How to get best results cooking with red wine

Last week, we introduced you to integrating wine into your cooking with a focus on using white wine to make sauces and salad dressings. This week, we will look at how to use red wine in the kitchen.

First, we want to reiterate some keys to successfully cooking with wine.

First, don’t cook with wine you would not drink. Like any ingredient, the better the wine is, the better your food will taste. Never consider using “bad wine” to cook with. That would be like using rotten apples to make a pie.

Second, serving the same wine you use as an ingredient is a great way to provide harmony at the table.

For this lesson, we turn to two of Washington’s most wine-centric chefs. Frank Magana owns a catering business in the Yakima Valley and John Sarich has worked for Chateau Ste. Michelle for more than 30 years as ambassador and culinary director.

Magana said that while he often uses white wines to make salad dressings, he typically doesn’t use red wines. Rather, he turns to reds for marinades, sauces and gravies.

For a marinade, Magana will first consider the cut of meat.

For a flank steak, for example, he might use a higher-acid wine such as lemberger, merlot or cabernet sauvignon. He’ll add two tablespoons of fresh herbs such as rosemary. Then he’ll coarsely chop three or four cloves of garlic.

Magana might also add a splash of olive oil, though he points out that since he will be cooking the steak on high heat, he will add just a little oil to avoid flare-ups.

Sarich also suggested adding Italian parsley, Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar or sea salt to a marinade.

The length to marinade depends on the cut of meat, both chefs said.

“I will marinade for a half-hour or so,” Sarich said. “Because of the high quality of cuts these days, you don’t need to use marinades to tenderize anymore.”

Sarich said the choice of wine depends on the meat you’ll be using.

For example, because of the higher protein content of beef, he will look for a richer, deeper, more structured wine such as cabernet sauvignon or merlot.

Magana’s favorite cuts for marinades are flank, hanger and flatiron steaks.

“We’ll most likely be pairing them with a cab or syrah,” he said.

Marinating any of them for up to four hours will add ample flavor, Magana said.

To mix things up a bit, one client asked him to use Syrah as a sauce for salmon.

“It worked pretty well,” he said. “And it added a bit of color to the dish.”

For a sauce, Magana likes to make a beurre rouge, which is a butter sauce using red wine.

“I could teach you how to make it in 30 seconds,” he said with a laugh.

He will pan sear a steak using butter, then add finely chopped onions and mushrooms with red wine and perhaps a bit of stock. He will deglaze the pan with the wine, then reduce the mixture to thicken. It is poured over the steak and served with the same wine.

Magana also will make soups and gravies with red wines. He will roast bones in the oven, then cook them on the stovetop with red wine. He’ll reduce the mixture as a base for gravy or beef soup.

Magana emphasized that he will not cook with a wine he won’t drink.

“If it’s past its prime, it’s past its prime,” he said.

Typically, he will use a young wine, though a mature wine can add a bit more elegance and complexity to a reduction sauce.

Adding wine as an ingredient to your cooking can be a fun and simple way to add elegance to your next meal.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are longtime wine journalists. For more information, go to

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