Culinistas's Kitchen,  Recipes & Cooking

What You Need To Know About Cooking With Wine

by The Culinistas

Drinking wine is easy. Cooking with wine? Now, that can be a little more challenging — but it doesn’t have to be. 

When working with a recipe that ambiguously calls for “cooking wine,” what exactly does that mean? Can you reach for any old bottle in your collection? How good is too good when it comes to using wine in a recipe? And what can you swap in if you, ahem, drank your last bottle the night before and don’t have any wine on hand?

The purpose of using wine when cooking is to help tenderize and marinate. You don’t need to be a chef (or a somm!) to master this technique. Here are a few tips for cooking with wine.

What is “cooking wine”?

“Cooking wine” is a product you can buy in the grocery, and not the same as the wine you buy in a bottle shop. 

Cooking wine typically has a higher alcohol content and is often made with salt, sugar and preservatives. These additives make cooking wine fool proof — you can overcook with it and the flavor will hold up since there is so much extra stuff to “burn off.” Check the label (and taste!) before adding to a recipe so you know what you’re working with. The more additives, the more stable & hearty it will be to work with.

If you’re in a pinch and can’t get to a bottle shop, this will do the trick, but we recommend sticking with the real thing. Actual wine will break down more easily but provide a more nuanced flavor as well as not pump you dish with extra salt & sugar.  

Which types of wine can you cook with?

You can cook with any bottle of wine, but consider taste (and price!) before selecting. You’ll lose all those special tasting notes during the cooking process, so save the vintage Chateauneuf du Pape for drinking.  

Dry wines, from Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay for whites and Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot for red, are usually best for savory dishes. For a dish that calls for some sweetness, especially desserts, grab for a Riesling or even a fortified wine. Whatever the overarching characteristic in the bottle, that will become the back note of your dish.

What can be substituted if you don’t have any wine on hand?

Your best substitution for using wine in a recipe is a vinegar. You’ll miss out on the depth of flavor from the wine, but the vinegar will still help bring the acidity that marinates and tenderizes the ingredients. Consider adding a stock or broth to help close the gap, and sugar and/or salt to taste as you go.