Red Wine can be used to make sauces, stews, and desserts. Once the weather starts to cool down, it’s time to cook with red wine whenever possible. While there’s no shortage of bottles that would work in a recipe, you should stick with a few styles when looking for the best red wines for cooking. These include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir. Find out why these wines work and our recommendations for bottles (and recipes).
How to choose a red wine for cooking
Let’s start with the basics.
Why cook Wine?
The acidity of Wine is great for reducing the toughness of meat. Wine, like other acidic ingredients such as lemon juice, yogurt, and vinegar, breaks down the connective tissue in the heart.
Can red and white Wine be interchanged?
While both white and red wines tenderize and moisten food, their flavors are generally different. Just because white and red wines have similar effects on nutrition, it doesn’t mean that you can use any wine. You can’t use red Wine to replace white in a recipe that calls for it. White wines have brightness, acidity, and softness, while red wines can handle their bitter, intense flavors. Red Wine, which is tannic and more painful than white, turns bitter when it’s cooked. White Wine is used in many recipes for seafood and poultry, while red Wine can be found in stews and roasts. Red Wine is also great for marinades and glazes. It is best to use red Wine that has moderate tannins and is dry. Your food may be less or more edible if you select a wine with too much tannin.
The Best Red Wine for Cooking
Merlots are typically fruity, soft, and silky. It’s safe to use in cooking because of its low-to-mild tannins (read: the bitterness won’t ruin your dish). Merlot works well in pan sauces or reductions. It has a jammy texture and offers structure. Just simmer it on low heat for a few minutes to thicken and concentrate the flavors. Merlots can be simple or complex, depending on their quality. Rich Merlots have a similar structure to Cabernet Sauvignon. They are full-bodied structured and contain notes of tobacco, stone fruit, and chocolate. For chicken and sauces, use a medium-bodied, lighter Merlot with a fruity flavor. A full-bodied Merlot is best for steak, short ribs, and lamb.
Consider this your new style of dining in the winter. Cabs have a complex flavor, similar to a Merlot, with more intensity. They are excellent for making hearty dishes, and they age beautifully. It makes meat so tender that it falls off the bone when braised. Cotes du Rhone blends, which come from vineyards surrounding the Rhone, can be substituted for Cab. These wines are rich and full-bodied, like Pinot Noir. However, because they are made of a mixture of grapes rather than just one variety, they can help to balance out the flavors of your dish. Use Cabernet to cook meals such as steak, short ribs, brisket, or stew. The oaky notes of this style can become harsh and woody if cooked too quickly or with weaker components. So skip tomato sauce and pan sauce.
These are smooth, light, medium, and earthy. It is versatile and great for stews, soft meats, and poultry. The flavor is earthy, with notes of berries and mushrooms. Pinot Noir aged in barrels is best used for slow-and-slow dishes, not quick sauces. When you are at the liquor shop, keep an eye out for red Burgundy. Some winemakers call Pinot Noir by this name because of the region in which the grapes were grown. They may be more expensive. Pinot Noir is great for recipes that call for salmon, duck, or stew.
You’re missing a lot if you haven’t had a glass of Chianti with your Italian meal. Chianti can be fruity and delicate or earthy with a peppery taste. Sangiovese Wine, named after the main vine that is used in Chianti, has a tart acidity and spicy flavor, which makes it a great substitute for Chianti. Chianti works best with tomato sauces, pasta, and pan sauces instead of hearty stews. Even higher quality Chianti, which is more tannic and full-bodied, won’t be bold enough to replace Cab.
Red Wine Cooking Tips
Now you know what to look for the next time you visit a liquor or wine store. There’s still more to see before you start cooking. Here are some more tips to keep in mind:
- Cooking Wine and regular Wine are different, so you shouldn’t use them interchangeably. Chris Morocco is the senior food editor for Bon Appetit and advises that you should avoid cooking Wine. It’s not necessary to use alcohol-free Wine for cooking. You can find it in the vinegar aisle of the supermarket. The cooking wine can also contain salt and preservatives, which will alter the taste of your dish. Regular Wine has a more consistent acidity and flavor.
- Avoid Shiraz, Zinfandel, and other full-bodied, intense reds. Due to their tannins, they can make your food taste bitter or chalky. Use it only for hearty dishes like Leg of Lamb or Brisket if you can’t find another. You should also be careful when using sweet red wines like Beaujolais Nouveau and Grenache. They can make a dish too sweet if you don’t have an acidic recipe to balance them.
- Do not use old Wine. Wine that has been opened more than a week before is likely to taste different. If you are unsure, open a fresh bottle. It is not inherently dangerous to use old Wine, even if it has changed in flavor.
- Avoid using expensive or fancy wines. The Wine’s delicious intricacies will be lost once heated. It’s a waste. The heat can bring out the less-than-appetizing characteristics of a wine, but as long as the style is right, price shouldn’t be a factor. There are many good bottles of Wine in the $10-$20 range. Use them for cooking, and save the expensive stuff for drinking.
- No matter what you are cooking, cook Wine slowly and low. Cook’s Illustrated has tested hundreds of red wine recipes and found that cooking them over high heat, for example, for a tomato sauce or pan sauce, will result in a sour, acidic taste. The same recipe was tested with two different cooking methods: one quickly simmered, and the other reduced slowly. They found that the taste of the sauces was completely different.
- Use wines that you enjoy drinking.