Cooking With Wine 101

Did you just pour wine into that sauce?

Cooking with wine can be very intimidating especially if you aren’t really a “chef du jour”.   If you have more experience actually drinking wine than cooking with wine that’s just fine.  We are going to give you a quick guide so you can feel very comfortable the next time you whip out a stale bottle of chardonnay and decide to pour it in your pan.

Let’s start with some basic ingredients and move on from there.

What type of wine to use?

You may have heard it before: only cook with wine you’d drink.  This is quite true to a certain extent.  You don’t want to use a bottle Louis Jadot or Mondavi Reserve , obviously.  Some people like to use a bottle of wine after it has gone bad, or a not so expensive new bottle.  My go to?  Boxed wine.  Always on hand, and always fresh.  I do not recommend using the grocery store “cooking wine”.  It has additives and tastes horrible to begin with.  So skip that when you see it on the shelf!

A toast to taste

There are generally three ways to use wine in your cooking: as an ingredient for a marinade or sauce, as a liquid to cook with or deglaze, and as a way to add flavor to a finished dish.


  1. Cook fish with wine to enhance its flavor and not to cover it up.  Wine adds moisture and a nice depth of flavor without frying or covering it with fatty sauces. The easiest way? You can add the wine while the fish simmers to a nice moist finish. Try this recipe for Mahi Mahi with herbed white wine sauce.
  2. Wine can make a great ingredient for a marinade due to its acidity. It helps tenderize what you’re cooking and also keeps your meat, poultry, or fish quite moist. Try this recipes for Flank steak marinade.
  3. For sauces you will want to reduce the wine first, and then add it to the other ingredients. Reducing the wine helps thicken a sauce. De-glazing refers to adding wine to a pan that has bits of food left on it.  The wine will help loosen the food and some tastiness.  Add a tablespoon of flour or more wine and some stock.  Whisk into a lovely sauce with a huge depth of flavor. Try this recipe for Pot roast with tomato wine gravy.


Quick reference for pairing wine with food

  • Young, full-bodied or earthy red wine such as Pinot Noir or Sangiovese for red meat, soups with root vegetables, or beef stock.
  • Young, full-bodied robust red wine such as Cabernet Franc or Merlot for red sauces.
  • Dry white wine such as Chardonnay or Viognier for fish, shellfish, poultry, pork, veal, light or cream sauces.
  • Crisp, dry white wine like Pinot Gris for seafood soups and stews.
  • Sweet white wine like Reisling or Niagara for sweet desserts.
  • Pinot Noir (my favorite) for poultry or vegetable soups.


Keep in mind that wine needs to simmer with the food you’re cooking to enhance its flavor. It’s best not to add it at the end of your cooking or you’ll risk serving your dish with a strong, overpowering alcohol flavor. The longer you cook the wine (over low to medium heat), the more subtle the flavors.

As with most seasonings, take the attitude of “you can always add more” rather than pouring it on full-force from the start. If your taste buds tell you to add more be sure to wait about 10 minutes after your first taste so the wine has time to be absorbed.

When cooking with wine it’s generally best to follow the recipe, but as you experiment, you’ll get a good sense of what tastes good. General suggested amounts of wine used in cooking include the following:

  • Soup — 2 tablespoons of wine per cup of soup
  • Sauces — 1 tablespoon of wine per cup of sauce
  • Gravy — 2 tablespoons of wine per cup of gravy
  • Stews and meats — 1/2 cup of wine per pound of meat
  • Poaching liquid for fish — 1/2 cup of wine per quart of liquid

Start experimenting today.  Remember, there are no rules when cooking in your kitchen.  Just have fun and let the juice start to flow!  Cheers!

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