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Complete Guide To Cooking With Wine (+ My Favorite Recipes)

Consider this the ultimate guide to cooking with wine! I cover everything from how to cook with wine, how cooking wine differs from regular wine, which wine substitutes you can use, and so much more!  

cooking with wine and serving a glass of wine

Why I Love Cooking with Wine 

If you’ve never tried cooking with wine, you are missing out! 

Using wine in cooking may sound intimidating or “fancy,” but think of it like you would any other ingredient. Wine acts as a seasoning in any recipe; the point isn’t to make a wine-flavored dish, but rather to add some acidity and depth to the overall flavor profile. 

Wine can be used in marinades, sauces, soups, and more. I’ll list the main ways you can cook with wine later in this post. 

Other questions you’re probably asking about cooking with wine are: what type of wine should I use for which dish, does the alcohol in wine cook off, can wine be substituted, and what’s the difference between regular wine and cooking wine? 

This is a long post, but I’ll answer all of these questions — and more! If you have additional questions about cooking with wine that I don’t answer in this post, leave me a comment below so I can help you out! 

Selecting the Best Wine to Cook With

Spoiler: there is no single “best” wine for cooking. The amount and kind of wine you’ll need for any given recipe will vary based on the dish and your personal preferences. 

As a general rule of thumb, you should only ever cook with a wine you’d happily drink

Think of it this way: if you don’t like the taste of a certain wine, you won’t like the flavor it imparts into a certain dish — wine enhances dishes, the flavor doesn’t get masked by other ingredients! 

There’s no need to buy the most expensive bottles of wine for cooking with, however. Similarly, you shouldn’t choose the cheap wine on the bottom shelf. A good quality wine with a middle of the road price range is usually sufficient. Save the expensive wine for drinking with your meal.

That said, if you make a recipe correctly, the wine likely won’t be the star flavor. Instead, when wine is used properly in cooking it enhances and rounds out the other ingredients of a dish, adding a nuanced depth of flavor you couldn’t otherwise achieve. 

I’ll cover this more later in this post, but also keep in mind that you should NEVER cook with anything labeled as “cooking wine.” 

Now that we’ve covered the basics of what the “best” wine for cooking is, here are some general guidelines on how you can select the right wine for whatever dish you’re cooking. 

pouring a glass of wine next to a bowl of spaghetti

Good White Wines for Cooking 

If a recipe calls for white wine, a safe bet is to purchase a Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, or ChardonnayThese dry whites have the right aromatic character for cooking with lighter dishes.

Dry white wines are generally the most versatile, so buy one of the varieties listed above if you have no idea what to get for your recipe. 

Unless a recipe specifically calls for a sweet white wine, I tend to avoid cooking with one. Sweeter white wines often caramelize or even burn when cooked for long periods of time, plus they impart a stronger, sweeter flavor. Not necessarily the flavor profile I’m going for when making a savory recipe!  

Save the sweet wine for pairing with your dessert course, or as a dessert by itself.

Good Red Wines for Cooking 

Similar to cooking with white wine, I also recommend cooking with a dry red wine. Dry red wine varieties like a Merlot, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon are good choices. Or, opt for a red wine blend. 

Tip: Read the wine label carefully. You’ll often find a description of the flavor somewhere on the bottle. If it’s labeled as a dry wine, that should work! 

Other Types of Wine for Cooking 

Red and white wines are the most common wines for cooking, but a few other varieties to be familiar with include: 

  • Sherry — Just a dash added to a finished soup or sauce brightens the flavor of the dish. Dry Sherry works well in dairy-rich recipes. 
  • Sparkling wine or Champagne — Don’t fret, the bubbles cook off! You can use sparkling wines as a white wine substitute in most recipes for this reason. 
  • Marsala wine — Most often used in desserts, but also in classic chicken marsala. 

Can You Cook with Old Wine?

Absolutely! Store leftover wine in the fridge, tightly corked or sealed. 

Taste leftover wine before adding it to a recipe. If the wine tastes even remotely like vinegar, you’ll need to pour the bottle of wine down the drain. 

Again, if a wine doesn’t taste good to you, I can guarantee you won’t like the final dish! 

Cooking Wine vs. Wine 

I know it seems like backward logic when I say you should never cook with cooking wine. After all, it’s labeled as cooking wine and it’s found in almost every grocery store — so, why can’t we cook with it? 

The short answer is: cooking wine tastes disgusting. 

Cooking wines contain salt and other additives to preserve their shelf life (they don’t need to be refrigerated after being opened). Plus, cooking wines are made with the lower quality grapes that weren’t good enough for making regular wine. 

Salty cooking wine will negatively impact the final flavor of a dish. Avoid it at all costs and use regular wine when cooking! 

Does Cooking Wine Contain Alcohol? 

Yes! Cooking wine might taste gross, but it’s still alcoholic (about 16% ABV, but it varies between brands). 

Can You Drink Cooking Wine? 

Technically yes, but the added salt makes it unpalatable as a drinking wine. Trust me, you don’t want to pour yourself a glass of this stuff. 

pouring a glass of wine at a meal

The Basics of Food and Wine Pairing 

People have written entire books about food and wine pairings, so I can only scratch the surface of this topic within the constraints of a single blog post. 

In general, I always recommend using whatever type of wine a recipe specifies. However, there are a few general guidelines to remember when cooking with wine. 

What Dishes Pair Well with Red Wine? 

Red wine’s stronger flavor pairs nicely with meat dishes — particularly red meat recipes — and full-bodied soups and sauces that do well with a deeper flavor. Since dry red wines have a full-bodied flavor, it works well in recipes that require long periods of simmering or braising. 

Some foods that pair well with red wine include: 

  • Stews
  • Tomato sauces 
  • Pan sauces for lamb or steaks 
  • Venison 
  • Sausages 
  • Heartier Pasta Dishes

My Favorite White Wines for Cooking

Here are some of my favorite red wines and pairing suggestions (shop online with the links below):

What Dishes Pair Well with White Wine? 

White wine is lighter in flavor than red wine, with a nice amount of acidity. This makes white wine especially great for cutting through a richer cream sauce, but it also complements milder poultry dishes well. 

Some foods that pair well with white wine include: 

  • Poultry (chicken, duck, turkey) 
  • Most seafood and fish 
  • Cream sauces
  • Dairy-laden dishes (cheese fondue, creamy soups, etc.)
  • Lighter Pasta Sauces

My Favorite White Wines for Cooking

Here are some of my favorite white wines and pairing suggestions (shop online with the links below):

Methods for Cooking with Wine 

There are many different ways to cook with wine, no matter if you’re using white or red wine. 

However, the five main ways you’ll likely end up cooking with wine are: for braising, making a wine reduction, marinating meats, poaching seafood or fruits, and deglazing pans. 

a group toasting with wine during a meal

1. Braising with Wine 

What does it mean to braise something? Braising involves seasoning and searing a piece of meat, adding a liquid (like wine!), veggies and / or aromatics, and then cooking the meat low and slow until it’s fall-apart tender. 

Braising gives the wine plenty of time to tenderize and flavor the meat, and the lengthy cook time also allows most of the alcohol to burn off. 

Tip: Vegetarian dishes can also be braised, but this cooking technique is most commonly associated with larger cuts of meat. 

2. Making a Wine Reduction

What does it mean to make a wine reduction? To reduce something, you boil it until much of the liquid evaporates. The remaining “reduction” is intensely flavored and thicker in texture. Perfect for spooning over top of a dish as a finishing touch! 

Making a wine reduction is very easy, but it’s not a quick process. You can make a wine reduction using just wine, or a mixture of wine, broth, and seasonings. 

I recommend making wine reductions with smaller quantities of wine, as a full pot will take a very long time to reduce. Bring the wine (or wine mixture) to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and continue cooking until the reduction is thickened to your liking. 

Keep in mind that ½ cup of wine should be reduced to roughly 2 tablespoons of wine reduction for maximum flavor! 

Tip: When a recipe says to reduce by half, that means you have to let the mixture simmer until only half the amount remains in the pot.

3. Using Wine in a Marinade 

What does wine do in marinades? Wine is acidic, which helps to tenderize raw meat and infuse it with flavor prior to being cooked. 

The exact quantity of wine and amount of time meat should sit in a marinade will depend on the recipe. 

4. Poaching with Wine 

What does it mean to poach something in wine? I don’t often poach with wine, but when I do it’s often fruit (like pears) or seafood. Delicate foods like this work best for poaching in wine. 

The wine poaching mixture is usually a mixture of wine (can be white or red), broth, and aromatics. Pears poached in red wine sauce are particularly popular, as is fish poached in white wine! 

5. Deglazing a Pan with Wine 

What does it mean to deglaze a pan? Deglazing a pan involves adding any liquid (in this case, wine) to a hot pan to release the caramelized bits on the bottom. Those caramelized bits are called “fond,” and they’re packed with flavor! 

How to deglaze a pan with wine

  1. If searing a piece of meat, transfer it to a plate. Veggies (like mushrooms and onions) can stay in the pan. 
  2. Do not reduce the heat! Keep burner at the same setting. 
  3. Pour the wine into the pan. Be careful, as it will bubble up and may splash out of the pan.
  4. Use a spoon or spatula to scrape the caramelized bits off the bottom. That’s the best part!
  5. Wait a few minutes to let the wine reduce (i.e. thicken). This helps most of the alcohol burn off and makes for a more flavorful dish. 
  6. Proceed with the recipe as written after you’ve finished deglazing the pan. 
a group eating a meal with glasses of wine

FAQs About Cooking with Wine

Does Alcohol Burn Off When Cooking with Wine? 

Contrary to popular belief, the alcohol in wine doesn’t always cook out of a dish. For the alcohol to burn off, a dish containing wine needs to be cooked for at least 3 hours. So, that means most recipes that require braising will be alcohol-free by the end of the cooking process. 

Simply cooking wine at high heat (such as in a sauce or when deglazing a pan or making a quick pan sauce) will not remove all of the alcohol content. 

Does Alcohol Cook Off in Slow Cooker or Instant Pot Dishes? 

No, the lid seals in the steam, which prevents the alcohol from evaporating. 

Also keep in mind that any wine added to slow cooker or Instant Pot recipes won’t reduce unless you remove the lid! 

How Much Wine Should You Use in a Recipe? 

Again, I recommend following the recipe instructions for best results. Otherwise here are some general guidelines as to how much wine should be used in a recipe: 

  • Soups – 2 tablespoons wine per cup of total liquid 
  • Sauces – 1 tablespoon wine per cup of total liquid
  • Gravies – 2 tablespoons per cup of total liquid
  • Stews & Meats – 1/4 cup per pound
  • Poaching liquid for fish – 1/2 cup per quart of total liquid 

Can Children Eat Dishes That Contain Wine? 

If a dish has been cooked for more than 3 hours and has had the lid removed during the cooking process to allow the alcohol to evaporate, it’s safe for children to eat.  

Slow cooker or Instant Pot dishes made with wine aren’t suitable for kids since the alcohol can’t fully evaporate. 

What Are the Best Substitutes for Wine?

If you’ve run out of wine, are serving guests who don’t imbibe, or simply want to experiment in the kitchen, here are some wine substitutes you can use when cooking.  

  • Substitutes for red wine: Beef broth, unsweetened pomegranate juice, red grape juice, or unsweetened cranberry juice. 
  • Substitutes for white wine: Chicken or vegetable broth, unsweetened apple juice, or white grape juice. 

Tip: Wine is naturally acidic. Consider adding a splash of vinegar or lemon juice to a dish to make these wine substitutes taste more like the real thing. 

Recipes Using Wine

If you’d like to try your hand at cooking with wine, here are some recipes I recommend. If you have any questions about the wine used in these specific recipes, leave me a comment on the individual posts and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can! 

Red Wine Recipes

White Wine Recipes

Marsala Wine

Dry Sherry

More Useful Kitchen Tutorials:

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These tips for baking with yeast will help you feel more confident in the kitchen and yield more successful results.

Learning how to temper chocolate properly is essential when you want to make homemade candies, such as truffles or chocolate bark. Follow this how-to for all you need to know about tempering chocolate.

Who doesn’t love a good kitchen tip? Looking for more kitchen tutorials? Check out the entire Kitchen Tips and Tricks archive for lots of great ideas!

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