The 5 Best Dry Red Wine for Cooking

If you enjoy cooking with red meat chances are you’re always looking for a way to bring out the robust meat flavor. In your search for the perfect recipe, you’ve probably seen mention of adding red wine to the sauce or marinade.

Red wine is a popular addition to meat dishes since it’s a simple way to boost both the aroma and flavor of the dish. For seasoned chefs and experienced home cooks, adding the right red wine is non-negotiable.

But, if you’d like to boost your dish’s flavor, how do you know which wine to add? Do different wines create different flavors? Join us to find the best dry red wine to add to your next cooking session!

Good Wine Equals Good Food

Good Wine Equals Good Food
Coastal Wine Trail Credit: @sosta_del_gusto

Red wine adds depth and a robust richness to any dish involving red meat. With the wide variety of red wines in your shopping centre aisle, it can be quite overwhelming to choose the right one. We’ve answered a few of the most popular questions cooks using wine for the first-time often ask.

Why Add Wine to Your Recipe?

If you’ve been cooking without wine you might be wondering what the fuss is all about. As good as your signature Bolognaise sauce is it’s about to get a whole lot better! The tannins in wine impart an exceptional amount of rich flavor to pasta dishes, tomato sauces and any red meat dishes.

Wine breaks down the muscle and collagen in meat cuts such as steak and brings out the true flavor of the meat. Any meat dish tastes considerably more delicious when it’s been marinated in red wine sauce or even cooked in the wine.

Rules For Cooking with Red Wine

Before we start listing favorite options, you need to know the three golden rules about cooking with wine.

  • Rule 1: Red meat should always be marinated with red wine for the flavors to balance and not become bitter or overwhelming.
  • Rule 2: Always use a wine that you would drink with the actual dish. Avoid “cooking wine.” Alternatively, you can use a “cheaper” quality wine for the cooking process and a more expensive wine to serve with the dish.
  • Rule 3: Opt for dry red wine to get maximum flavor out of meat and acidic dishes. Sweeter wines will change the expected flavors.

What’s the Difference Between Red Wine and Red Cooking Wine?

First time users of wine in cooking might be under the impression that you need to use cooking wine instead of regular red wine. You might be wondering if there’s a difference between the two.

In short, yes, there’s a big difference! Cooking wine will give you the flavor you need but won’t add that robust richness that takes your dish to the next level. As a rule of thumb, you always want to use a wine that you’ll feel comfortable serving with the dish.

If you’re concerned about the alcohol content in wine, rest assured, there’s some good news. The heat cooks off the alcohol content leaving you with only the wine flavor.

Cooking wine also has a high salt content which could affect the taste of your dish.

Why Choose a Dry Red Wine for Cooking?

Deciding to add red wine to your favorite recipe isn’t as simple as grabbing the first option in the wine aisle! To get the best flavor from your wine selection, opt for a dry red wine.

Dry red wine has less sugar and also has moderate tannins. Because there is a low sugar content, it won’t burn easily, making it ideal for sauces that require slow stirring. It also won’t be bitter or sour once the alcohol has cooked off.

Best Dry Red Wines for Cooking

Dry Red Wines for Cooking
Coastal Wine Trail Credit: @winemedley

If you’re not a wine enthusiast, you might need all the help you can get to choose the best option for your next dinner party. Keep reading to find a list of the most popular options that enhance any recipe.


Since it features low to mild tannins, Merlot is always a safe (and tasty) option to cook with! It’s perfect for reductions, pan sauces and marinades. It’s as simple as simmering over low heat to extract the juicy flavors.

Once you add the meat, you’ll be doubling the robust flavor! It’s ideal for cooking lamb, steak and short rib dishes.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is an affordable red Burgundy that’s a very popular choice for savory stews. Fortunately, it’s versatile enough to add to your Bolognese sauce as well. Since it boasts a few tenderizing properties, it works well with softer, fattier meats and stews.

Despite being a dry red, Pinot Noir also works well with poultry and seafood dishes. With its mushroom and berry notes, it adds a distinctive flavor to just about any meaty dish that needs a slow-cooking sauce.


If you often make spaghetti Bolognaise, adding Chianti is the ideal way to enhance the acidic sauce without making it bitter. Since Chianti is well known for its peppery spicy flavors, it’s a delicious addition to any pasta sauce.

Its tart acidity with a touch of a fruity flavor is always a wonderful way to balance any tomato dish. Serve a glass or two with the dish and you’ll enjoy double the flavor!

Cabernet Sauvignon

Aside from being a popular wine to start your wine experience with, Cabernet Sauvignon is also great for cooking. Since it ages exceptionally well and boasts a slightly more robust flavor than a Merlot, this red is the perfect option for hearty winter dishes.

Give your stews, curries and casseroles a fresh, robust taste! It’s important to note that this wine isn’t the best choice for tomato sauces, so keep this one for the winter stews!


One of the best wines to use as sauce reduction with a sweeter taste is a quality Spanish Garnacha. Since it has a strong fruit flavor, it’ll add a hint of cranberries, red cherries and even licorice. It’s the perfect option for a tasty red wine reduction sauce!

What Are Fortified Wines and Where do They Fit In?

Some recipes might call for fortified wines. What is a fortified wine? How is it different from choosing a dry red?

Fortified wines are wines that have distilled spirits – most often brandy – added to them. Aside from having a long shelf life, they also feature a warm, intense flavor. They’re commonly used in winter puddings.

The four most fortified options are listed below:

  1. Port: Since Port is quite sweet it’s often used in desserts. Dry Ports can be very versatile and can be used in anything from mushroom side dishes to savory meat main dishes.
  2. Sherry: Aside from being a warm winter drink, Sherry’s nutty profile is a good addition to stews, soups and sautéed dishes. With its sweet profile, it’s also great to drink with your dessert!
  3. Marsala: With Marsala, you have two options; dry varieties for savory meat dishes and sweeter options for desserts.
  4. Madeira: This is a popular fortified wine that’s commonly used by many chefs around the globe in both savory and sweet dishes. Madeira is the perfect choice for winter puddings!

Tips for Cooking with Dry Red Wine

Having a good recipe is one thing. It helps to have a few tips from the experts to help you add that extra special touch to any dish. We’ve asked a few wine and food connoisseurs to share a few tips for cooking with red wine.

  1. Avoid using cooking wine: The fact that we’ve mentioned this point several times in the article should impart to you the importance of ignoring that salty swill in the vinegar aisle!
  2. Avoid “old” wine: By old we don’t mean vintage. We are referring to the wine you opened two weeks ago and have been keeping in the fridge for a rainy day. Wine starts oxidizing from the time you open the bottle. This means the profile is changing and you won’t get the same flavor you associate with that first sip! Ultimately this could have a bitter effect on your dishes’ final taste!
  3. Add the wine slowly: Don’t pour the required wine quantity into your pan all at once. Add the wine slowly, in small amounts. Doing this will allow the flavors to develop properly. It’ll also prevent strong flavors from overpowering your dish.
  4. Avoid full-bodied reds: While full-bodied choices like Zinfandel and Shiraz are excellent to drink, their high tannins will turn your food bitter quite quickly.
  5. Cook wine slowly: No matter what wine you’re cooking, always cook it slowly and on a lower heat. Cooking wine on high heat for a pan of Bolognaise will leave you with a bitter-tasting sauce. Ignore the theory that you need high heat to reduce the alcohol. When cooking, alcohol will reduce even when cooking at low heat.
  6. No need to opt for the most expensive wine: When you’re choosing a wine for your recipe, there’s no need to buy the most expensive dry red on the shelf. Since you’re going to heat the wine, most of the features that make it so expensive will be lost in the reduction. As long as you’re opting for a dry red wine, you’ll be good to go. Rather serve your expensive wine to accompany your delicious meal.

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Final Thought

If you’ve seen wine as an ingredient in recipes you’re keen to try, you might have been left wondering – which wine? Our article not only answers that question but gives you a few options to choose from.

Whether you’re making a tomato-based pasta sauce or pan-frying a juicy cut of steak, you’re guaranteed to take your next dish to the next level. Turn a quality dry red wine into your secret ingredient and make your signature dish more popular than ever!

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