Using Wines in Cooking

Andy Anderson !


Several people have asked me about the right wines to use in cooking. And as JAP’s resident alcoholic, I thought that I would put some notes together for you.

Understand that all chefs have their ideas on what is the right wine to use, and they get to that point through experience and experimentation.

These are just some of the wines that I enjoy.

So, you ready… Let’s get into the classroom.


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How to Make Using Wines in Cooking


  1. Quality
    If it’s not good enough to drink, it’s not good enough to cook with. You can purchase, what are known as: Cooking Wines… DON’T. You would never drink them or serve them to your guests, so why are you putting them into your food?
  2. Cost
    Most of the wines I use in my catering kitchen cost between 5 to 9 dollars each for a standard 750ml bottle (25.3 oz).
  3. Size
    Wine comes in standard sizes; in addition, it also comes in boxes. Listed here are the sizes and common names for wine served in glass bottles.
    Split – 187ml
    Half Bottle – 375ml
    Bottle – 750ml
    Magum – 1.5 liter
    Double Magum – 3 liters
    I’m not a big fan of boxed wines, so I don’t have a lot of experience cooking with them.
  4. Goal
    You’re looking for a good wine that will compliment your recipe, is of good quality, tastes good on it’s own, and won’t break the bank. The good news is that most recipes do not call for a whole bottle of wine, so that should leave you enough for a few glasses of wine to serve with your meal.
  5. Alcohol
    A question that I’m asked a lot is: Does cooking with wine remove all the alcohol?
    And the answer to that question is… NO.
    I don’t care what you have heard, when you cook with wine, some of the alcohol will remain in the dish. FULL STOP. It might not be much, but it will be there. So, if for whatever reason, you do not drink alcohol, you can stop reading right now.
  6. Gravies, Sauces made with Cream, and White Meat
    In most cases you want a dry white wine, such as a chardonnay. When making a sauce or gravy requires that you pay attention to the dish as it reduces. If it reduces too much, it can cause the sauce to turn sour. On the other hand, if it is not reduced enough, the sauce can taste of alcohol. In either case the sauce would be considered a do over.
    The thing to do is taste your sauce as it is reducing. Something that was constantly drilled into us at school; over and over again. A good chef tastes as they cook.
  7. Recommended Wines
    Sutter Home – Chardonnay
    Barefoot – Chardonnay
    Sutter Home - Riesling
  8. Crustaceans and Seafood
    Seafood and crustaceans call for a crisp dry white wine, like a Pinot Grigio. They have a slightly fruity taste that is excellent for cooking seafood. But remember that wines are acidic by nature and they can quickly break down the delicate nature of seafood. A slightly higher temperature in the pan, will help in the reduction of the sauce and, at the same time, cook the fish to perfection.
  9. Recommended Wines
    Barefoot – Pinot Grigio
    Sutter Home – Pinot Grigio
    Valley Wines – Pinot Gris
  10. Vegetables
    Vegetables cook best with light white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc.
    Sauvignon Blanc has been described as fruity, with hints of herbal and floral aspects.
    It goes perfectly with most vegetables, and adds another level of flavor. For example, you could sauté some artichokes with some tomatoes, peppers, and mushroom, and simply splash a bit of wine into the pan to deglaze. Then throw in a bit of butter and lemon juice, and there you go.
  11. Recommended Wines
    Barefoot – Sauvignon Blanc
    Bogle Vineyards – Sauvignon Blanc
    Pacific Rim – Chenin Blanc
  12. Red Wines with Beef
    Reds are perfect for beef stews, or other beef dishes that you want to add another level of flavor. My suggestion is to try to use a wine that will pair well with your meal (the same is true for white wines).
    A dry red is great for a reduction, bourguigonne, or a beurre rouge. When combined with a good beef stock (not broth), they work well in a slow braise.
  13. Recommended Wines
    I stay away from most cabernets because they have such a distinctive taste that they can overpower the sauce.
    I also avoid wines aged in oak, because they can make a sauce come out bitter.
    I like a good pinot, or zin.
    My favorite for most beef dishes is a good pinot noir it’s a lighter, redder, less tannic wine with berry and earth flavors that goes very well with beef like a beef bourguignon.
    Barefoot – Pinot Noir
    Shoofly Yarra Valley – Pinot Noir
  14. Location
    Many chefs like to cook with wines that are from the same area as the other ingredients of the dish. They feel that both food and wine evolve in agreement with each other, and therefore will match when you cook with them… Interesting theory.
  15. Experiment
    For deeper flavors, try fortified wines like a good port, or sherry. As you cook more with wine, you will get a feel (and a taste) for what works, and what doesn’t.
  16. Balance
    Different wines will bring different flavors to your dishes; however, the one thing that they all have (besides alcohol) is that they are acidic. To maintain a certain degree of balance to the dish watch your other ingredients. For example, if you are doing a reduction sauce, and you’re using lemon juice, or vinegar (both acidic), you would want to cut back on those ingredients to make room for the acid in the wine.
    If the dish has a lot of sugars in it (like from veggies), you might want to use a less dry red or white wine, to balance all those sugars.
    It’s all about the balance.
  17. That’s it for now… Keep the faith, and keep cooking.

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