A Guide for Cooking with Wine

The F.N. Sharp Guide to Cooking With Wine, Plus 20 Recipes to Try

The F.N. Sharp Guide to Cooking With Wine, Plus 20 Recipes to Try

Did you know that wine can be used in a marinade, as a cooking liquid, as a flavoring in a finished dish or even desserts? If you’re new to cooking with wine, it may seem a little daunting but it’s actually easier than you might think! Even if you don’t like to drink wine, learning to cook with it will elevate your meals and add some pizazz to everyday dinners.

Cooking with wine is also a great way to use up those half bottles you might have after hosting a dinner party. Pouring yourself a glass to enjoy while you’re working away in the kitchen makes the work a little more pleasurable, too, of course! So how about you pour yourself a nice glass of wine and sit back to explore cooking with white, red and other wine varietals? 

Here’s what we’ll cover in this F.N. Sharp Guide:

If you’re ready to get cooking, then skip ahead to the recipe ideas:

Is Cooking with Wine Healthy?

Bottle of wine next to cooked meat on cutting board

You’ve probably heard that drinking red wine in moderation can be beneficial for your health (although some dispute this, saying all alcohol is totally unhealthy).

Regardless, studies have found that antioxidants and natural compounds, such as resveratrol found in red wine, can help lower cholesterol and reduce risks of diseases such as diabetes, some cancers, stroke and heart disease. It turns out that heating wine does not remove the healthy compounds, so you could gain wine’s benefits by “eating it.”

Heating wine causes the alcohol to evaporate, especially if it cooks for 30 minutes or more. With most of the alcohol removed and the healthier compounds remaining, evidence suggests you can gain the same benefits cooking with wine as with drinking it! Wine can also replace less healthy ingredients in marinades and sauces. Convinced yet?

How to Choose a Wine for Cooking

Wine bottles lined up on a rack

We add wine to food to intensify, accent and enhance its aromas and flavors. Adding wine to your dishes isn’t complicated, but don’t be tempted to pour in just any old wine – most chefs will tell you to only use wines in your cooking that you would drink.

Using a cheap wine that tastes lousy or a good wine that has turned and tastes like vinegar is just going to ruin your meal. Heat does not improve a wine’s undesirable characteristics, either — it amplifies them. While it’s certainly okay to use wine that has been opened for a little while (up to two weeks if tightly corked), wine loses its fruity flavor over time.

This doesn’t mean you need to cook with expensive, vintage wines — save those to enjoy with your meal! It merely means that the wine you use for cooking should be drinkable. Some wine varietals are better suited for cooking than others, which we’ll explain in a moment. One rule of thumb is avoiding swapping red wine when a recipe calls for white.

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The Truth About Cooking Wine

The Truth About Cooking Wine

If you don’t drink wine often, you might be tempted to buy cooking wines you can find on your supermarket shelves. Despite their convenience and lower costs, most chefs will advise to steer clear.

Cooking wines contain no alcohol and are undrinkable due to their taste, preservatives and added sodium. Manufacturers add on average a teaspoon of sodium per eight ounces of wine to extend the shelf life of cooking wine. The extra sodium and poor taste won’t improve the flavors of your dish — and could even ruin it. For the few extra dollars, use real wine, especially since most recipes only call for small amounts of it.

If you want to use real wine in your cooking but won’t be able to drink the leftovers, you can freeze it and use in other dishes later. One easy way to freeze wine for cooking is to use ice trays, then store the cubes in a plastic bag once they are frozen. Most ice tray cubes are about two tablespoons. Measure one as you’re filling it so you’ll know later how much each frozen cube contains. Another option is to buy boxed wine for cooking, which is stored in an airtight bag and can last for about six weeks.

When to Add Wine During Cooking

Uncorking a bottle of wine

For most recipes, we add wine early in the cooking process. Adding it in just before serving can be overpowering and it won’t have time to enhance the flavor in most dishes. However, some chefs will add a dash of a high-quality wine very near the end in some dishes — but you should only do this with a superior wine. In marinades, the wine goes in first along with the other ingredients.

For braises, stews and long-simmered sauces, the wine goes in early, just after cooking the vegetables and meat. For pan sauces, add the wine after removing the cooked meat. As the wine cooks, it will reduce down into a thicker consistency, mixing in with browned bits of meat and picking up the other flavors of the dish, a process called deglazing. For more on sauces, check out our guide to the five mother sauces every home cook should know.

Tips for Cooking With Red Wine

Tips for Cooking With Red Wine

Red wine tends to work best for slow-simmered stews and tomato sauces. It also works well for deglazing and making pan sauces for beef, chicken, duck and lamb. You’ll want to use dry red wines with moderate tannins (tannins are what make red wines taste bitter and astringent). If you use a red wine with heavy tannins for a sauce, it can become too bitter once it reduces.

Your best bets for red wine are Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese (or Chianti) and lighter Cabernet Sauvignon. Avoid full-bodied reds such as Syrah/Shiraz and bold Cabernet Sauvignons.

Ready to Try Cooking With Red Wine? Check Out These Recipe Ideas

Tips for Cooking With White Wine

Tips for Cooking With White Wine

You’ll find more recipes calling for white wine over red due to red having more tannins. White wines reduce better than red and doesn’t risk the bitterness. White wines work well in pan sauces for fish, chicken and seafood (think shrimp scampi, and is often used in risottos. The best white wines for cooking are crisp and have a higher acidity, which brighten food, similar to how lemon juice or a fancy vinegar will.

Look for Pinot Grigio/Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, White Bordeaux and Sancerre. Chardonnay and other whites with intense, oaky flavors are lower in acidity and don’t work as well in cooking. The buttery, oaky flavor that makes Chardonnay taste so good to drink becomes bitter when reduced.

Sweet white wines such as Rieslings also don’t work well in most dishes because they become too sweet once cooked, although they can enhance dessert sauces.

Ready to Try Cooking With White Wine? Check Out These Recipe Ideas

Tips for Cooking With Port Wine

Tips for Cooking With Port Wine

Port falls into a category called fortified wines, along with Madeira, Sherry and Marsala. We often enjoy fortified wines as a before or after-dinner drink because of their sweetness and higher alcohol. These are wines that have been “fortified” with a distilled spirit, usually brandy.

Fortified wines can add wonderful flavors to hearty foods, stand up well to heating and last longer once opened than other wines. Port is a fortified red wine from Portugal’s Douro Valley that comes in four basic styles: Ruby Red, Tawny, White and Rosé. Chefs usually reach for the two lesser expensive styles, Ruby Red Port, which is a fruity, young wine — or Tawny Port, which is aged in wood with complex flavors of caramel and nuts.

Use Port in stews or to deglaze pans and make sauces for robust meats such as beef, pork, lamb, duck and venison. Port is also excellent for making fruit-based dishes such as cranberry sauce and poached pears.

Ready to Try Cooking with Port Wine? Check Out These Recipe Ideas

All About Wine Reductions

Wine Reduction for Cooking

You might have noticed we mention reducing wine down until it’s thickened a few times in this post. Learning how to make a basic red or white wine reduction sauce is one of the simplest ways to add some oomph and sophistication to even your most basic foods such as boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

We make a wine reduction sauce by simmering wine in a pan, usually after it’s been used to sauté vegetables or meat. Some chefs add a flavoring liquid such as chicken or beef stock. The sauce simmers until much of the liquid has evaporated. A general rule of thumb is one-half to three-quarters cup of wine will make two tablespoons of wine reduction.

To finish a reduction sauce, swirl in a few pats of butter at the end. Adding fresh or dried herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley, chives or tarragon will further enhance the sauce’s flavor.

Use red wine reduction sauces for meats such as beef, pork, venison, duck, lamb and veal. White wine reduction sauces work well with chicken, seafood and vegetables. You can get creative and use whichever herbs and wines you have on hand.

More on Spicing Up Your Meals: The F.N. Sharp Guide to Cooking With Fresh Herbs

Wine reduction sauces can also turn ho-hum desserts into masterpieces. You can make a red wine sauce and pour it over ice cream, brownies or pound cake, while white wine sauces pair well with fresh fruits and fruity desserts. When adding wine to dessert sauces, you’ll usually add some sugar and spices such as cinnamon sticks, as well, to really bring out some flavor.

Ready to Try Adding Wine to Desserts? Check Out These Recipe Ideas

20 Must-Try Recipes Featuring a Little Bit of Wine

If you’re getting bored with ho-hum meals, then it’s time to try some wine-based recipes! Here are 20 recipe ideas to try cooking with wine, including some irresistible and addictive desserts!

Recipe Ideas for Cooking With Red Wine

Chicken and fish recipes rely mostly on white wine, but you’ll find red wine in beef, lamb and tomato sauce recipes, as well. Red wine’s tannins, the elements that give red wine its bitterness and astringency, provide a richness that is well-suited for less delicate meats. One thing to keep in mind when making pan sauces with red wine is to avoid overcooking or over-reducing it — otherwise, the sauce can be bitter. Medium-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir, Chianti, Merlot and light Cabernet tend to be best for cooking.

Lemon Pepper Steak with Red Wine Shallot Sauce

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Lemon Pepper Steak with Red Wine Shallot Sauce

While this sounds like a dish you’d see featured on an upscale steakhouse menu, this lemon pepper steak recipe by Teeny Tiny Kitchen is so simple, you can easily whip it up with ingredients you probably already have on hand. Plus, you can have it on your table in less than 30 minutes (after a one-hour marinade). The red wine shallot sauce only uses four ingredients, plus fresh oregano.

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Elk Standing Rib Roast

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Elk Standing Rib Roast

Unless you know hunters or are one yourself, you’re not likely to have an elk roast hanging out in your freezer. But, if you’re up for something different, you'll likely find elk and other game meats sold at high-end butcher shops. Cooking elk is similar to cooking beef, so don’t hesitate to try it! This standing elk roast recipe is a serious showstopper and sure to please your favorite meat-eaters!

More on Game Meat: The F.N. Sharp Guide to Different Cuts of Meat

Creamy Garlic Parmesan Red Wine Spaghetti

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Creamy Garlic Parmesan Red Wine Spaghetti

For a different take on spaghetti, try this red wine pasta recipe by eatwell101.com! Perfect as a “primi” (first course in Italian) or as a main dish with some chicken (ike this stuffed chicken recipe), this recipe involves boiling spaghetti with red wine and water to give it some extra flavor and a beautiful dark pink hue. The accompanying and uncomplicated sauce uses red wine, olive oil, garlic, parmesan cheese and a little bit of cream.

Wine & Cheese Grilled Cheese

Gruyere & Red Wine Pub Grilled Cheese Sandwich Recipe

Wine and cheese are paired so often, they’re like a centuries-long married couple. So what better way to enjoy wine and cheese than this gourmet grilled cheese sandwich recipe? Featuring melty gruyere, sharp cheddar and cream cheese combined with red wine and diced onion, this flavor-loaded, gourmet-at-home meal can turn any boring lunch or weeknight dinner into something special.

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Recipe Ideas for Cooking With White Wine

White wine is a staple in most chefs’ kitchens because of its versatility. White wine frequently finds itself paired with fish and chicken, but many beef and pork recipes use white wine, as well. For cooking, look for crisp, dry white wines such as Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc which tend to work better than oaky wines such as Chardonnay.

Caramelized Onion Dip

Caramelized Onion Dip Recipe

We all love a good onion dip, but this caramelized onion dip recipe by Teeny Tiny Kitchen takes it to the next level! This is one of the recipes where you’ll add the wine towards the end to give those caramelized onions some extra flavor. You’ll need a dry white wine for this one. Enjoy it with some chips, crudité veggies, crostinis, crackers, breadsticks or even off a spoon – seriously, it’s that good!

Creamy Saffron Risotto

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Saffron Risotto

Transport your taste buds to Northern Italy with this saffron risotto recipe! Also known as “Risotto alla Milanese”, this recipe combines arborio rice with earthy-sweet saffron, diced shallots, freshly grated parmesan, dry white wine, chicken stock, olive oil, butter and salt and pepper for a deliciously creamy and authentic Italian dish! Try pairing it with some stuffed chicken!

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Beef Stroganoff

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Beef Stroganoff

When the temperatures begin to drop, there’s nothing like a bowl of hearty beef stroganoff to warm up some bellies. Thinly cut strips of steak, diced white onion, mushrooms, egg noodles, dry white wine, Worcestershire sauce, beef broth, sour cream, butter, garlic cloves, salt and pepper all come together to create this deliciously comforting beef stroganoff recipe!

Grilled Chicken & Peach Saltimbocca Kabobs

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Chicken & Peach Saltimbocca Kabobs

If you like traditional Italian Saltimbocca, this fun variation served on skewers is sure to please! You’ll need to plan ahead a bit since the chicken picks up flavors while marinating. This one also takes some precise cuts, so make sure your knife skills are up to par and your knives are sharp enough for the job. You'll need either a chef's knife, Santoku knife, or a utility knife.

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Bacon-Wrapped Trout Fillet

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Bacon-Wrapped Trout Fillet

Anything wrapped in bacon is guaranteed to excite the senses, and this easy bacon-wrapped trout recipe is sure to please! The best part is, you’ll only need  a few extra ingredients to create this gourmet-at-home meal, including some butter, white wine vinegar and shallots to create a classic Beurre Blanc sauce. Even better, you can have this meal on the table in about 20 minutes!

Sweet Pepper and Fennel Chicken with White Wine Sauce

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Sweet Pepper and Fennel Chicken with White Wine Sauce

Fennel’s unique flavor is what makes this dish so spectacular. Created by Teeny Tiny Kitchen, this chicken and pepper dish gives off some gourmet flavor but is surprisingly easy to make! Not only can you make it yourself, you can enjoy it on a weeknight. You’ll want a quality dry white wine for this one since it pairs especially well with a glass on the side!

Recipe Ideas for Cooking With Port Wine

Port wine is a fortified wine from Portugal’s Douro Valley. Fortified wines contain a distilled spirit, usually brandy, so they are a little sweet and higher in alcohol. Port comes in four basic styles: Ruby Red, Tawny, White and Rosé. Ruby Red Port (a fruity, young wine) and Tawny Port (aged in wood with complex caramel and nut flavors) are the most common types used in cooking.

Chicken, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes with Port Wine Recipe

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Chicken, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes with Port Wine

This chicken dish from simplyrecipes.com is super quick and easy, yet it looks, tastes and smells like something that’s been slaved over. Mushrooms, shallots, plum tomatoes, fresh parsley and Port wine combine to create a flavor-loaded sauce that transforms boring boneless chicken breasts into an explosion of flavors. Say cheers to another new favorite weeknight meal!

Pork Chops in Port Wine Sauce

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Pork Chops in Port Wine Sauce

This recipe from kitchn.com is another uncomplicated meal you can make to wow dinner guests or jazz up a weeknight. The sauce is made with Port wine, shallots, plum preserves and chicken broth, and can be made ahead of time to be reheated later. This sauce is so good, you may want to try serving it over both the pork and some rice or polenta so no drop goes to waste.

Port Wine Cranberry Sauce

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Port Wine Cranberry Sauce

When Thanksgiving rolls around, forget serving that canned jelly and try this take on traditional cranberry sauce by Taylor Fladgate. Not only is it sure to please even the pickiest of eaters, you’ll need just 3 ingredients to pull it together! What’s even better is it only takes about 20 minutes to prepare, plus you can make extra to refrigerate and use later when everyone asks for seconds!

Port Wine Sauce for Filet Mignon or Prime Rib

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Port Wine Sauce for Filet Mignon or Prime Rib

This versatile Port wine sauce by bigoven.com uses 8 servings of Tawny Port, so it costs more to make than other wine-based sauces but its rich flavor is well worth it!. The sauce does take some time to make, but it can be done a day or two in advance. When it comes to serving, try plating under filet mignon medallions or pouring over some perfectly cooked steak.

Red Snapper and Morels in Port Reduction

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Red Snapper and Morels in Port Reduction

This gourmet red snapper recipe created by renowned chef Eric Ripert combines a reduction sauce made with Ruby Red Port and Sherry vinegar with pan-seared red snapper, asparagus tips and fresh wild mushrooms to round out the flavors. While it may not be the most colorful or eye-pleasing recipe, this sophisticated yet straightforward dish is sure to impress your dinner guests!

Dessert Recipe Ideas for Cooking With Wine

Wine is a fabulous ingredient in dessert dishes, as it can turn any ordinary ice cream or cake into elegant, dinner-guest-worthy delights. You’ll find dessert recipes that call for white, red, rosé and fortified wines such a Port.

Rosé Cupcakes with Rosewater Berry Compote

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Rosé Cupcakes with Rosewater Berry Compote

In this follow-along video recipe, rosé-infused cupcakes are topped with a berry compote made of fresh strawberries, raspberries, rose water and lemon zest. More sparking rosé is brushed over the cupcakes to create a light glaze and extra flavor. While this recipe takes time, the results are perfect for showing off at your next bake-off – especially if you’ve got an F.N. Sharp paring knife on hand 😜

Milk Chocolate Mousse with Port Ganache and Whipped Crème Fraîche

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Milk Chocolate Mousse with Port Ganache and Whipped Crème Fraîche

You’ll think you’re dining in a celebrity chef’s restaurant with this fabulous chocolate mousse dessert featuring Ruby Red Port. The Port wine elevates the already decadent ganache to a new level. But it doesn’t stop there – it’s also topped with chocolate mousse and whipped crème fraiche, then drizzled with a Port wine syrup. Say cheers to your new favorite dessert!

Chocolate Red Wine Cake

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Chocolate-Red Wine Cake

As if chocolate and red wine weren’t already made for each other, you can turn any ordinary chocolate cake into a gourmet dessert with this recipe by foodandwine.com. The wine prevents the cake from being overly sweet and adds some flavor complexity, while a little dusting of confectioner’s sugar and dollop of whipped cream creates a nice contrast to the dark cake.

Merlot Hot Fudge Sauce

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Merlot Hot Fudge Sauce

You’ll want to pour this decadent but easy-to-make sauce by eatliverun.com over everything — ice cream, fruit, cake, waffles, you name it! The recipe uses just 3 tablespoons of Merlot, so choose a good one so you can enjoy the rest of the bottle with dinner. You can also make this hot fudge sauce up to a week in advance and reheat just before serving – Hello “surprise weekend dessert!

Drunken Pear Gingerbread Loaf

Cooking With Wine Recipes: Drunken Pear Gingerbread Loaf

This upscale recipe for gingerbread features pears poached in a bottle of white wine, sugar, cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. It might look and sound complicated, but it’s really not. Before baking the bread, the poached pears are placed into the batter whole, so once baked and cut open, the bread is not only sweet and delicious, it’s also Instagram-worthy!

Even More on Wine: Everything to Know About Pairing Food and Wine