You don't have to be a world-class chef or sommelier to know that wine is an invaluable ingredient in many recipes. Pasta sauce, stews, roasts, and more all benefit from a splash or two of a wine pairing.
But, navigating the world of drinking wine, cooking wine, and wine bottle sizes can be confusing. There are wines made specifically for cooking and many different red wine types you can use, but are they the right choice?
Read on to learn the best red wine for cooking, red wine suggestions for different dishes, and even some red wine substitutes for cooking.
Best Red Wine For Cooking
Most chefs and cooks agree that the best wine for cooking is red drinking wine. What this means is that you should avoid cooking wine and use wine made for drinking. Cooking wine is a kind of wine specifically formulated for use in the cooking process and both the wine alcohol content (ABV) and salt content of cooking wine is moderately high.
What Red Wine Is Good For Cooking?
When it comes to cooking with wine, red wines are the cream of the crop. Particularly, Old World red wines with moderate levels of tannins and a full body. If you're unsure what type of body your favorite wine has, you can consult our handy wine types chart.
With that in mind, here are the best red wine varietals for cooking:
- Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet is an oaky wine created in and named after a region in the south of France. It only has a moderate level of acid in wine, making it the perfect wine to drink with dinner or use in braising meat. Unlike more sugary red wines, Cabernet tends not to caramelize while cooking, so it's well-suited for dishes that require a very hot pan.
- Merlot. If you're looking for a nice, fruity red wine, Merlot is the best choice. It is one of the most well-known red wines due to its soft mouthfeel. It typically tastes like rich, ripe fruit and can have subtle earthy undertones making it a great option for thickening sauces. It's also good for balancing smoky flavors, which is why it's used as a turkey wine pairing.
- Pinot Noir. Pinot noir is one of the most popular red wines in the world due to its lightness and soft mouthfeel. Pinot is medium-bodied, with complex and rich flavors that can include cherry, raspberry, and spices that you can pick up when smelling wine. It's one of the most used red wines for cooking and is particularly good with white meat. That's why it's also a go-to for a wine pairing with chicken.
Best Dry Red Wine For Cooking
The single best dry red wine for cooking is Merlot. This is because it is one of the most flexible red wines on the market and can be used for meat, sauce, vegetables, and more. It can be medium to full-bodied with a range of fruity and coffee-like flavors.
Here are a few options for you to try for the best dry red wine for cooking:
- Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot
- Sterling Napa Merlot
- Decoy Merlot
- Trefethen Merlot
Best Red Wine For Cooking Spaghetti Sauce
Spaghetti sauce is acidic and heavy by itself, so it requires a more moderate red wine. The best dry red wine for cooking spaghetti sauce is Chianti. Chianti can be either medium or full-bodied, which gives it a good range for use in cooking, but it's the flavor that makes it so loved. The combination of cherry, dried herbs, and smokiness makes it the perfect choice for a range of rich sauces.
Here are our selections for the best red wine for cooking spaghetti sauce:
- Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva
- Castellani Sangiovese
- Mazzei Chianti Classico Riserva Ser Lapo
- Antinori Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva
Best Red Wine For Cooking Beef Roast
When cooking a beef roast, you'll want to stick with heavier, dry wines. Merlot and Pinot Noir tend to work best due to their deep color and heavy tannin makeup. They shouldn't be aged wine, but fresher so that they keep their fruity taste.
These are our top picks for the best red wine for cooking beef roast:
- Textbook Merlot
- Gnarly Head Merlot
- Parducci Small Lot Pinot Noir
- Schug Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Best Red Wine For Cooking Beef Stew
The best red wine for cooking beef stew is Cabernet sauvignon. Beef stew tends to be a hearty and rich meal, so avoiding fruity flavors is a good idea. Cabernet is known for being a very flavorful and rustic-flavored wine, so it can help bring that stew to the next level.
With that in mind, here are our selections for the best red wine for cooking stew:
- Quilt Cabernet Sauvignon
- Decoy Limited Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
- Juggernaut Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon
- Hess Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon
Best Red Wine For Cooking Steak
Steak is an interesting meat when using wine, because it's usually eaten with a white wine. But, you can still use a red wine for glazing the steak if you know how to balance flavors. The two best red wines for cooking steak are Syrah/Shiraz and Zinfandel. This is because they are both sweeter wines that can help offset the herbaceous nature of most steak recipes.
These are our choices for the best red wine for cooking steak:
- Penfolds Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz
- Yalumba Samuel's Collection Shiraz
- Turley Juvenile Zinfandel
- Zinfandelic Sierra Foothills Old Vine Zinfandel
Substitute For Red Wine In Cooking
If you don't have a red wine on hand, have a wine allergy, or just don't want to use wine, there are a few replacements for red wine in cooking. The key to picking a replacement is to understand why cooks use red wine at all.
First, it is used because the sugar in wine will break down during cooking and sweeten a dish. Second, it is used to add additional flavors. Flavor can easily be handled through herbs and spices, so it's the sugar you'll need to replace.
Replacement For Red Wine In Cooking
Vinegar is probably the best replacement because it is a highly acidic liquid that doesn't have a flavor that will greatly affect the final dish. However, you'll want to dilute it with water at a 1:1 ratio to avoid making your dish too acidic.
Other good replacements for red wine in cooking are fruit juice and ginger ale. Fruit juice and ginger ales are good sources of sugar and fruity flavors, so they're a good choice for glazes and dressings.
Can You Substitute Red Wine For White Wine In Cooking?
Yes, you can replace any wine with another when cooking! This is because the wine you used is mostly used just for chemical reactions where all the alcohol is burned off. The only thing to remember is that the flavors imbued will be different, so you should avoid overly heavy red wines when a recipe calls for types of white wine. Aim for using fruity, smoother red wines when replacing a white wine, and you'll never know the difference.
Good For Drinking and Cooking
Wine is a fabulously versatile drink that goes great with any meal, both in a glass or in a pan. Try out different types of wine and find the flavor profiles you enjoy most.
With all these new red wines in your kitchen for cooking, you might want to also learn how to remove red wine stains and pick up one of the best red wine stain removers so you’re prepared for the eventual cooking mishaps. Buy a wine decanter and learn how to clean a decanter to keep the flavor and texture of your wine optimal.