Being from Europe (I Live in Amsterdam) the situation might be different for me.
I taste wines professionaly...
Iceman has a lot of great comments here, although when he goes into specifics, I read in amazement.
2 dollar local plonk is not done (I agree), but 4 dollar Australian plonk that has to be shipped half way across the globe is alright ?
There really is not much difference there. Shipping is expensive...
There is but one golden rule for using wine while cooking:
Do not EVER use that corked bottle in your food. The terrible taste of a corked wine will always service. If you taste it while drinking, you will taste it while eating, too.
Yet, a wine you have opened and not finished (always keep your opened bottle in the fridge, reds also !) will do perfectly for cooking, even when you forgot it a bit and the wine itself is over the hill.
That goes too for bottles you forgot in your cellar or climatized wine-closets -I live in an apartment on the first floor, so do not have a cellar- and is not that great to drink any more since it is too old, is tired, lacks in fruit or anything. Do not toss the wine away, it still works very well as a cooking wine.
I have found a lovely red wine in BIB [Bag in Box] which I aways keep handy in the fridge. It is a Gamay from a small Cave Coperative in the Ardèche, smack in the center of France.
Since Gamay is a grape variety that is called the little brother of the Pinot Noir, I would always use this wine for cooking and drinking, and ALWAYS drink the noblest of all grapes, the Pinot Noir.
For white I indeed use the cheapest wine I drink myself, which is at the moment an Aligoté from the northern Burgundy. But it can be anything, as long as it is not sweet.
Sweet wine, except for pattiserie, should be avoided as the plague in the kitchen.
There is a small problem nowadays, since we are treaded like kids by the food-maffia. In almost all our foods sugar is added, totally ridiculous and harmful usage: crystal sugar / granulated sugar is a huge enemy to the body, the best cancer friend ever.
Unfortunately, winemakers tend to be 'clever' as well, and use trickery in the vinification to keep a bit of sugar left in the wine. To make it sweeter, so we recognize the sweetness and will like the wine better. (Same goes for most oaked wines by the way; the public recognizes the oak - vanilla, toasted bread- and subconsciously the mind says we know it so we like it..).
They stop the process of yeasts eating the sugar and turning it into alcohol. That's dangerous, since the wine might ferment again on bottle and then you have a bottle which cork will pop out when you do not want it, OR the bottle might crack or explode.
But by doing so a little bit, the winemaker gives a little sweet touch to his 'dry' wine.
And does not mention that at all on the label or anywhere.
It is a bad practise, but one that huge numbers of winemakers world wide use.
Another trick to sweeten the wine is to add a bit of glycerine (glycerol) to it. That tastes sweet yet is no sugar, so the danger of a 2nd fermentation on bottle is gone.
As a firm believer in all-natural wines, meaning NOTHING gets added in the field nor in the cellar, unless a catastrophy is about to happen (no need to let an harvest go to waist, of course, no need for dogmatism), I am as much opposed to the latter practise as to the first.
I believe in all natural wines quite simply because wines taste better that way.
Kermit Lynch will have many wonderful wines for the USA, although legislation makes it imperative to add extra sulfites during bottling for wines that will go to the USA & Canada. Which is a pity. I have had tastings with the same wine that was bottled for Europe and Japan side by side with the same wine bottled for North-America, and without a doubt sulfites eats away / gnaws at the backbone, the character of a wine.
Lovely thread , would love to hear more from all you chefs !
Have a great weekend, all,
many greetings from cold but sunny Amsterdam,
BY THE WAY: when you open a bottle of fizzing wine and do not finish it, put it in the fridge and put a silver spoon in its neck. Do not close it with a vacuum pump or anything. That's bad for the wine. The silver spoon will take care of it to keep the bubbles in for 24 hours.