We were out of red wine when cooking spaghetti bolognese today, but eyed off the port as a possible substitute. We decided against it but were left wondering. I imagine you'd have to halve the quantity because it would be too strong. I thought it might make it too sweet.

My question is: Will swapping the red wine in my spaghetti bolognese with port wreck the dish?

  • Mistaken (or correct) regional names in cooking are always a source of confusion, but someone flagged the whole comment thread as irrelevant to the actual question, and I have to agree with the flag: it doesn't matter whether the people in Bologna have heard of the dish, the question is about a substitution, not about traditions. And, per SE policy, comments are actually expected to have relevancy to the question itself.
    – rumtscho
    Oct 16, 2014 at 20:50

4 Answers 4


In short, using port as a substitute for red wine will not wreck the dish.

Though the flavour is different (and richer) and will make your bolognese taste different as a result, the taste should not be bad. I frequently do this as I am not a red wine drinker, and port keeps far better in an open bottle. I would recommend using slightly less than when using red wine, but this is highly subjective.


You could also leave the wine out, with no ill effects.

  • 2
    Leaving it out will make a much bigger difference to the taste than substituting port would.
    – PLL
    Oct 15, 2014 at 15:19
  • @PPL...I don't know if I agree...how do you quantify "much bigger?"...and, bolognese has a lot of recipe variation to begin with...white wine, red wine...no wine. The only way to really know would be to make three batches and compare. Given the strong flavor profile of bolognese, I would suspect there would be a small, but noticeable difference. ...but would it really matter in one's enjoyment of the dish? One of the reasons one perceives port as "richer" is that it is fortified with alcohol..much (all?) of which will evaporate. Further, which red wine? Flavor profiles vary there as well.
    – moscafj
    Oct 15, 2014 at 17:25
  • I forgot the wine once. Regretted it. Oct 16, 2014 at 9:09
  • Many flavor components are more soluble in alcohol than in water. Small quantities of alcohol are often added to dishes to allow these flavor components to dissolve into the sauce and change the flavor, rather than for the flavor of the alcohol itself. Vodka, for example, is often put in spaghetti sauce not for the vodka--which shouldn't have much flavor--but because of the flavors it extracts from tomatoes. Pour a tiny bit of alcohol (whatever type) to deglaze your saute pan before adding other things in your next dish; you may be surprised at the major impact it can have on the flavors.
    – Athanasius
    Nov 14, 2014 at 18:39

Nope. Port (or Porto as we Portuguese people call it), will leave a sweeter taste in your dish.

This is related to the process of making the wine. In Port wine, during the fermentation process is added brandy to continue the fermentation process during the colder times of the north Portugal region. This process leaves more natural grape sugar in the wine.

  • You'd know better than me, but Wikipedia does say that that the fortification spirit is actually aguardente, a neutral grape spirit that's not much like brandy.
    – Cascabel
    Oct 17, 2014 at 17:03
  • Yes I know. But the translation for Aguardente at google tradutor is Brandy. Btw, aguardente means ( in the literal way ) burning water.
    – ruifn
    Oct 20, 2014 at 13:31

Port is a little sweeter than ordinary red wine so it will change the taste but not, in my opinion, in a bad way. After all, the bulk of your sauce is tomato and some tomatoes are a little sweeter than others. Some people even add a little sugar to their tomato sauces, anyway.

A lot of ragu/bolognese recipes actually call for white wine, which is another option.

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