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How to Cook with Wine

How to Cook with Wine

Jonas Muthoni
A person cooking mussels in a skillet.

Wine is not just for enjoying before, after and during your meal. It can also be used to enhance and fortify your meal in a manner that leaves your taste buds grinning. Wine is not something that is used to mask flavors but to instead release them. You should use wine sporadically in the kitchen as it only fits into certain types of culinary dishes. It fits in particularly well with Mediterranean cuisine due to the region being rich in its culinary traditions, and its vineyards

There are a few quick rules that you shall want to take note of before you start cooking with wine, such as:

First of all, make sure that you choose a wine that you are happy to drink out with cooking. This doesn’t mean to say that it must be expensive but you should go for good wine, avoiding cheap poor quality ones.

It is recommended that cooking wines are avoided altogether due to their low quality, saltiness, and their overall terrible taste – hence why they are only used for cooking. However, don’t be dismayed to be spending a few dollars more for a decent win. You can enjoy it alongside your finished meal!

With the number of wines available in the market today, it’s important to only buy and use those that you actually love drinking. Never use cheap or low-quality wines when cooking because these might alter or even ruin the taste of your meals. Instead of satisfying your own and your family’s taste buds, these wines can become the reason why no one would even bother tasting your wine-infused meals. 

A second thing to take note of before you begin to cook with wine is that it should be remembered that the addition of wine to your cooking should be treated the same as adding any salt, seasoning or sauce to your dish. Too little has no purpose in being there as it does not enhance the flavor, and too much shall be overwhelming and could ruin the overall taste of your meal by becoming the signature flavor, masking over all of the other ingredients.

If you’re planning on following articles from Tiny Kitchen Divas, and other similar websites, start slow when adding wines to your meals. You should add a small amount of wine first, then add more only when necessary. Avoid adding too much wine at once as this can make your meal taste bitter, ruining its original taste.


From homemade pasta to a nice cheese plate, wine can be the perfect addition to your gourmet meal.


Using wine as a marinade 

The best meat dishes are created when the meat is left to marinate before cooking. By allowing the meat to seep in various flavors you shall be left with a luscious dish that will warm the heart and be remembered for a long time. The base for a good marinade has four key areas of ingredients – acid, fat, spices, and herbs. The fat consists of olive oil or butter. Spices have salt as the base but other condiments can be added such as peppers and paprika. Herbs are vegetable-based ingredients such as rosemary and garlic.

Using wine as a marinade is a great way to take your meals up a notch. Wines have a strong aroma and taste that naturally complements with most types of meats. Wine also works as a tenderizing agent that softens the inside of the meat. 

When using wines as a marinade, opt to leave your meats soaked in wine overnight. The longer you let your wine seep into the meat, the more flavorful your meat will be. This trick will also soften your meat, which is perfect when you’re using steak and ribs when cooking. 

The acidic part of your marinade base is where the wine comes into use. Typically acidic bases such as vinegar and lemon juice are used but red and white wines can also be used for this. The purpose of the acidic component of the marinade is to tenderize the meat and to transmit the flavor throughout the cut. Each marinade you prepare should be adjusted accordingly depending on the meat and how intense you want the flavors to be. It takes a good eye and practice in order to perfect a marinade but nonetheless we’ll give you a general guideline for your component ratios:


  • Acid – ½ – 1 cup of wine
  • Fat – ¼ – ½ cup of oil
  • Herbs – ½ a teaspoon to 2 tablespoons
  • Salt and spices – ½ a teaspoon to 2 tablespoons


The wide range between both the herbs and the spices is due to personal preference for how intense you want your flavor to be. The amount should also be adjusted depending on how thick or wide your cut of meat is as you must ensure that the full surface area is covered.

When marinating your meats in wine, carefully add in your herbs and spices. Make sure to start by adding small amounts first as you can’t redo the marinade whenever you add too many at once.

To put your marinade together simply stir them together in a bowl until the salt has dissolved, adding your dry herbs slowly towards the end. Once you’ve formed the mixture, place your meat in an air-tight bag and leave it in the fridge. Here’s a rough guide for how long you should marinate different types of meat for:


  • Beef, lamb, and pork joints – overnight
  • Chops and steaks – three to four hours
  • Whole chicken – over four hours
  • Cuts of chicken – over two hours
  • Fish – half an hour


Cuts of red meat such as pork, beef or lamb tend to be thick and require a healthy dose of the marinade. These meats take a while to soak up the marinade so it should be marinated the day before and left in the fridge overnight. Thinner cuts shall marinate within a few hours whilst fish absorbs the marinade quickly. Check out this video, where the marination process of coq au vin is shown!


Some meat on a plate with veggies.
A slow-cooked marinaded meal shall turn the meat so tender that it falls off the bone.


Which type of wine should use for marinading

The general rule of thumb when it comes to choosing the type of wine to marinade with is that you use red wine for red meat and white wine for chicken and fish. Red wine is a lot richer in its nature as is red meat, thus they become the perfect combination for fortifying the flavors within the cut, leaving you with the perfect roast dinner the next day.

Red wine is also the typical accompaniment to drink alongside red meat, meaning it’s already the perfect match. As aforementioned white wine is perfect for chicken and fish and is also the ideal drink to accompany the finished meal. To see what types of wine accompany which food, check out our food and wine pairing guide


Wine as a pan sauce

Cooking with wine is not only confined to marinating your food before cooking. It’s also perfect for solidifying a sauce during the cooking process. The majority of the time, wine is added early in the cooking process in order for most of the alcohol to burn off, leaving behind wholesome and rich flavors. Different recipes require the wine to be added at different times. Here’s a general list of when the ideal time to add wine to your food is.  

When it comes to stews, goulashes, and long cooking tomato sauces the wine should be added early on when it starts simmering, and the meat and vegetables have been browned. Give the wine a little bit of time in the pot before you add other liquids so it lets off a bit of the alcohol first. It’s a superb method when you are going to braise some red meat.

If you’re making a risotto – perfect for white wine –  allow the onions to become soft and translucent, before adding rice. Allow the rice to cook for a short while before adding a sparkling white. Let the wine simmer in the rice long enough for the wine to be cooked off before the stocky broth joins the dish. 

White wine is not only perfect to drink with fish, but it’s also the ideal base for a sauce. Here’s a basic wine sauce that is applicable for any fish or seafood. Melt three tablespoons of butter in a saucepan on a medium-low temperature. Throw in two cloves of finely sliced garlic and two tablespoons of ground shallots and allow it to gently fry for a few minutes until they are clear.

Now add a bit of salt and pepper and turn the temperature up slightly. Now add ¼ cup of white wine and one squeezed lemon into the pan and stir it in until it starts simmering. Now, whilst the sauce for around a minute and is ready to be poured over your finished white fish, which is cooked separately. 


Steak sauce, yum yum

Steaks are already flavorful as it is, but do you know that pairing it with wine will bring more excitement and flavor to your steak dishes? Although an uncommon combination for some, the natural flavor and aroma of most wines actually work well with steaks.

For a simple steak sauce, take one clove of finely cut garlic along with a few sprouts of rosemary, and fry lightly in a pan along with a single bay leaf. Pour in one cup of red wine into the pan and allow it to rest in the pan for two minutes. After this add a handful of squashed cherry tomatoes and stir it into the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, simply add a splash of water into the pan to thin it out. If you wish to add some extra seasonings to enhance the flavors then feel free to do so. Now that the simple sauce is finished gently pour it over your steaks for a simple yet delicious sauce. As a quick tip, make sure you’re protected from splashing wine with an apron!


Fish on a plate with veggies.
Drizzling a white wine sauce over your fish is the perfect way to round off your meal.


Wine used as a signature finishing ingredient 

When it comes to using wine to finish off a prepared dish, it is best to opt for more expensive wine. If a poor quality wine is used in this stage it shall ruin the meal as unlike when using it to marinate or cook with, there is no time for the alcohol or poor-tasting features to be lost during the cooking process.

For this reason, it should be a wine that is on the upper end of your budget as this finishing touch shall decide if your meal is a success or not because by this stage, there is no time to save it. It should also be noted that only a small amount of wine should be used as too much will become overbearing due to no alcohol 


How to choose which wine to cook with

The recipes that you may have browsed online don’t often specify which type of wine should be used beyond it being white or red wine. It is important that the correct wine is used in order to give the taste of your dish its maximum potential. Firstly you should try and have a good understanding of the sweetness levels of wine as if it is too sweet it can become the dominant flavor in your meal. When cooking with wine it tends to be the addition of subtle flavors that enhance the taste and not overrun the other ingredients.

Vintage wines can be categorized as being dry, semi-dry and sweet. In dry wines, all of the sugar found in the grapes has been transformed into alcohol due to it having a longer fermentation process. Sweet wines, on the other hand, have a good amount of sugar from the fruit left behind and the taste of the sugar can often overpower the taste of the alcohol. These are more appropriate to be used as a dessert wine.

See Also

Semi-dry, as you can imagine is in-between the dry and sweet wines as it still contains a little bit of sugar to add to the flavor. Additionally, the sweetness of a wine is also influenced by the wine’s acidity levels, it’s AVB, and tannins, which add bitterness to the wine. 


The perfect red for the perfect dish

When it comes to dry red wines you should use ones with moderate tannins such as Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Merlot. Full-bodied wines such as Syrah are also recommended, however, that wines with high tannins can leave a chalky flavor behind after your meal has been cooked. Marsal wines are also traditionally used in a culinary manner. Here at, we recommend Malbec wine as a good, well-rounded red wine that is appropriate for most red wine cooking recipes.

We recommend it due to it being similar in nature to Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah but having a more affordable price range. Malbec wine originally hails from France, is made from a grape that was a combination of two types from different regions. Nowadays it’s also produced in Argentina as well as France. Younger reds that are fruitier, will give your meal a bit more zest. To find out more about cooking with red wine, and Malbec wine, in particular, check out our guide on cooking with red wine.


Meat with sauce in a pot.
A Malbec wine is the ideal addition to release rich flavors in a braised stew.


Let the whites do their magic

As mentioned before white wines are optimal for fish dishes and white meat in general. Dry,  white wine should be selected in order to optimize your meal. When cooking with white wine we recommend Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. However, make sure that it is an unoaked Chardonnay as oaked Chardonnay often leaves behind a bitter taste once the wine has been reduced, destroying the taste of your meal. Unoaked Chardonnay, on the other hand, will give your food an elegant richness.  

White wines add various flavors and edges to your food. Sauvignon Blanc wines are more acidic, which can make them ideal when used as a marinade. Pinot Grigios has a subtle flavor, making it perfect to use when cooking with other neutral ingredients. 


How long will my wine last if I only use a small amount when cooking?

Although we are a little bit too obsessed with wine, we understand that not all of you like to drink wine all the time. This could cause you concern if you are only using a small touch of wine from a bottle that you have just purchased and you don’t want the leftover wine to go to waste. Wine shall only be good for drinking for a few days once it has been opened as the oxidization process shall begin. This process can be slowed down by storing it in a fridge or by purchasing a preservation system


The alcohol content in your meal

Some of you may be wondering how much alcohol is left behind in your meal once it is complete and is ready to serve. Especially if you have guests who have alcohol concerns or you are serving to young children. Most alcohol that you use when cooking with wine burns away with the heat whilst it is cooking. This is known as the reduction process – the alcohol burns away, leaving you with the tastes of the wine.

This depends on cooking time. If you are braising a stew for two or three hours only around 5% of the alcohol shall remain. If you make a sauce for around twenty minutes then around 40 – 50% of the alcohol will still be in the saucepan. Thus if it’s a slow-cooked meal it is completely fine to serve to children as only a small trace of alcohol shall remain.


Final Verdict:

It should be remembered that wine does not belong in every dish that you prepare. It should also be used sparingly for some of your specialty dishes, particularly the Mediterranean or fish ones. Cooking with wine often, or using too much in your cooking can quickly make it become monotonous. This is something that you don’t want as the addition of wine to your cooking is something special and should be treasured. 

Its the Southern Europeans who are the masters of cooking with wine. Their love for wine and big, slowly cooked family meals means that wine as an ingredient is something that has been mastered for centuries. If you stick to the Italian grandmother’s rulebook when you’re cooking with wine then you cannot go wrong. 

You may also feel more inclined to be more adventurous with your cooking and to add wine to dishes that traditionally may not go with wine. Culinary is something that is always evolving, with endless possibilities. If you consider yourself to be a person that is particularly gifted when standing in front of a stove then why not add a touch of wine to your meal, see how it goes, and if it goes well experiment further with it. 

Bonus tip: Check out this useful video for a few helpful tips when it comes to cooking with wine! 



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