Cooking with Wine - Things to Know

Helpful Tips for Cooking with Wine

While cooking with wine might seem straightforward, there’s much more beneath the surface. It’s not just about choosing any wine but selecting the right one to complement and enhance your dishes.

In this article, you’ll learn:

Key Takeaways

  1. Choosing a wine that you enjoy drinking is crucial because the flavor it brings to your dish is significant. Go for one that pleases your palate.
  2. Understanding the balance of acidity and sweetness in wine is key to achieving just the right flavor in your cooking.
  3. Mastering the art of reducing wine is all about concentrating flavors while being mindful of the consistency and taste you desire.
  4. Save expensive wines for drinking. Opt for moderately priced, decent-quality wines for cooking instead.

The Basics

To cook wisely and effectively with wine, it’s essential to understand a few basics.

Did you know that while water boils at 212°F, the alcohol evaporates at only 175°F? This means when you pour wine into a hot pan, more alcohol will evaporate than water.

However, as the alcohol content decreases, so does the evaporation rate. The amount of alcohol left after cooking varies with time – for instance, after simmering for 15 minutes, about 40 percent of the initial alcohol in the wine remains, and only 5 percent remains after two-and-a-half hours.

This process leaves behind the flavors of the wine – sweet, bitter, or acidic – enhancing your dish without increasing the alcohol concentration. This debunks the myth of getting drunk from dishes like chicken marsala.

The cooking time and the reduction process are critical, especially considering the type of wine used. White wines typically require a shorter cooking time to burn off the alcohol, whereas red wines are often reduced longer to intensify their rich flavors.

Cooking with white wine from Italy

Choosing the Right Wine

Selecting the right wine for cooking is crucial, as it significantly influences the flavor of your dish. Here are a few tips:

  • If you’re new to this, start with mainstream choices like Marsala or Barolo.
  • It’s best to avoid cooking wines, as they tend to be overpriced and overly salty.
  • Matching the wine’s flavor profile with your dish is key.

For instance, a fruity wine imparts a fruity essence, while a sweet wine adds a hint of sweetness. Regarding white wines, varieties like Arneis or Marsala, which are strong and dry but not bitter, are ideal. They work well for deglazing pans or in dishes like veal marsala.

For reds, choose deeply-colored, fruity wines low in tannins, like Barolo, Gavi, and Dolcetto d’Alba, especially for red sauces and marinades.

As you gain more experience, feel free to experiment with more adventurous and flavorful wines.

Dolcetto D'Alba wine is for use in cooking
Gavi wine - excellent for cooking

Practical Tips

Wine can be incredibly versatile in the kitchen. One everyday use is to deglaze a sauté pan, creating a delicious sauce base.

Wine also serves as an excellent marinade, helping to tenderize and flavor meat before cooking. And for a quick splash of flavor, try using fortified wines towards the end of the cooking process. This technique allows the wine’s alcoholic flavors to remain somewhat intact, as it’s not subjected to prolonged cooking.

Remember, the key is to let the wine complement the dish without overwhelming it.

Finally, a pro tip: only cook with a wine you’d enjoy drinking. If you don’t like the taste of the wine on its own, you probably won’t enjoy it in your dish.

Beyond the Basics

Once you’re comfortable with the fundamentals of wine cooking, it’s time to stretch your culinary wings. How about the following then:

Reducing Wine

Reducing wine is more than just simmering; it’s an art that intensifies flavors, concentrates aromas, and can transform a dish from ordinary to extraordinary.

Understanding Wine Reduction

Reduction is the process of simmering or boiling a liquid, in this case, wine, to evaporate some of its water content. This concentrates the wine’s flavors and can change its texture to a more syrupy consistency. It’s often used to create rich, flavorful sauces and glazes.

Techniques for Reducing Wine

  1. Choose the Right Pan: A wider pan increases the surface area, reducing the wine more quickly and evenly. This is especially important for achieving a syrupy glaze.
  2. Control the Heat: Bring the wine to a gentle simmer, not a rolling boil. A slow and steady reduction helps preserve the nuanced flavors of the wine.
  3. Stirring vs. Letting Be: For most reductions, occasional stirring is sufficient. However, frequent stirring is necessary to prevent burning and sticking for a more syrupy consistency.
  4. Time and Patience: Reducing wine is not a rushed process. Depending on the desired reduction level, it could take anywhere from a few minutes to over half an hour. Trust your senses – the aroma and appearance of the wine will guide you.
  5. Combining with Other Ingredients: Often, wine is reduced along with other ingredients like broths, herbs, or aromatics. Adding these at the right time is crucial. For instance, herbs can be added early for a subtle infusion, while ingredients like butter or cream should be counted toward the end to finish the sauce.
  6. Testing for Doneness: The reduction is made when the wine coats the back of a spoon (a state known as “nappé”) or has reached the desired thickness. Taste as you go – the flavor should be rich and concentrated but not harsh or overly acidic.
  7. Adjusting the Flavor: Add a bit of stock or water if the reduction becomes too intense or acidic. Conversely, if it’s too mild, continue reducing or adding a fresh wine splash to enhance the flavor.
  8. Final Straining: For a professional touch, strain the reduction through a fine mesh to remove any solids, resulting in a smooth, velvety sauce.

Reduced wine can be used in a myriad of ways. Drizzle a red wine reduction over grilled meats to add depth, or spoon a white wine reduction over seafood for a touch of elegance. It can also be used to deglaze pan drippings, forming the base of a sumptuous gravy. The possibilities are endless.

Acidity and Sweetness

Understanding the balance of acidity and sweetness in wine is crucial for Italian cooking, as it directly influences the flavor profile of your dishes. Wine is not just a liquid ingredient; it’s a complex blend of flavors that can enhance, complement, or transform your cooking.

Acidity in Wine

  • Role in Cooking: Acidity in wine adds brightness and balances the richness of dishes. It can cut through the fat of heavy sauces or meats, providing a palate-cleansing effect.
  • Choosing the Right Wine: Higher acidity wines, like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, are excellent for dishes that need a fresh, crisp lift. They work particularly well with seafood, poultry, and creamy sauces.
  • Cooking Techniques: When using acidic wines, it’s essential to consider the reduction process. As the wine reduces, its acidity becomes more concentrated, enhancing the dish or overpowering it depending on the desired outcome.
  • Balancing Flavors: If a dish becomes too acidic after adding wine, balance it with sweetness, such as a spoonful of honey or sugar or with cream or butter for richness.

Sweetness in Wine

  • Enhancing Flavors: Sweet wines can add depth and complexity to dishes, especially in sauces and glazes. They work well with spicy foods, as the sweetness can balance the heat.
  • Selecting Wine for Cooking: Wines with a natural sweetness, like Riesling or some Moscatos, are ideal for dishes with a hint of sugar. They are particularly effective in Asian-inspired dishes or contrast with salty ingredients like soy sauce.
  • Cooking Considerations: Be mindful of the reduction process when cooking with sweet wines. As the wine reduces, the sugars concentrate, which could lead to caramelization or even burning if not monitored closely.
  • Balancing Sweetness: If a dish becomes overly sweet after adding wine, introducing elements of acidity, like a splash of vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice, can help balance the flavors.

The key is finding the right balance between acidity and sweetness, depending on the dish. This harmony is what creates complexity and layers of flavor in your cooking.

Experiment with different wines and observe how their acidity or sweetness affects your dish. Over time, you’ll develop an intuitive sense of how much and what type of wine to use to achieve the perfect balance in your culinary creations.

top view of chicken cooked with red wine

Health and Dietary Considerations

Cooking with wine adds more than just flavor to your dishes; it also brings specific health and dietary aspects, such as:

Alcohol Content

It’s a common misconception that all alcohol in wine evaporates during cooking. While a significant portion does evaporate, some alcohol usually remains.

For those avoiding alcohol due to health reasons, pregnancy, or personal choice, non-alcoholic wines or other substitutes like grape juice, vinegar, or broth can be used.

Calorie and Sugar Content

Wine, particularly sweet varieties, adds extra calories and sugars to your dish. If you’re monitoring your calorie or sugar intake, consider the type of wine you’re using and how much. Dry wines typically have fewer calories and less sugar compared to sweet wines.

Sulfites and Allergies

Wines contain sulfites , which are natural preservatives. Though rare, some individuals may be sensitive or allergic to sulfites. In such cases, look for wines labeled as sulfite-free.

Gluten Concerns

While wine is naturally gluten-free, certain cooking wines or wine-based sauces might contain gluten, especially if thickened with flour. Always check labels if you’re gluten-sensitive.

Heart Health

Moderate consumption of red wine is often linked to heart health benefits due to antioxidants like resveratrol. However, these benefits are more associated with drinking wine than cooking with it, as cooking can reduce the potency of these antioxidants.

Vegetarian and Vegan Concerns:

Most wines are processed using animal products like gelatin or egg whites, which might concern vegetarians and vegans. Fortunately, there are many vegan wines available that use alternative filtering processes.

Key Points to Remember

In summary, cooking with wine is about enhancing and complementing the flavors of your dish.

Key takeaways include choosing a wine you enjoy drinking, ensuring that the wine complements rather than overpowers the dish, and remembering that rare or expensive wines are often not ideal for cooking due to the loss of alcohol.

You’ll discover wine’s vast potential in the culinary world as you experiment and learn. So go ahead, test, and above all, enjoy the process.

Buon appetito!


Can I use any wine for cooking, or are certain types better?

Certain types of wine are better suited for cooking. Generally, dry white and red wines are preferred. Avoid cooking wines as they are often overly salty and lack quality flavor.

How does the alcohol content affect my dish? Will it make the food alcoholic?

Most alcohol in wine evaporates during cooking, especially with prolonged heating. While some alcohol may remain, it is typically not enough to make the dish alcoholic or affect sobriety.

What’s the difference between using white wine and red wine in cooking?

White wine is often used for its acidity and light flavors, making it suitable for seafood, poultry, and creamy sauces. Red wine, known for its rich and robust flavors, is ideal for heartier dishes like red meats and stews.

How long should I cook the wine to reduce it properly?

The reduction time varies depending on the desired consistency and flavor concentration. Generally, simmering for 10-30 minutes is common, but always taste and adjust as needed.

Can I substitute wine with something non-alcoholic in recipes?

Yes, you can use non-alcoholic substitutes like grape juice, broth, or vinegar mixed with water. The choice depends on the desired flavor profile of the dish.

Is it worth using expensive wines for cooking?

Not necessarily. Since cooking significantly alters the wine’s character, using moderately priced, good-quality wines is usually sufficient. Save the costly bottles for drinking.


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