Substitutes for Wine in Cooking

By Nick Marshall

Wine is a special ingredient that adds dynamic flavor to many recipes. But if you don't have it on hand, or you prefer not to cook with alcohol, no problem. Here are some ideas for how to sub in another ingredient.

Substitutes for Wine in Cooking
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Substitutes for Wine in Cooking

The Role of Wine in Cooking

Wine can infuse fresh, fruity aromas into a recipe, but that's not all. The acid in wine can tenderize poultry and sinewy steaks like flank. The acidity also helps cut through sauces that are heavy in fat—an essential function in thick, heavy stews such as boeuf bourguignon. Wine is vital in deglazing a pan, breaking loose the herb and fat crust to build a sauce. Because of its alcohol content, wine is also great for poaching fruits like pears and apples; when caramelization is important, however, fortified wines or spirits perform the task better.

Red Wine Alternatives

Without a robust Burgundy wine, boeuf bourguignon becomes a generic beef stew, and coq au vin also sacrifices much of its distinctive character. Nevertheless, versions of these dishes can still be enjoyed without wine. Both balsamic and red wine vinegar come from grapes that have been allowed to ferment to the point at which the acidity takes over and the flavor is soured. Small doses of either will deglaze a pan, and the more exclusive brands contribute their own set of complex aromas.

To evoke red wine's fruity notes, cranberry, pomegranate or red grape juice can all perform when added to beef or chicken stock. It is important, though, to source natural juice rather than fruit drinks, which have overwhelming amounts of sugar and very little depth.

White Wine Alternatives

If you're making risotto or bouillabaisse, don't despair if you don't have white wine on hand. In risotto, the wine reduces so much during the early stages of cooking that using extra vegetable or chicken stock instead wouldn't make a huge difference. For seafood dishes that are traditionally steamed in white wine, clam juice has the requisite sourness that white wine brings.

Otherwise, white grape juice, natural apple juice, lemon juice and white wine vinegar can all substitute for white wine. Arguably, the closest match comes in the form of verjus, the elusive juice of unripe grapes, which has a tart, fresh taste but is subtler than vinegar. Use verjus in marinades, dressings and sauces.

Sparkling and Sweet Wines

Even Champagne has its own vinegar counterpart: champagne vinegar. It can stand in for wine in shellfish or poultry dishes that normally use a dash of bubbly. Otherwise, a splash of ginger ale and some soda water added to a stock recreates the sparkle and sweetness.