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Pleas from a non-wine drinker

  • m

ok, we don't drink wine. So, when a recipe says 1 cup of dry red for the stew or a cup of white for that shell fish or mushroom soup etc...can I substitute? Is the final product relegated to mediocre if I don't use wine? I don't mind putting the wine in but I don't know what wine to buy and I am usually an impromtu cook so I like to have what I need in my pantry. Is there a wine that I can keep in my pantry to use for these recipes? Sounds dumb but I feel like I'm missin something here. The conventional wisdom is to use wine that you'll be willing to drink...what do non drinkers do? Throw me some ideas here! Thanks!


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  1. You can't keep a bottle of open wine sittting around indefinitely, it will go bad. But I always keep a bottle each of Regina brand cooking wines and sherries for emergencies, they don't taste half bad. Definitely better than nothing at all!

    2 Replies
    1. re: coll

      Oh yes they are. Nasty stuff and salty.

      1. re: Candy

        That's why I said Regina brand, all the others ARE pretty bad.

    2. You can keep a bottle of vermouth open for a long time without problems, it is inexpensive, and extra dry white vermouth is a good substitute for white wine.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Coyote

        Use Noilly Pratt, not Italian vermouth, btw....

      2. stay far away from "cooking wines". You can get inexpensive wines "in the bag"ie franzia etc very cheap and will hold well.

        Or grab a small single portion wine or 6 when you go to the store-comes in a small screw top bottle; vendage is found everywhere in my area. I'm not talking a fortified wino wine like t-bird etc...

        Then again, if your cooking with the wine, why not try a glass of the same along with your meal(unless health/diet/religious restricitons do not permit).

        5 Replies
        1. re: dano

          The single-serving bottles are a great idea. They usually sell them in four packs. The wine will be mildly better than cooking wine and you don't have to worry about the bottle turning after you open it.(In case you don't know, a bottle will only stay good for a couple of days after you open it.)

          1. re: nc213

            Sure, wine will only keep a few days for DRINKING, but I often keep a stoppered (vac-u-vin) bottle out on the counter for weeks to use for cooking wine. Seems fine, and hasn't killed anyone yet. I think the rule about cooking with something you would drink refers to something you wouldn't spit out, not something you would particularly enjoy drinking.

            1. re: danna

              might be surprised how long stor-n-pours full of vino sit on the line at some restaurants....

              1. re: dano

                yeah, I've been served glasses of stuff that tasted like it would be more suited to being used in poaching liquid .

          2. re: dano

            i drink plenty of wine, so it's generally not a problem. i do, however, keep a 4-pack of each (red & white) of those single serve bottles for emergencies (like when i get on a tequila kick and let my wine stock dwindle). they're adequate to the task, and keep well if unopened. biggest problem is variety. flavor concentrates when the liquid is reduced, so fruity wines can become too jammy/sweet. i usually keep a cab & a chardonney in the single servings.

          3. Buy a full bottle of each white and red wine - moderately priced ok wine (ask a friend to recommend something). Divide both bottles into 1-cup containers and freeze them. You'll have decent wine to use in cooking whenever you need it.

            1. Vermouth is a good substitute, but not if the recipe calls for a lot of wine. No more than a cup, I would think. You can also add more broth and then add a little wine vinegar at the end.

              1. I don't drink wine either, or any other alcohol for that matter, but I always have it around for cooking purposes and for guests. It seems the hospitable thing to do.

                I usually have a few bottles lying around from guests bringing bottles over, but when I am forced to go out and buy myself, I just go to the wine store, explain the situation to the nice proprietor, and he/she picks out a few reasonably priced bottles for me. Pretty simple.

                Whether you drink or not, it's always good to scope out a decent wine store nearby for those social situations where you need it.

                1. You can also freeze in ice cube trays and put into plastic bags that seal well to pull out a few chunks when you need it. I'm not a wine drinker either but my husband is. Be aware that it doesn't freeze as solid as water, but solid enough to hold the shape. I like the ice cube method because I can be very specific about the amount I need.

                  I also go the vermouth route (great in risotto).

                  Because my husband drinks wine and doesn't typically finish a whole bottle, I'll often freeze that. If you have any super close friends that are drinkers, maybe you could ask for their dregs?

                  Also, if you are interested in alternatives, there are several cookbooks out there specifically for those that never drink that give substitutions. Unless there is a religious or addictive reason, I would not recommend substitutions - wine adds a great depth and layering in the process, in my opinion.

                  1. Thanks, everyone, for reponding! I was hoping you guys might say "don't worry about the wine, it'll all taste good"...but no, I've confirmed what I've suspected! The wine is necessary to add interest to the dishes. So, I'll run off and get a couple of bottles of decent wines and freeze the leftovers. Maybe I'll get one six pack to try out too. The vermouth will come in handy, I think...so it's on the shopping list. The only question now is what to do with the two cases of Trader Joe wines (not the $2 ones) that I bought on the advice of someone on this board about a year ago. It's been sitting in my garage...very warm garage..I am afraid to even open a bottle to see what the liquid has turned to! Should I just throw them all away??


                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Margret

                      If the wine has been sitting in a hot garage for a couple months, it's probably no good by now. But it would be a shame to throw it all away without at least trying it.

                      Trader Joe's sells a white wine that would make a good bottle to have on hand for cooking: La Boca Chardonnay. It's cheap ($4 I believe) and has great acidity and little oak. I think it may even be screwtop but I'm not 100% sure. I can't think of a red to recommend at TJ, but the Rhone that Melanie recommended on the General Topics boards sounds like a great option. I personally dislike the Charles Shaw wines so much that I wouldn't use them for cooking. I also agree on not using "cooking wine." In any case, keep any opened bottles (red or white) in the fridge with a vacuum stopper or just tightly recorked. They'll be usable for cooking for many weeks.

                      Adding wine to a dish adds acidity, fruit flavor, and alcohol without adding sugar (assuming you're using dry wine as most recipes call for). The alcohol itself is often important because some flavor chemicals are alcohol soluble, so adding alcohol will heighted or bring out flavors that may not otherwise be there. For example, a bit of alcohol (even a flavorless vodka) does wonders for tomato sauce. You could probably try to duplicate the impact of wine by experimenting with some combination of ingredients (vodka and fruit juice or vinegar), but it would probably be a lot of work, probably cost more than a $4 bottle of wine, and you'd have to be careful about adding too much sugar or acid.


                      1. re: nja

                        Thanks! Good insight and informative...and what I need. Thanks.

                      2. re: Margret
                        Hungry Celeste

                        Depends on how hot that garage really is...if it has all turned to vinegar, use it as such. It would probably make nice salad dressing....or get a vinegar mother and pour it all into one big crock. Save the bottles and you can make homemade herb vinegar as a Christmas present for all of your friends. A long sprig of rosemary stuck inside the bottles gives a lovely flavor and looks nice, too.

                      3. I'm also a non-drinker, but I like to cook with wine occasionally. What I do is to buy little 4-pack bottles of red and white wine. They are little single-serve bottles. Nice to cook with and don't have to worry about all the leftovers.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Michelle

                          This is what I do for my fifth-wheel recreational vehicle, where storage is at a premium. I buy the little bottles and just use as needed. And with the screw caps, it's easy to store any leftover wine in the 'fridge. And I couldn't be without sherry. Can you imagine stroganoff without a splash of sherry??

                        2. I didn't read all of the replies, so I may be repeating what someone else already suggested.

                          First, you did not indicate whether you drink alcoholic beverages or not. I don't drink wine either, but I drink Irish whiskey and beer. The movie, Sideways, was such a spoof of winos (people who like to describe their palatal sense of wines) that I had to laugh hearing about movie viewers who just had to follow the movie's wine trail in CA. (I can't let my wife read this because her Italian genes demand wine at dinner.)

                          If you do imbibe other alcoholic beverages, beer is a good beverage for making beef stew, and of course, CHILI. I use beer in my chili. Tequila is another spirit that can be used for cooking. We keep white vermouth in the house for cooking purposes. I use Paul Masson Madeira for risotto.

                          If you are teetotalers, and do not wish to use alcoholic beverages, I am unable to suggest anything but water or vegetable stock as a cooking liquid.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ChiliDude

                            I am not oppose to drinking wine or even other alcoholic beverages. It's just that we don't serve them to ourselves and don't seek them out. I think it's more that I feel very ignorant about wines and alcohol in general that I'm not sure how , for example, I can tell a wine is "dry" vs "fruity" etc. For cooking, I'd like to keep it simple and not have to take courses in wine attributes and how to appreciate their nuances. Great for someone who drinks but, really, it would all be lost on me. So, you guys have been great and I'll try to conquer my fears of making really bitter mushroom soups by adding the wrong kind of wine..or too much...and experiment! By the way, I love beer and garlic steamed prawns. Margret

                          2. hi Margret -

                            I don't drink any wine or alcohol, so I never have any on hand for sauces or additions to dishes. While I know it imparts a distinct flavor layer, that doesn't mean without it you will have less-than-stellar results.

                            For example, simple pan sauces often call for wine, which I never have on hand. When I have that situation, I try to substitute a very good flavored liquid (stock for instance), bolstered with a bit of acid (like lemon or vinegar). It replicates - to a degree - the acid balance of the wine. Obviously, stock and lemon don't taste like wine. But they do make a dang good sauce. It isn't a wine-based sauce anymore, but it sure is good.

                            In these kinds of substitutions, I try and pay special attention to my other ingredients, since I won't have the wine as an added flavor element. For example, I use my own stock, which I've reduced to accentuate the flavor. Maybe I'll make sure I add some fresh herbs or shallots or extra butter... whatever, to make sure the final result is balanced in all ways.

                            I guess the point is, unless you are cooking something like coq au vin, you can get away without using any wine. While the final product may be different, it doesn't mean it isn't as good.

                            Play around and good luck.

                            - Adam

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: adamclyde

                              Adam, your input is very encouraging since I think I am a pretty good cook.... but like you, I never have wine on hand and just wanted to know what I might be missing. I think I'm still going to fiddle a little with wine based on advices others have given me here. Who knows...!! Your input, however, does validate the fact that my cooking can be stellar but just different. ;0) Margret