Tips You Need When Cooking With Wine

Wine: You know it, you drink it, you love it. But isn't it time to stop treating wine like any other drink? Think about it: You could be adding it to your marinades, skillet dishes, and reductions! Wine can be used in so many different ways while cooking, and it can add a wonderful complexity to the flavor of countless dishes in your repertoire. However, you shouldn't just be dumping wine into everything you make — instead, you should know how, when, and why to add wine to the things you make. 

We know it can be challenging to get the wine-cooking answers you're looking for, so we've compiled these tips you need when cooking with wine. With these suggestions, you can ensure you won't end up with drunken risotto or a weird acidity in your French boeuf bourguignon stew. Here's what you should know before you start cooking with wine.

Don't cook with wine you wouldn't drink

You've probably already heard this rule a hundred times, but it still bears repeating: Don't cook with wine you wouldn't want to drink. You know those wines — you take a sip, and they instantly register as too sweet, too acidic, or just too ... blah? While you may think a creative way to dispose of that wine is by pouring it into your food, you're not doing yourself any favors when you do. According to The Guardian, the age-old saying is true: If you wouldn't drink it, it's probably not going to taste that good when you put it in your food either.

While cooking breaks down some of the alcohol and taste of wine, Serious Eats writes that it's not going to entirely change the boldest aspects of the wine you use. So, if a wine leans more acidic or sweeter, that will likely come through in a concentrated flavor, per the cooking site. The last thing you want to do is take a bite of your meal and realize that an off-taste has translated to the food, making your meal too sugary, tart, or worse. It's a better idea to open a bottle you like and pour from there — your food will be made all the better.

Choose a fairly inexpensive wine

Yes, it's true that you're not going to want to use undrinkable wine when you're cooking. That doesn't mean you should be reaching for your more expensive, age-worthy wines either. When you open a nice bottle of wine and take a sip, you can fully enjoy the aromas and the complex notes that make a wine unique. It's reasonable to think that would be perfect for adding to a particular dish, but as Serious Eats reports, that's not the case.

According to the cooking site, you'll lose some of those subtle aromas and flavors when you combine the wine with whatever other ingredients you're using. Butter, olive oil, salt, and spices will mix and mingle with the wine, changing the flavor profile and masking many of the slight tasting notes we go for in a glass. Plus, Food Network reports that up to 75% of alcohol can get cooked off in just one hour. So, you won't enjoy the wine to its fullest in that aspect either.

Choose a good bottle of wine to cook with, but don't think you have to spend the big bucks just for an extra ingredient — you're better off saving your money and enjoying your excellent wine from the glass.

Use your wine as a marinade

There are so many different ways to use wine in your cooking, but one place where wine is often underappreciated is in marinades. However, a good red or white wine can take an already delicious marinade to a new level. In most marinades, the wine will play the role of acid, according to Wine Folly. Acid both tenderizes the meat and affects taste, so you're getting a nice one-two punch with a super flavorful wine.

Before you start pulling out any random bottle of wine, you need to think about the ingredients you're using, writes Wine Folly. For example, if you're marinating something like fish, MasterClass says you're probably better off using a zesty, acidic white wine with little complications. However, if you're marinating chicken, a rich white wine like Chardonnay can match your protein. Similarly, WineFolly suggests that for hunks of meat, you're likely going to have success with red wine marinades — MasterClass also recommends pairing reds with beefy dishes. 

Just think about what kind of wine you would want to drink with a particular dish, and that should give you a clue as to what type of wine you should use for your marinade.

Don't wait until it's too late

You may think you can add wine to your dish at any point in the cooking process, but that's not the case. When you add your wine depends on what you're cooking, but a good rule of thumb to follow is this: Don't add your wine too late, per What's Cooking America. If you're about to serve your dish, adding a big glug of wine at the last minute can give your dish a harsh quality. You don't want your food to taste like it's infused with alcohol, so What's Cooking America recommends 10 minutes to let the wine cook down and burn off those less-than-desirable flavors.

Fine Cooking says that when it comes to long-simmering stews, braises, or sauces, you're going to want to add your wine just after the liquid has started to simmer and you've browned your other ingredients. You'll then let the wine reduce slightly, which helps cook off the alcohol and concentrate all those delicious flavors. After that wine has reduced, Fine Cooking says to add any other liquids you're using, such as stock.

You may consider adding some red wine to a sauce as it finishes cooking. Executive chef of Barilla America, Lorenzo Boni, recommends it via Insider, suggesting you should use a red wine reduction. If you didn't make one, take the quick route through Fine Cooking: Pour in a splash, but make sure it's with quality wine. You'll be able to taste the difference in the finished product.

What would you drink with the dish you're cooking?

Have a hard time deciding which wine to use when you're cooking? It's a common problem that home cooks encounter. There are a lot of rules and guidelines you can follow if you're trying to take your cooking skills to the next level, but a simple tip is to think about what you'd like to drink with the dish you're eating (via Wine Folly). For example, are you more likely to eat chicken with a bold red or a smooth white? As WineFolly suggests, marinate your proteins or cook with the types of wines you'd serve alongside a finished plate.

We recommend white wines to go beautifully with the lighter flavors of butter, lemon sauce, and bright herbs. However, MasterClass recommends the earthiness of a red when you need something strong enough to complement a rib roast or beef stew. Thinking about cooking with wine in this way makes it easy to figure out which wines you should use for any given dish. Once you start cooking with wine on the regular, you'll begin to develop an intuition about what pairs well together.

Don't try to flambé wine

If you're looking to flex your kitchen skills, you may be interested in trying your hand at flambéing a dish. Haven't heard of this technique before? It's when alcohol is added to your pan and then set on fire to produce a burst of flames (via What's Cooking America). The flambé can be dangerous, so you'll want to be careful (and turn off your heating element) before you get started. To flambé a dish, you'll add alcohol to the pan to give the flame something to burn. Guidance from What's Cooking America says this technique adds a deep liqueur flavor to your food. However, according to Good Housekeeping, you may be disappointed to find out that you can not use wine to flambé a dish. 

This is because the alcohol content of wine is not high enough to catch fire. Instead, you'll want to use a liquor that is around 40% alcohol, per Good Housekeeping. Being unable to use wine to flambé doesn't mean you can't use wine in a dish you've flambéed — What's Cooking America suggests that you can still add wine to your meal after the flames have burned off or been smothered. Just remember to give the wine some time to cook.

Freeze wine cubes ahead of time

You know when you open a bottle of wine, think to yourself that you'll finish it within a few days, but then those days pass and the open bottle of wine is still sitting open? That can be a bummer, especially if it's a good bottle of wine. Wine wastage doesn't have to be a common occurrence, especially when there's an easy solution that will help you prevent it.

When you're done using a bottle or don't think you can finish it before it goes bad, simply pour the excess wine into an ice cube tray and place it in the freezer (via Food & Wine). Then, whenever you want to cook with wine, instead of opening a new bottle, you can just pop an ice cube or two in your dish and get those unique, complex flavors you're cooking for. Of course, this may not taste exactly the same as it would if you were using the wine fresh out of the bottle (per Coastal Win Trail), but this will benefit cooking since the taste of wine is reduced.

We love this trick because it makes cooking with wine more effortless and more accessible, and it saves that unused bottle from going down the sink at the same time.

Try using vermouth

Have any vermouth at home? If so, you may want to try using it to cook. While you may not think of vermouth as wine per se, it is: It's an aromatized fortified wine, according to Eater. Fortified wines have additional alcohol added to them during the production process, and an aromatized fortified wine also contains herbs and spices that give it a more complex flavor.

If you've ever had vermouth on its own or as part of a cocktail, you already know how delicious it is. But when you add it to whatever you're cooking, you'll realize that it has even more to offer. Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts says that you can use vermouth in any dish that calls for white wine, though you should note that it will probably add more flavor than a typical white.

Some people prefer cooking with vermouth because of the additional flavors you get with this type of alcohol, but others just like it because vermouth is something that's easy to keep on hand. A bottle of vermouth won't go bad as quickly as a bottle of wine, so having some open at all times shouldn't be a problem. Plus, it gives you something different to sip on every once in a while. What's not to like?

Don't use red wines that are super tannic

Everyone has a different wine taste, but for those who love big, bold, tannic ones, we have bad news: You're probably not going to want to use those red wines for your cooking. Why? Because as The Culinary Institute of America teaches, those tannins will become a concentration of undesirable, bitter flavors as the wine cooks down.

Fine Cooking agrees that if you're cooking with tannic vino, you can expect those unpleasant flavors to only get stronger and more intense throughout the process. Instead, the site suggests that if you're cooking with red wine, you'll want to find something of moderate tannins. For example, instead of going for a Cabernet Sauvignon, you may want to choose a Merlot or a Pinot Noir instead. Per our sources, these wines aren't tannin-heavy, which means you'll end up with a smoother, more balanced flavor as you cook. Save those big, bold reds for sipping instead of cooking, and you'll be much better off. 

Don't use sweet wine ... in most cases

Although making a comeback (according to Forbes), sweet wines were generally not the most popular types out there for a long time. If you happen to like them or have a bottle of sweet stuff that you don't know what to do with, you may wonder if it's a good idea to add it while you're cooking. In most cases, you're going to want to go easy on using sweet wine with your food, according to Wine Mag. Most recipes call for you to add wine to a dish for the acidity — not the sweetness. If a wine is too sweet, Wine Mag writes that it'll be lacking a bite, and instead, you'll get an unwelcome dose of syrupy taste in a dish that was supposed to be savory.

There are exceptions to this rule , of course. The Guardian writes about several dishes that call for a sweet wine. With these examples, you could by all means, add that bottle of Moscato to your dish in question. However, sugary wines are not what you want when it comes to most of the dinner dishes you're preparing. Save the sweetest wines for dessert drinking and give your entrée something between bitter and sweet. 

Use wine in your baking projects

Most of the time, you're adding wine to a dish for something savory. It's why we stick to moderately acidic wines. But, that doesn't mean you have to omit wine from cooking entirely. Your sweet creations are a good place for it. Adding wine to random baked goods isn't recommended, but some recipes specifically call for you to go ahead and dump it in. For example, you can make red wine brownies with a lovely velvet richness. You can even add red wine to chocolate cake.

These recipes are imaginative and offer something a little out of the ordinary. Plus, it's also a resourceful way to use up that leftover wine you have in the fridge or on the counter. According to The Guardian, a great way to incorporate more wine into your baking is in trifles or jellies. Moral of the story? Don't be afraid to try something that seems a little out of the ordinary when cooking with wine. You could get lucky and end up with the best chocolate red wine cupcakes you've ever tasted.

Sip while you cook

Finally, the most important tip of them all: If you drink, make sure to pour yourself a glass to enjoy while you're cooking. We think that one of the best parts of cooking with wine is that you get to sip it in the process. Cooking with a glass of wine can be a fun, relaxing experience. And if you're not the kind of person who always likes to cook, having an extra incentive to get in the kitchen never hurts either.

Cooking isn't just about survival — it's also about enjoying the process. Taking time to mindfully chop your vegetables, lovingly baste your protein, carefully select your herbs, and slowly taste your wine is part of feeling more connected to your food. So, go ahead and treat yourself to a few sips, and then give your pan a pour, too.