If you need an excuse to crack open a bottle of pinot, read on – here’s how to incorporate more wine on your plate.
Samantha van Egmond

16 Mar 2017 - 9:18 AM  UPDATED 12 Jun 2017 - 12:57 PM

There’s something decidedly romantic about cooking with wine. Evocative of Italian spring pea risotto enjoyed al fresco, or humming a Spanish melodìa over an aromatic stovetop – a technique so synonymous with the Mediterranean is surely worth a try.  

Adding wine to your cooking has the potential to impart mouth-watering flavour and enhance a favourite recipe, or conversely to spoil a delicious dish if poured too generously or at the wrong time. Consider these tips before you start splashing with abandon so that no wine ­– or worse, your dinner – is wasted.

Red or white?

A rule of thumb: use the type of wine you’d serve with the dish. Think a dash of crisp, white pinot grigio with shrimp scampi, or a full-bodied cab sav with slow cooked beef cheeks.  If a recipe simply calls for ‘red’ or ‘white’, reach for a medium-dry to dry (i.e. not sweet) wine – pinot noir for red and pinot grigio for white. Full-bodied red wine means a cabernet sauvignon, while merlot and shiraz fit the bill for a medium-bodied red.

Cooking with wine
Baked leatherjacket with tomatoes and capers

Hardly any leatherjacket makes it onto restaurant menus, and probably even less into most people’s frying pans, but that’s a real shame as it’s top notch.

If the recipe includes a pour of something white and dry, you could go with chardonnay, sauvignon blanc or Riesling. Need something fruity? Grab a bottle of gewürztraminer or viognier. Sparkling means champagne or prosecco. Cinch!

Fortified wine can be a little trickier as it varies widely. Marsala, vermouth, sherry and port can all used with finesse in a range of dishes, however not interchangeably – proceed with caution though and the payoff will be well worth it.

Quality over quantity

An easy guide to follow: if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t use it in your cooking. Simple, non? Cheap wine generally has a high salt content which can ruin a good dish. And avoid at all costs wine labelled ‘cooking wine’. 

That said, there’s no need to spend $50 on a bottle of white to use in your risotto – there are plenty of more affordable options around. If the recipe calls for a cup and the price is right, why not grab two bottles and enjoy a glass while you cook, or with guests over dinner?

Does alcohol burn off during cooking?

Yes, the majority will burn off. On average, after 15 minutes of cooking the alcohol content is still at around 40 per cent, however a slow cooked stew might only have around 5 percent after two hours in the oven.

Red wine classic
Italian pork sausage spaghetti

Let the tomatoey sauce simmer away until thick and rich while you cook the spaghetti. This dish takes weeknight pasta to a new level.

Wine generally contains a lower alcohol percentage than other spirits, and when you consider dividing up a dish into several portions it becomes quite nominal per person. If it’s still a concern, or when cooking for young children, try unsweetened fruit juice or low-salt stock.


  • If a recipe calls for white wine and you don’t want to open an entire bottle, a trick is to use dry vermouth as a substitute. A bottle of dry vermouth will last in the fridge for several months and works a treat for risotto.
  • Balance is key – wine contains acids, sugars and tannins, so to maintain balance in a dish you should first consider ingredients that may clash or overdo any one component. For example, lemon juice and vinegar are both very acidic, so cut back on these to make space for the acid in the wine. 


Lead image Dina Alfasi/ EyeEm via Getty Images.

Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? The Chefs' Line airs weeknights at 6pm. Check out the program page for episode guides, cuisine lowdowns, recipes and more. 

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