How to Cook with Wine, According to the Experts

Taste of Home's culinary deputy editor and an executive chef from Sonoma explain how to cook with wine. Pour a glass and learn from the pros!

Whether you’re looking for a satisfying way to finish off a bottle or want to elevate an otherwise humble meal, learning how to cook with wine is an easy way to take your culinary skills to the next level.

According to Carl Shelton, an executive chef at J Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma County, California, wine adds acid to your dish and enhances the flavors on your palate. He adds, “when wine is reduced, the sweetness will create richness in a sauce or a braise, adding more complexity and depth to the dish.”

Before we get started, take a moment to learn the difference between cooking with wine and cooking wine.

You Can Cook with Budget Wine

If you’re wondering if you can cook with cheap wine, the answer is yes. Carl says, “There is no need to overspend on wine if you’re using it for cooking, so you can definitely choose a more price-conscious option.”

James Schend, Taste of Home’s culinary deputy editor, advises home cooks to let their wallet be their guide, but goes on to say that he personally spends less on the wine he cooks with than the wine he sips. However, James will spend more if the wine is going to be the main flavor component like in a dish like beef bourguignon, as opposed to a supporting element.

Don’t Worry If Your Wine Is Past Its Prime

Carl says if he’s reducing wine for a recipe, he likes to use a wine that’s still at its best. “But,” he says, “for a braise or a dish where the wine will be cooking for several hours, you can use something that’s been open for a week or two.” He also says sparkling wine that lost has its sparkle and even wine accidentally exposed to too much heat are perfectly fine to cook with.

This is how long opened wine will lasts.

Cook with the Same Wine You’ll Be Drinking

Carl admits he’s spoiled since he gets to cook with so many great wines, but says it’s a good idea to cook with a wine similar to what you’re drinking because it connects the wine in your glass to the food on your plate. He stresses that it doesn’t have to be the exact same wine, particularly if you’re breaking out an expensive bottle to serve with dinner.

James agrees. “The idea behind this is when you’re eating the dish, you’ll notice the similar flavors in the wine you’re drinking with it.” Before you plan a dinner party, take note of the mistakes everyone makes when pairing wine with food.

Not All the Alcohol Content Burns Away

According to James, a good portion of the alcohol in wine is burned off in the cooking process. He says that alcohol starts to evaporate when it reaches 140°F, “so by the time a dish comes to a simmer, a lot of the alcohol has already been burned off.” But it’s a misnomer to say that all the alcohol evaporates away. There is still some leftover, though it’s nothing most people need to worry about.

Keep Boxed Wine on Hand

So what do you do if you don’t want to open an entire bottle of wine for one recipe? James says he tends to keep boxed wine on hand for this reason since it has a long shelf life. If you aren’t sure which boxed wine to use, we sampled the most popular brands to find the best boxed wine.

Recipes to Cook with a Splash of Wine
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Tamara Gane
I'm a freelance writer specializing in food, travel, family, and social justice stories. I have bylines in The Washington Post, NPR's The Salt, The Independent, Fodor's Travel, and more,