The Best Dry Red Wine for Cooking | Wine Enthusiast
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The Best Dry Red Wine for Cooking

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A splash of red wine in your dish can add aromas to sauces and marinades, tenderize meat to fall-apart glory and deglaze a pan beautifully. And who doesn’t love sipping a glass while cooking a hearty meal for friends?

Though most people tend to grab the closest bottle around, carefully considering a wine’s flavor profile is more important than many believe. Wine writer Wanda Mann, the East Coast editor of the Somm Journal, explains that “cooking with wine burns off the alcohol, but the beautiful fruit essence of the wine remains behind.” Once the alcohol has evaporated (in just a few minutes), “the wine’s dominant fruit flavors become more concentrated and enhance what you’re cooking,” she adds. This is why it’s wise to select the right bottle for the right dish.

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Austin Bridges, Wine Director at Nostrana in Portland, Oregon, chooses “wines that boast a clean and pure profile, ideally without oak influence—unless it’s neutral oak and/or integrated—to preserve that bright, fresh essence,” he says. “Opting for wines fermented in stainless steel or concrete tanks allows the fruit’s primary characteristics to shine through unadulterated.”

Feeling daunted? Don’t. To help you figure out the best red wine for cooking, we asked the pros to walk us through the ins and outs.

Start With Wine You Like to Drink

Because heat concentrates a wine’s flavors, it’s ideal to look for flavors you find delicious. “My first and most important rule is to never cook with a wine that I wouldn’t drink,” Mann emphasizes. “If I don’t like the taste in the glass, why would I want it in my food? Especially since I usually like to sip a little while I’m cooking.”

This is exactly why you should skip wines from the supermarket labeled “cooking wine,” as the quality is not great and they “often contain salt and other additives that could muddle up the flavor of your dish,” says Mann. Instead, pick a wine you won’t be shy about pouring for yourself and your friends.

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Yet, you also should consider the price point when picking a wine for sauce or stew, as a wine’s subtleties will be lost as it melds with other flavors. Think of the wine as a supporting character, not the star of the show. A $10 to $15 bottle should do the trick just fine—unless you’re already planning to open something more splurge-y and want to add a splash to your pan.

Consider Acidity and Tannins

The one caveat to cooking with a pricey bottle is that you should consider its tannins and how they will impact the finished dish. Although “tannins are an important part of a wine’s structure, it’s generally best to avoid overly tannic wines when cooking because it can concentrate their bitterness,” Mann says. Save a super structured, astringent bottle to savor beside your meal.

Acid, on the other hand, is your friend. It imparts brightness, bringing a dish to life with its zing. Acidity also plays a pivotal part in tenderizing meat, aiding in its breakdown. This means that for dishes “requiring long braising times, like those prepared in a Dutch oven, or for a rich Bolognese, selecting a wine with the right acidity is a key consideration,” says Bridges. Acidity helps a wine cut through the fat, “making the meal feel less heavy without compromising richness,” he says.

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This is why most recipes call for dry wines rather than sweeter bottles (though there are exceptions to every rule). Numerous components contribute to a wine’s acidity, including the grapes’ ripeness and the climate and soil in which they were grown. But, for cooking purposes—and to keep it easy—Bridges and Mann offer several cooking-friendly dry red varietals below.


For Bridges, Sangiovese is a go-to choice for a myriad of dishes, from a wine sauce for pasta to bagna cauda. “Its appeal lies in its balanced profile—not too heavy, with a pleasant acidity that, when reduced, doesn’t overly color your dish,” he says. Plus, it’s worth noting there’s plenty of affordable quality Sangiovese available.

Wine Enthusiast suggests:

Melini 2021 San Lorenzo Sangiovese (Chianti)

Roasted meat rubbed with spices and car tire hitting pavement on the nose give way to black cherry and blackberry on the palate, with bitter cocoa and some chili pepper heat on the back. Best Buy. 89 Points— Danielle Callegari

$ Varies Bottle of Italy

Indigenous 2017 Rosso Sangiovese (Toscana)

The nose sits in the space between sweet and savory, with aromas of candied cherries and orange peel and then leather, cured meat and soil. It turns to a palate with more cherries and soil, held together with tannins that are still tightly coiled. Best Buy. 89 Points — D.C.

$18 Downtown Spirits

Pinot Noir

A classic in beef Bourguignon and coq au vin, Pinot Noir brings a delicate, fragrant complexity to whatever it touches. “For a beef stew or mushroom risotto, the earthiness of a Pinot Noir works beautifully,” Mann says of the medium- to high-acid grape.

Wine Enthusiast suggests:

Combe D’Argent 2022 Pinot Noir (Vin de France)

The nose offers up a fruit basket of juicy blackberries and raspberries. Nicely structured and balanced with firm tannins, and an acidic streak that highlights the palate’s ripe raspberries and plum. Best Buy. 89 Points 

$12 Saratoga Wine

Four Vines 2020 The Maverick Pinot Noir (Monterey)

ghtly earthy aromas meet with dried red fruit on the simple but pleasing nose of this bottling. The palate shows a dusty red fruit character as well, with a hint of savory mushroom spice. Best Buy. 89 Points — Matt Kettmann

$19 Fine Wine House


Bridges points to Barbera as “another fantastic option, boasting minimal tannin levels and abundant acidity, along with lush fruit flavors.” However, keep in mind it tends to have higher alcohol content, so you might want to cook it a bit longer to burn that off.

Wine Enthusiast suggests:

Guasti Clemente 2019 Barcarato Riserva Barbera (Nizza)

This Barbera leaps out of the glass with intense violet aromas that are supported by grilled cherry, roasted herbs and turned earth notes. The wine balances the heady aromas with dark red berry flavors and brooding earthy notes with a mouthwatering finish. 89 Points — Jeff Porter

$25 Because the Wine

Cabernet Sauvignon

For a hearty braised dish like short ribs, Mann reaches for a richer red, like a medium-acid Cabernet Sauvignon. “It’s fantastic because although it is a more tannic wine, the tannins bind to the meat proteins and mellow out,” she says.

Wine Enthusiast suggests:

Manos Negras 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendoza)

Peppermint and dense red fruit aromas shape the nose. The palate echoes similar notes of herbs mixed with strawberry and hints of bell pepper. It has nice acidity and a medium finish. Pair it with pork ribs and BBQ sauce. Best Buy. 89 Points— Jesica Vargas

$18 Maverick Beverage Co.

Wakefield 2020 Promised Land Cabernet Sauvignon (South Australia)

There’s a soft, plump and spice-filled nose like rum raisin ice cream with a cherry sauce, pencil lead, dried herbs and something more mealy and oak-driven. The palate shows similar succulent fruit-and-oak appeal with nice acidity and savory, chalky tannins. Best Buy. 89 Points — Christina Pickard

$14 Buy Wines Online

Outside-the-Box Options

Exploring unique varietals can also add intriguing notes to your dishes. “Consider Cesanese, Ruché or Freisa for their potential to introduce floral or herbaceous qualities,” suggests Bridges. “Schiava is another light and fruity option with low tannins, and it’s usually possible to find a delightful bottle without spending a fortune.”

It’s all about finding those gems that elevate your cooking without overwhelming it. A pro tip from Bridges: “If you are making a regional dish, take a closer look at wines from the same region.” There’s a saying—what grows together, goes together—and this is certainly true when choosing a wine to make your next recipe shine.