The Best Dry Red Wines for Cooking

Dry red wines don’t just have a delicious taste profile but can add richness to your meals when used as a cooking medium. Here’s what you need to know about cooking with dry red wines, including the best options for your needs with specific food types.

Man pouring dry red wine into pot while cooking

Find Out What The Best Red Wine Is for Cooking Your Favorite Meals

Dry red wines are those with minimal to no sweetness. They typically have higher acidity and fruitiness, though some may possess rich dark chocolate or nut aftertastes.

Cooking with dry red wine can provide you with many unique benefits, including:

  • More Concentrated Flavor: Dry red wines will gain in flavor intensity when you cook with them, providing you with a tastier and more diverse meal option.
  • Enhanced Ingredient Taste: Beyond the addition of the red wine taste, your ingredients will also have an overall better taste, particularly when combined with meat.
  • Improved Nutrients Level: Dry red wine contains a good range of various antioxidants and other nutrients that help to make them a great addition to any diet.

While your red wine will lose some of its nuance and diversity when you cook (as the acidity and fruitiness will be much higher), you gain more than you lose when cooking with dry red wines.

Dry red wines include: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, Malbec, and more.

Handy Tips for Cooking With Red Wine

Before you choose a dry red wine with which to cook, it is critical to understand these simple cooking tips:

  • Find a Low-Tannin Wine: Tannins can bring out a bitter taste in your food, so try to use a wine with fewer tannins. Merlot typically has the least amount of tannins.
  • Balance Your Flavors: Keep your wine at about the medium-dry level or so to avoid changing the flavors of your wine too much. For example, Pinot noir often works best as an excellent middle ground.
  • Always Buy a Fresh Bottle: Fresher wine (including that created within the last 5-10 years) often blends the best with food and should have a less lingering aftertaste.
  • Avoid Cooking Wine: It might seem counteractive, but cooking wine has preservatives that could change the flavors of your dish. Use only real wine.
  • Minimize Your Alcohol: Your wine for cooking needs high acidity and low alcohol, so choose something with a medium-alcohol level, such as chianti.
  • Know How to Use It: Do you want to marinade your ingredients in dry red wine or use it as a cooking medium? The choice is yours, so make sure you take it with consideration.

Now that you know a few of these critical dry red wine tips, it is time to move on to choosing the best red wine for your cooking needs.

How to Choose a Dry Red Wine for Cooking

When choosing among the many dry red wines on the market, it is crucial to find an option that feels right for your needs.

Many different dry red wines will work for your needs, thankfully. Your search will mostly center on your taste and on a few simple steps that minimize your risk of picking a poor wine:

  • Pick a red wine with fewer tannins to minimize bitterness.
  • Buy a fresh bottle that hasn’t been opened or tasted yet.
  • Identify a drink you enjoy, as the taste will be in your food.
  • Avoid expensive wines – after cooking, you won’t taste the difference.
  • Purchase more than you think you’ll need for cooking
  • Remember: you’ll be reducing your red wine while you cook with it, which affects how much you’ll have and can also minimize the alcohol content. You don’t need the oldest and highest-class dry red wine to get a great taste. Many people cook with low-cost dry red wines and get just as much flavor and quality as they would with a more expensive bottle of wine.

What Are The Best Dry Red Wines for Cooking?

Steak with wine sauce on plate on a wooden table
The best dry red wine for cooking will vary on what is being prepared! Syrah will bring out the richness of a red meat’s flavor.

The best red wine for cooking will vary depending on what you cook and how you want to use the wine. Most people will use it as either a glaze on their meat or as a frying oil for multiple types of foods.

Let’s break down a few of the best red wines for cooking based on dishes:

  • Hearty Dishes: Zinfandel will work well for dishes like ribs and lamb, mainly if you let the wine soak into the meat overnight. Make sure the meat is fully covered before you cook.

Red Meat Dishes: If you’re preparing a beef roast, burger-rich dishes, or any other dish with red meat, you should use a Syrah to bring out the richness of the meat’s flavor.

Stew and Sauces: Do you want to create a stew or a rich wine-based sauce for desserts or other dishes? Pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot should work well for your needs.

The brands that you purchase will vary based on your taste and your budget. Typically, cooking wines don’t have to be aged as long as drinking wines.

You’re likely to do just fine with a dry red from 2013-2014. This range is aged just enough to make your meals delicious without costing too much money.

That said, you can always use older dry red wines if you have the money or already own a few.

Can I Use Fortified Wines for Cooking?

Yes, you can use fortified wines for cooking.

Fortified wines are often some of the most popular options for cooking on the market. That’s because they usually have a wider variety of flavors and a more balanced level of tannins and other benefits that make them easier to cook with in most cases.

There are several options you can choose that may be right for you.

For example, a port is often a popular dessert wine that works well when cooked in heart dessert sauces (like a red cherry topping) or meat-based casseroles. Try to find a port that feels appropriate for your taste needs.

Likewise, marsala is a popular dry wine option that, when fortified, goes well with a broad array of different dishes. They typically blend the best with meat and mushroom dishes, as they bring out the rich density of the flavor without adding too much sweetness.

Madeira is similar to marsala and has a dense and attractive dry flavor profile. It probably goes best with pork, particularly as a glaze. Let it soak into the pork overnight or longer, and you can produce a very flavorful chunk of meat. Use some mashed potatoes to soak up the extra wine.

Lastly, you can use fortified sherry to enhance your soups. Sherry will add a touch of nuttiness to your dishes that should bring out their inherent flavor. It also goes well with meat-heavy stews, sauteed dishes (stir-fry, for example), and serves well as a dessert wine at the end of dinner.

Emma Miller
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