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What is the purpose of dry white wine in a recipe like bolognese sauce? I need to substitute something non-alcoholic for the wine and while I've found many great lists of possible substitutions, the actual selection depends on the role the wine plays.

Is it there for acidity? Is there an alcohol soluble flavor I will miss if I don't use real wine? What purpose does it play and what would you substitute it with?

I'm making my favorite lasagna bolognese recipe for company later this week and some of the folk coming are in recovery. Out of respect for my guests' wishes I want to use something else, not just cook the alcohol off before adding the wine. It's too late to switch to something other than lasagna... I'm fixated. Lasagna and salad, followed by apple pie and pear, ginger, cranberry pie.

How do I make this work? Thank you for any and all input.

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White wine in tomato sauces adds:

  • Some acidity, but tomatoes are quite acidic as well
  • A touch of fruitiness and flavor
  • Alcohol, which does not all cook off, which can enhance the perception of the dish due to some flavor molecules being alcohol soluble, especially in tomatoes

Since you are avoiding alcohol itself, some of the options you might use are:

  • Simply omit the wine. The dish may not be quite as good, but it will still be good.
  • Use a splash of verjuice (un-fermented grape juice) if you can get it; this will give you some of the fruity and acidic qualities, without the alcohol.
  • Use a splash of white wine vinegar (unless you are concerned with the trace amounts of alcohol that may persist from its production); this will give you some acid, but you are not likely to use enough to add any significant fruitiness.

Since you are specifically avoiding alcohol, you necessarily lose the flavor enhancing effect it can have, but a good well seasoned dish will stand up without it.

I would suggest you make your sauce, and if you feel it lacks brightness, to try cooking down a little white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar and adding it; otherwise, leave it alone.

And of course, taste as you are cooking to season it well.

Again, as one component of several in a lasagna, which is all about the integration and balance of all of the components, I wouldn't worry about it this overly much.

  • Thank you! That is a truly helpful answer. I appreciate you taking the time to write up the details since that is exactly what I was trying to learn. – fitzhugh Oct 24 '13 at 4:08
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I recently had exactly the same challenge with Lasagna Bolognese. I substituted white balsamic vinegar diluted 50/50 with water for the wine. The final sauce was actually superior to the sauce I had just made a few days prior with the same recipe but using wine.

  • Thank you too! While the other answer gave me the background, you shared the other half... how it turns out :) I'll try it with confidence now. – fitzhugh Oct 24 '13 at 4:09
  • Isn't it grand when a plan comes together? :) Good luck with your lasagna. Mine was part of what turned out to be a lovely evening. Funny thing, SAJ14SAG helped me with mine too (different issue). – Jolenealaska Oct 24 '13 at 5:02

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