In other words does it make a difference in the event that a recipe calls for a Red wine you use a Merlot, Cabernet, Shiraz ect..?

7 Answers 7


Yes. If you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it.

Whatever it tastes like out of the bottle, it will add that to the dish. Cook with a wine you might pair with the dish (light wines for seafood, chicken; heavier wines for meats and stews).

Don't use a fruity wine unless you want your dish to have some fruit notes. Don't use a very dry wine if you're making a sweeter dish.

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    Actually, a good rule for this is: cook with the wine that you're going to drink with the dish. Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 11:09

As a corollary to the excellent advice from Aaronut, there is an important rule of thumb when selecting a wine to cook with:

If you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it.

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    As a corollary to this corollary: If you regularly drink Two-Buck Chuck, ignore this rule of thumb. ;)
    – Aaronut
    Commented Jul 25, 2010 at 16:20
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    Additional correlary : mad dog and thunderbird don't count as wine, nor does Boones Farm or wine coolers. (they make the two buck chuck look good by comparison)
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 25, 2010 at 19:55
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    The reason for this is important. When you cook with wine, the alcohol cooks off, but the flavor notes remain, and in fact, are intensified. So if the wine isn't great out of the bottle, those things which make it not great will only get stronger when you cook it down.
    – Nick
    Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 16:01
  • @Nick - Alcohol doesn't necessarily cook off, it depends on how you cook the food and for how long. Have a look at this article: Does Alcohol Really Boil Away in Cooking? Commented Jan 28, 2011 at 3:54

It absolutely does matter, as all of the different varietals have their own very distinctive tastes. However, there's not really any "correct" wine to use when you see a recipe requesting it.

Probably the most common ones (where I'm from) are Cabernet Sauvignon for red and Chardonnay for white, but those are definitely not the only kinds you can use, and it depends entirely on the recipe and your personal preferences.

If it's going into a strong/spicy sauce where the taste of the wine will be overshadowed by the other ingredients anyway, then I'll often use any inexpensive wine I have lying around. But if it's something like a wine sauce, or a reduction, then you should essentially treat it as a wine pairing; look up what varietal pairs well with the food you're making and use that in your sauce.

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    I'd suggest a Sauvignon Blanc for any seafood cooking. Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 17:45

I tend to disagree a little bit on this. Cooking removes almost all of the subtlety from a wine, especially long cooking like in a reduction-based sauce. I'd like to see a double-blind taste of several reduced red varietals to see if you could tell much of a difference.

  • Agreed -- I wouldn't use a foul wine as you risk intensifying bad flavors), but I wouldn't go with anything expensive, either.
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 25, 2010 at 19:57
  • @Joe and OP: Certainly I wouldn't start worrying about vintages, but the difference between Merlot and Cabernet is more than just a subtlety. I also don't think a typical double-blind taste test, assuming the subject "fails", necessarily proves that it makes no difference; simply not knowing which wine was used to make the sauce doesn't mean that they taste the same. An ABX test perhaps, where a subject tries two otherwise identical samples and then attempts to identify which one is the "mystery" sample, would be more interesting.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 0:18
  • @Aaronut -- good point ... the original question was about varietals, for which there would be a distinction ... dry white wine is going to be different from a fruity red, etc.
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 1:12
  • Yes, for sure the red vs. white distinction is essential. I agree, the ABX test would be more relevant. Or on a more aesthetic level, just pick a dish that has a wine based sauce and make it with say a Pinot Noir vs. a Cabernet, reducing both to an appropriate level of intensity, and see if they taste substantially different and if so, if one is clearly a better match to the rest of the dish than the other. Commented Jul 28, 2010 at 19:55
  • I drink a LOT of wine. I buy quite a few $10 bottles just for fun - to taste something different. When I taste one that is sub-par, it goes into my "red wine for cooking" stash. If the wine is really nasty, then it goes down the sink instead.
    – Rick G
    Commented Sep 6, 2010 at 21:13

Avoid excessive oakiness.

Other than that, find a decent, cheap somewhat drinkable blend (one white, one red), and buy a couple 1.5 litre bottles of each. and keep them on hand for cooking.

I'm wiki-ing this answer so feel free to add any brands you've found good for this purpose.


Yes, use wine that you would happily drink.

But there's usually no need to empty a bottle of fine Barolo, or Gevrey Chambertin, into the pan. A good young red wine is usually good enough and all the wines you use should be bought for drinking, rather than for cooking.

What wine colour you use should tip you off about the wine colour to serve with it, so helpfully you have whats left in the bottle after culinary use, to drink while cooking or afterwards.


I am not a wine connoisseur. I actively dislike most red wines; I'm not a fan of tannins. So if a recipe calls for red wine as an important ingredient (Beef Bourguignon, for example), I simply won't make the recipe. Sometimes though, like in a risotto or a Chinese sauce, a bit of wine is a lovely touch. Sauvignon Blanc is a common white wine for cooking, but unless I use the whole bottle in the recipe, I end up throwing most of it away. Even vacuum sealed, non-fortified wines have a short life-span once opened.

So, I keep two fortified wines in my fridge. They serve me well, I never find the need to buy any wines other than Dry Sherry and Dry Vermouth. If a recipe called for it, I might buy a Marsala. In the fridge, fortified wines like these last for months after being opened.

For what it's worth, Gallo topped America's Test Kitchen taste testing of Dry Vermouth.

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