Wine is complex stuff. Its shelf life can depend on several factors, including its vintage, how it was produced, and how it has been stored. As you are probably aware, it can last many years beyond its "best by" date.
Some people even buy wine as an investment, but you have to know what you're doing. If you store it incorrectly, its flavor can deteriorate, and wine you invested thousands of dollars and can quickly go bad.
But here in this article, we are not concerned with quality wine as an investment, but its poorer relative - cooking wine.
When talking about cooking wine rather than the wine you can cook with, we're talking about a salty preservative laced high alcohol liquid that can remain safe to use for up to 16 months, depending on the brand or type of wine both.
When using drinking wine for cooking, the rule of thumb is that if you enjoyed drinking it, providing it's been kept well, it's okay to use the cooking.
You'll enjoy the taste just as much in the dish you're making as when you pour it from the bottle for drinking. But don't forget that once opened, the wine will deteriorate quite rapidly.
What you need to know about cooking wine
If it had a lower alcohol level, it would just burn off that much quicker and not impart the taste you're looking for.
Equally, any recipe that you simmer for a long time could result in its tasting of burnt wine rather than having the delicate wine background flavor you're hoping to achieve.
Here are some things of which you should be aware:
- Salt and various preservatives you won't find in ordinary drinking wine are added to cooking wine.
- Preservatives are added to increase a cooking wine's shelf life.
- The added salt also enhances the flavor of the recipe you're preparing. It's something you need to bear in mind; otherwise, your dish could taste too salty.
- The cooking wines you can buy in your local store or supermarket will be red or white, although the majority tend to be red.
How long does cooking wine last?
Given time, cooking wine will turn bad, even if it is stored un-open.
A bottle of cooking wine tends to have an expiry date of around 12 months; although left unopened, it can still be okay to use some time after.
I have heard of some unopened bottles being okay after three or even five years. However, it's not really worth risking it.
Always take notes and follow the recommended storage temperature.
The different types of cooking wines
You can buy cooking wines in six different varieties.
- Sweet white wine
- Oxidized sweet/ nutty white wine
- Sweet, fortified red wine ( e.g., Port)
- Dry white and red wines
- Oxidized wines/ dry, nutty wine
- Rice wine
The majority of people here in the US tend to use "Sherry Cooking Wine" or Red Cooking Wine, and sometimes, White Cooking Wine.
One of the favorites is Holland House Red Cooking Wine, whose ingredients include salt, wine, and the preservatives potassium metabisulphite and potassium sorbate.
Above, I mentioned Port as a fortified wine. Other types include Madeira, Marsala, and Sherry. These types of fortified wines do not contain either added salt or preservatives.
Another type of wine for cooking that is gaining in popularity is Vermouth.
The advantage of using Vermouth is that you can screw the top back on the bottle and keep it in your fridge for a long time without it degrading.
As with other wines, Vermouth is made from grapes, and in common with different wine varieties, it will begin to go off when you open the bottle.
However, resealing the bottle and refrigerating it will keep it safe for many days and even weeks.
Choosing the right cooking wine
The big difference between cooking wines as opposed to regular drinking wines is their quality.
The fact is that drinking wine, as long as it is of reasonable quality, will give you a much better result than cooking wine.
But whether we are talking about wines including Marsala, rice wine, Sauternes, or Sherry, I am writing this article to help you identify the right type of wine for the right dish.
1 Dry drinking red and white wines
Whether red or white, dry wines are best for use with dishes like beef stews or casseroles, cream soups, clams, mussels, and wine-based sauces.
The rule of thumb is that white wines tend to go with fish dishes, while red tends to work better with red meat dishes.
- You can use dry reds to make a wine reduction sauce or a Beurre Rouge or Bourguignonne sauce.
- Dry whites work brilliantly in soups or white wine cream sauce and are great pan deglazers.
A quick word on oxidized wines, which we are about to discuss.
In the instances below, we are talking about wines that have been deliberately oxidized for flavor enhancement.
2 Oxidized / dry, nutty wines
These wines make fantastic mushroom gravy for pouring on chicken, pork chops, or rich fish such as halibut or shrimp.
When oxidized, various dry, nutty wines develop a unique flavor that will enhance the taste signature of any dish.
Take Rainwater Madeira (this is a type of wine, not something you collected in your garden); it is much lighter and drier than other Madeiras, and there's no way you could use it as a substitute in a recipe calling for Marsala.
The majority of these wines have a higher ABV content which imparts a richer flavor to any recipe than using a dry wine.
These types of fortified wines can be kept, after opening, for between 2 and 6 years if stored properly - plenty of time in which to use up for both cooking or drinking.
3 Sweet nutty / oxidized wines
These wines are perfect for making syrups to accompany nutty desserts - or caramel or vanilla ice cream.
They are usually aged for at least 10-years. The longer, the better.
Some, aged for 40-years, are unbelievably viscous. Once opened and refrigerated, that can last for a least one month. They include:
4 Sweet fortified red wines
This type of wine includes the likes of late-bottled Vintage Port, Red Port, Ruby Port, and Vintage Port.
They are ideal for making chocolate sauce, chocolate cakes, and reduced delicious Port syrup to serve with blue cheese or steaks.
The great thing about Ruby Port is that it is so easily affordable. You can even keep it for up to 4 to 6 weeks after opening, so there is no reason not to keep a bottle around for whenever you need it.
It makes an excellent sauce for brownies, not to mention cakes and steaks (hey - that rhymes).
5 Sweet white wines
Sweet whites, some of which are referred to as dessert wines, are just right for poaching pears.
They are also great for making sweet, sticky sauces for puddings and butter sauces for white fish, lobster, and shrimp, with a hint of sweetness.
These types of wines tend to be somewhat sensitive towards oxygen and light, so once you've opened a bottle, it's best to drink any leftovers reasonably quickly.
These wines include:
6 Rice wine
Although you might occasionally come across a bottle from Korea or Taiwan, rice wines come mainly from China or Japan.
They are ideal for use in marinades, in Asian-style BBQ sauces, or for making glazes.
Technically speaking, Chinese or Taiwanese rice wines are not wine as they have been distilled and have an ABV of 35%.
They are great for adding to stir-fries to give them a little kick of acidity.
Japanese rice wine is called Mirin and is used often served as an aperitif.
Typically, it is quite salty-sweet and has an ABV of between 8% and 12%. It is ideal both in Asian BBQ sauce or as a glaze.
Tips on choosing Dry vs Sweet
If you're cooking a savory dish recipe, you need to use a dry wine. When you're reading wine labels, please don't get confused when you see it described as fruity.
This description doesn't mean that the wine is sweet but that it has a concentrated fruit flavor.
- If you're looking for a dry white, I like using Chardonnay.
- If you want a dry red, I suggest Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Pinot Noir. If price is a problem, you might find Pinot Noir a little less palatable at around $20 plus a bottle.
- For sweeter wines, I suggest using a Riesling, Muscat, or Semillon. If you want something more heavily sweet, then try late harvest or ice wine.
- If you need a sweet red, you might want to choose Port, or for something a little different, you could try Lambrusco, which is a sparkling sweet Italian wine.
Why cooking wine? - Won't regular wine do just as well?
Yes, of course, you can use regular wine rather than cooking wine. The choice is yours. But bear in mind that these two types of wine are made for very different purposes.
If you got a particular drinking wine that you want to use because you enjoy the flavor, then fine, go ahead, but don't be surprised if the flavor doesn't work out quite how you intended.
Cooking wines have been made to impart a salty earthiness, which works well with many recipes.
Another advantage is they don't suffer from bottle shock in the same way that regular drinking wines can.
The general idea is that drinking wine should be used for drinking and cooking wine for cooking. It's not exactly earth-shattering news.
A connoisseur would probably turn in his or her grave if you suggested using cooking wine in a recipe.
Of course, he or she would probably roll over like Beethoven if you were to suggest drinking cooking wine.
It has a couple of added ingredients that would not delight the palate. It could even aggravate a wine allergy, so best not to.
How does cooking wine vary from regular wine?
Cooking wine is not meant to be drunk as regular wine is. It's just not very palatable. However, in the same way, a fine-drinking wine has its subtle characteristics, so too does a cooking wine.
But, if you wouldn't drink it, why would you cook with it?
It's not drinkable. It's full of preservatives, salt, and sweeteners, which can adversely affect the flavor of anything you add.
The first clue that cooking wines are not supposed to be drunk is that you'll find them on the shelves next to salad dressings and vinegar in your supermarket or local store.
Do yourself a favor and head to the wine section instead.
It all boils down to the fact that not only does cooking wine taste gross, but with all those additives and preservatives, do you want to put that into your body?
I know I don't. So I applauded the founder and wine director of Somm Time Wine Bar in New York City, Maria Rust, when she said that it was worth spending the extra money to buy and use a wine representing the dish you're making.
Why ruin a lovely recipe when you don't have to? Instead, visit your local liquor store and buy something appropriate.
The best stuff with which to cook
You might or might not be a "Gadia in the kitchen," but you ought to know that using wine as a cooking ingredient can take your dishes to the next level.
So, bearing this in mind, don't be afraid to be a little experimental. Try a few different wines and see what works and what doesn't according to your palate.
You might come up with something new, and if you do, I'd love to hear about it.
No wine, no problem. If you're preparing a dish to which you intended to add wine, and you suddenly find you don't have any available, it's not the end of the world.
There are other options.
If the recipe you're following calls for white wine, you can instead substitute something like chicken or vegetable stock or light fruit juice such as apple, lemon, or lime juice.
If you need red wine for your recipe, you can try swapping for a beef broth or using red grape or cranberry juice instead.
Here are some other tips on wines and their uses:
This wine has a lovely intense flavor and goes well with any red meat. You can use it if you're braising some ribs or knocking up a sauce for lamb, steak, or venison. This robust red wine will take any red meat dish up a notch or two.
Good old Hannibal Lecter and his fava beans. Instead of tucking into your neighbor, this red wine works well with any marinade or tomato sauce or a classic Italian recipe like Risotto Al Chianti.
Oaked Chardonnay can be a little heavy and bitter when cooked, whereas the unoaked version brings a nice acidity and enriches the flavor of pasta sauces and gravies.
Vermouth has a lovely fragrance about it and can be swapped out for any recipe that calls up the white wine. It's best usually to use a little less than the recipe calls for when substituting Vermouth. The dry stuff is great for sauteed chicken and fish.
This is great for creating delicious reduced dessert dishes for drizzling on top of cakes, ice cream, and various puddings.
You may already be familiar with this fortified wine from Sicily. If not, it's about time you were. It has a superb rich nutty flavor, and it works brilliantly with mushroom dishes and even Chicken Masala.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, a splash of Merlot brings a sweet spot to many dishes where using a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Pinot Noir doesn't quite cut the mustard.
This lovely light, crisp Italian white wine works superbly well with many dishes, particularly when you want to add a little boost to seafood broths, lovely buttered veggie sautees, and certain pasta recipes.
This red wine works with various dishes, from pork chops to roast salmon. Lighter Pinots work well with chicken, while the more full-bodied variants work better with heavier meats.
This white German wine comes in two varieties. Many people know the sweet variant but are unaware of its dry cousin, and it's this that works well with creamy chicken recipes and other seafood dishes.
A delicious dry white that works well with light, creamy sauces accompanying seafood dishes (especially whitefish) because of its crisp, zesty, acidic characteristics.
Because of its hit-you-in-the-mouth jamminess, this lovely red wine is perfect for heavy stews and rich tomato sauces - indeed, any recipes calling for a dry red.
Drinking cooking wine
When push comes to shove, you can drink cooking wine if you really want to. It is, after all, a type of wine.
However, I ought to warn you; it's probably not something you're going to enjoy.
Not only is the taste not good, but given the extra alcohol content, it also has more calories.
My recommendation is you should avoid drinking it. It has high sodium levels, and if your diet is already somewhat high in salt, this will only increase the problem and aggravate or lead to heart disease.
Something else you ought to bear in mind is that you need to keep it out of the reach of minors, especially given its higher ABV content.
The alcohol content of cooking wine
As mentioned on several occasions earlier, cooking wine has a higher alcohol content than drinking wine.
On average at around 16%. It's as high as this because most of the alcohol is burned off during cooking.
Like drinking wine, cooking wine is subject to oxidization, so if you got any leftovers, remember to seal the bottle tightly and refrigerate, unless, of course, you don't mind cooking with stale wine next time around.
Decanting it won't help either, so leave that crystal decanter where it is.
Some white cooking wines have a lower ABV than others, so it pays to read the label.
Don't forget that the alcohol level has a significant effect on the result of any recipe in which you're using the wine.
It is possible to freeze cooking wine if you want to extend its shelf life.
Just as with any other foodstuff, it's important to check the expiry date on any bottle of cooking sauce you have before using it.
Remember that it's not like ordinary drinking wine, which, stored in the right circumstances, can last for many years. Cooking wine does not age in the same way. It will turn into vinegar.
Will cooking wine go off after it's opened?
Yes, it will. An opened bottle of cooking wine can remain okay to use for a little over one year, providing it is sealed and refrigerated once it has been opened.
Remember that you can freeze it to make it last longer as long as it is not already past its expiry date.
Should cooking wine be refrigerated once it's been opened?
Even though cooking wine has had preservatives added to it to extend its shelf life, the best thing to do once opened is to reseal the bottle and store it in your fridge.
If I cook with old cooking wine, will it make me sick?
The alcohol that is contained in cooking wine acts as a preservative. But even so, the wine will eventually turn to vinegar.
You can still drink or cook with it, but would you want to?
Can wine be frozen for and be used for cooking at a later date?
Yes, it is possible to freeze wine - both red or white, and it is a good way of using leftover wine rather than throwing it away.
However, I wouldn't recommend you try and drink thawed frozen wine, but it is okay to cook with, although, of course, there's no need to thaw it if you're using it in cooking. Instead, use it straight from frozen.
What is Holland House cooking wine like to use?
Holland House cooking wine is okay to use for cooking. I've used it myself when experimenting and found that it was alright for making chicken masala.
However, these days, I prefer cooking with leftover drinking wine.
How to tell if a wine has turned bad?
There are several ways that you can tell if a wine has turned bad:
- It will have an unpleasant sharp vinegary smell.
- When red wine turns, it can take on a sweet flavor.
- If the cork has been pushed up in an open bottle, the wine inside could have turned.
- Off wine can take on a brownish tinge.
- If it tastes fizzy, and it's not a sparkling wine, it is going off.
How long can you keep rice wine?
You can keep an unopened bottle of rice wine in your pantry for up to 6 years. After that, it will likely still be safe to drink or cook with, although the quality will have deteriorated.
Once opened, a bottle of rice wine will go off quite quickly, so to enjoy it at its best quality, I recommend using it the same day.