Can You Drink Cooking Wine?
Bridget Reed @ 2021-12-16 13:31:20 -0800
Cooking wine is wine intended for, well, cooking. Instead of a drink, it’s used as an ingredient in your dish. However, cooks and professional chefs will all tell you the same thing: if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it.
Unlike regular drinking wine, cooking wine is commercially made with low-quality grapes and includes several added ingredients that just don’t cut it for the connoisseur.
Most chefs will opt to cook with regular wine, citing a much better flavor profile. It’s no different for them than using a better quality balsamic, parmesan cheese, or marinara sauce in their creations. Fresh ingredients make a better quality dish; end of story.
So, can you drink cooking wine? The short answer is yes. You can drink cooking wine just like you can drink salad dressing or vinegar. It’s safe in small amounts, but will you enjoy it? Will you be able to get a glass of it down?
Let’s take a closer look at the differences between cooking wine and regular wine.
What Is Cooking Wine?
You’ll find cooking wine in the grocery store next to other food products like dressings and condiments, but you won’t find it in the wine aisle. Most cooking wine will have “cooking wine” printed right on the label, a telltale sign that this bottle is a food product and not a beverage.
In order for a bottle of wine to be considered a food product, the wine must be deemed undrinkable. While you could technically drink it, it’s not going to taste anything like wine (even the cheapest stuff).
Cooking wine contains ingredients that stabilize it to last a whole year in your pantry. Compare that to an average bottle of red wine, which lasts 2 to 4 days after being opened before it oxidizes.
While cooking wine is an option in a pinch, you’ll get must tastier results from using actual drinkable wine in your recipes.
What’s in Cooking Wine?
Cooking wine is drinking wine that has been loaded with preservatives. It’s also made with little to no regard for the grape's flavor profile. This means if you want to use wine to add flavor to your food, you’re probably going to be disappointed with cooking wine’s results.
Amongst cooking wine’s many preservatives are high levels of sulfites. Sulfites stabilize the wine, but they’re quite controversial in the natural wine community. The natural wine community embraces the philosophy that wine should still be alive when it reaches your lips, so they restrict the levels of sulfites allowed in their wines.
Another preservative that you’ll find in cooking wine is salt—loads and loads of salt. Bacteria can’t thrive in a high-sodium environment, but neither can humans. Too much salt is bad for you and can ruin the delicate balance of your dish.
Most people who oppose cooking wine agree that the salinity overwhelms their food and can even make it taste metallic.
Regular drinking wine has no added salt and much lower levels of preservatives. Most importantly, it’s made with great care, so the flavor profile it offers to your dish is more complex. Meanwhile, cooking wine may not even make an impression at all. The only downside to using regular wine for cooking is that it will only last a few days before it oxidizes.
When wine comes into contact with oxygen, it begins to change, much like apples or bananas sitting on your counter. It loses its signature flavors and takes on the smell and taste of vinegar. If you use oxidized wine in your cooking, you’ll impart this vinegar flavor rather than the wine’s original fruity or earthy qualities.
Thankfully, the solution to preventing wine oxidation is simple—drink it before it sours! Serve a glass of wine with your meal, and you’ll get to cook with your wine and drink it too. You definitely couldn’t do that with cooking wine.
Is Cooking Wine Safe to Drink?
Sure, you can try a taste of cooking wine. But why would you want to?
Technically, cooking wine is safe to drink, but it’s overwhelmingly salty. It also has a higher alcohol content than most wines, clocking in at about 16% ABV.
Most wines are in the 11% to 14% ABV range, so you’ll get drunk faster if you’re drinking cooking wine. This is certainly something to consider when deciding whether cooking wine is safe for you.
Cooking wine isn’t intended to be consumed in large amounts or as often as drinking wine because of its incredibly high salt content. Even though salt is essential to your health in moderation, too much can lead to serious heart problems, including heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke.
How Does Wine Affect Recipes?
The main role of wine is to concentrate the flavors in your dish, but it can also complement or add flavors. For example, Chianti can round out an Italian dish with its tomato or cherry notes, but it can also offer flavors of thyme and oregano.
As wine cooks, the alcohol burns off. What remains is the flavor profile and acidity of the wine. The alcohol also encourages the food to flavor and dissolve fats. The acidity of wine cuts fatty ingredients and helps to keep meat tender and juicy. It also matches other foods high in acid, like tomato sauce.
Wine is also commonly used to deglaze a pan. Wine is added to the hot pan, and all of the residue at the bottom—whether it’s bits of meat, veggies, or juices—is freed and reintegrates into the dish to pack in even more flavor.
How Do I Choose a Cooking Wine?
Cooking with drinking wine doesn’t need to break the bank. When you cook with wine, it will change so many of the nuances in the flavor profile. Make sure your best stuff finds its way to your wine glass, not the pan.
Choose something in the mid to low shelf range, but choose it from the actual wine aisle in the store. We always recommend natural or organic wines because of the lower or no additive levels.
When choosing your wine, think about what qualities you want in your dish. For savory dishes, stick with dry reds and whites. For earthy, rustic dishes, choose earthy or nutty wines, like dry sherry. Sweet wines like Port and Pedro Ximinez make a great addition to sauces for dessert.
Here are some affordable varietals that make a great addition to savory dishes:
-Cabernet Sauvignon. Known for its structure and flavors of dark fruit and bell pepper, Cabernet is grown worldwide and is a go-to for braising ribs.
-Chianti. With its high acidity and classic red fruit and herbal notes, Chianti pairs well with tomato sauce and pasta dishes.
-Shiraz. Bursting with fruit and alcohol, Shiraz pairs best with red meat.
-Sauvignon Blanc. Light, crisp, and ringing with acidity, Sauvignon Blanc adds flavor to white sauces or dishes with heavy cream.
-Albariño. This Spanish grape is a match made in heaven for any seafood dish.
If you’re making dessert, try:
-Port. Portugal’s famous fortified wine brings chocolate, caramel, and toffee to the table.
-Sauternes. Consider incorporating this sweet white wine into your recipe if you're roasting peaches or pears.
-Madeira. This wine from Portugal is extremely versatile and can be used in savory and sweet dishes.
You can drink it, but you probably don’t even want to cook with it.
If you want to make the most out of your meal, buy a bottle of wine you can cook with and enjoy with your dish. Make your meal a culinary experience, and show your guests that you really know what you’re doing.
When it comes to drinking and cooking, choose the good stuff. You deserve it.
Need something to sip on while you’re cooking? Try our Spritz Sampler; it makes the perfect apéritif that everyone can enjoy.