fermentation," explains. A.J. Ojeda-Pons, seasoned sommelier and director of operations at New York's Temperance Wine Bar. In winemaking, yeasts eat the sugar, converting it to alcohol, and the less sugar left, the drier a wine will taste.

Not sure if your favorite cooking wine is dry? Well, likely, it is. "The great majority of the wines of the world are classified as dry," Ojeda-Pons says. So unless it's super fruity, sweet, or very low in alcohol, chances are, your wine is a dry wine. But what makes a good dry wine?

"Like any good wine, you want balance," says Devan Cameron, chef and owner of food website Braised & Deglazed. "A balanced dry wine will still taste fruity, be not too sweet, and contain enough malic acid to not taste flat. Look for a wine that tastes good on its own, and if it doesn't, it's probably not worth adding to a dish."

On that note, most wines used in cooking a dish pair well with the finished product, so you're truly your own sommelier. Here are the best white and red dry wines to cook with depending on what you're making.

Best Dry White Wines for Cooking

Most Versatile: Chardonnay

Oaky chardonnay is also often called buttery, and can really bring out the richness of any dish. "Its smooth and buttery flavors pair well with heavier dishes with cream, butter, chicken, and mushrooms," says Cameron. Watch out for overly oaked chardonnays which may end up too bitter in a sauce." Chardonnay aged in stainless steel tanks is another option for more moderate flavors.

A few white wines for cooking to try: Toad Hollow chardonnay from Mendocino County, Calif. Another great versatile wine: Sauvignon blanc, which can also go into heavier dishes, like risotto.

Best Dry White for Cooking Seafood: Pinot Grigio

Amp up your favorite seafood recipes by adding dry white wine, whether to build a sauce or even finish off a pasta. "Pinot grigio is a delicious, dry white wine that's perfect with seafood dishes like spaghetti alle vongole," says Cameron. It's light, crisp, and drier than chardonnay, making it one of the best wines for cooking." Try Duck Pond Pinot Gris from Oregon's Willamette Valley.

Best Bold White: Santorini Assyrtiko

Once you've run through your dry bottles, consider stepping into something a little less neutral, and a wine with more minerality. "When I steam cook clams or make Moules Marinière, instead of using a simple, neutral white wine, like Veneto pinot grigio, I much prefer to use a more mineral, bolder wine like a stainless steel-aged Assyrtiko or Assyrtiko and Athiri blends from the island of Santorini in Greece, they add an extra layer of body to the broth and enhance the briny, sea flavor of the dish with a bright, citrusy note," Ojeda-Pons says.

Best Dry Red Wine for Cooking

Cabernet Sauvignon

If you want to add more depth to red sauce dishes or red meat (there's a theme here), try dry red wines. Cameron calls cabernet sauvignon "the benchmark of heavier, full-bodied reds that are perfect for braised meat dishes like boeuf bourguignon."

Because dry red wine is generally less sweet, it won't burn easily, which makes it ideal for slow-sauce making. Stir it early into stews and simmering pots, so the alcohol cooks off and the flavors can really develop. Try DeLoach Heritage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014.

Best Fortified Wines for Cooking

Fortified wines, like sherry and vermouth, can also be dry, and work well in many recipes, thanks to their aromatics. Really, any aromatic, dry wine is a winner for a chicken dinner in Ojeda-Pons' kitchen. Try adding another element to a roasted chicken by adding a big splash of aromatic pinot gris from Alsace or Roussanne from the south of France to the jus and letting it reduce, just before your chicken is at temp. You can also try this with any sherry or port you have sitting at home—maybe a gift or one purchased on a whim on vacation or on sale—to give a unique flavor boost. 

For another dry wine note, Ojeda-Pons is ready with the sides to go along with your chicken: He recommends sautéing a mix of mushrooms in butter, garlic, and an earthy Cabernet Franc with fresh savory herbs (like thyme and rosemary).

Substitutes for Dry White Wine in Cooking

Whether you don't have wine on hand, don't buy alcohol, or want to switch up your recipes, fear not, there are plenty of substitutes for dry white fine. Shaoxing, a Chinese rice wine, is commonly used in Chinese cooking, but can be substituted for dry white wine in pretty much any recipe.

"The ferment uses rice, water, and wheat to make up its dry complexity, acidic balance, and distinct sweet aroma," explains executive chef Blake Hartley of Lapeer Seafood Market in Alpharetta, Ga. "We use this wine for deglazing, braising, and marinades—it pairs perfectly with ground pork and beef dishes. It's extremely versatile in the kitchen, extremely affordable and can be found at most Asian markets. It's an underused ingredient that should be a part of every chef's arsenal. It brings a complex balance note to any application."

Other alternatives for dry white wine include verjus, which is a fermented-grape product similar in composition to vinegar, but more similar in taste to wine.