What To Know About Dry Red Wine for Cooking

If you’re preparing a recipe that calls for adding a dry red wine, it can feel challenging to know the best red wine to cook with. Never fear! Choosing the right dry red wine for cooking isn’t difficult if you remember a few basic rules.

Choosing a Dry Red Wine for Cooking

The first thing to remember is to never, ever buy the “cooking wine” that’s sold in grocery stores. True, they’re inexpensive, but they’re also nothing more than a blend of inferior wines and added salt that comprises a one-way ticket to a ruined dinner. What’s more, don’t use leftover wine that’s been uncorked and past its prime drinking time. The standard rule states that if you wouldn’t drink it, you shouldn’t cook with it.

When using dry red wine for cooking, it’s important to remember that as an ingredient, wine conveys all of its flavors, body, and acidity to the dish. While its subtleties may not be as pronounced, its flavors will be more noticeable as it’s reduced. 

Being mindful of the flavor you hope to achieve, choose a Port or fortified wine for a sweet sauce or a full-bodied wine if the sauce you’re cooking calls for a jammy taste. 

Why Price Matters for Cooking Too

While it isn’t necessary to cook with a $10,000 bottle of 1961 Château Petrus, it’s wise not to choose the Two Buck Chuck that’s on sale at the grocery store either. A modestly priced dry red wine is perfectly acceptable for cooking. It bears repeating that as the wine is reduced, its flavors intensify. A wine that costs between $15 to $20 a bottle will likely lend a smoother, more refined flavor to your dish. 

Best Red Wine To Cook With

In general, if your recipe calls for dry red wine, you can feel confident adding a Merlot, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon to your dish. A Zinfandel or Shiraz will work nicely for hearty dishes, such as ribs, lamb, or roast beef.

If your recipe instructs you to add specific fortified wines such as Marsala or Madeira, it’s important to use those exact wines. Because those wines have an unmistakable flavor, using a substitute increases the odds of ruining your dish. 

Tips for Cooking With Red Wine

Once you’ve begun cooking with red wine and enjoying the infusion of its complex flavors in your meals, you may decide that it’s an ingredient you want to incorporate into more dishes. Wonderful! Keep these tips in mind whenever you cook with red wine:

  • In addition to adding red wine to your sauces, consider using it as a marinade for beef. The wine’s tannins break down proteins and make the meat tender.
  • Red wine should be added to your recipe slowly and cooked along with the food, not added right before you plan to serve. Cooking it for several minutes allows the wine’s flavors time to blend with the food.
  • If you’re still struggling with choosing the correct wine for your recipe, think of the old adage, “what grows together, goes together.” Generally speaking, if you choose a dry red wine from the same region as your recipe (think spaghetti sauce and a Sangiovese), you’re sure to hit the right note every time.