So, you want to infuse your food with flavors of the past? Everything you need to know about cooking with old wine.
Recipes have step-by-step instructions and measurements, and celebrity chefs show you the ropes in their shows. And yet, in the heat of cooking, unanswered questions can, and often do, come up.
In “You Asked,” we answer these questions for you. Tell us your name, city, state, and question at email@example.com
Jenny from Leonia, NJ, asked, “I have a bottle of old wine in my fridge. It’s getting sour and I know it’s not the best, but I don’t want to throw it away. Can I use it for cooking?”
A good question, and probably the most common question that cooks have to ask when it comes to leftover wine. The answer is “yes,” you can use old wine for cooking, but there are a few things to consider before doing so.
Let’s first define what we mean by “old wine.” When I speak of “old wine,” I mean leftover wine that’s sat out for a few days and gone sour. As we’ll see in a moment, it’s basically homemade vinegar.
Since leftover wine that’s going—or has already gone—sour won’t be the most balanced or best tasting vinegar you’ve cooked with, it’s a good idea to use it for forgiving recipes that tolerate sharp flavors and a lot of acidity.
What to Cook With Old Wine
Have you ever thrown away a bottle of old wine? Wine goes sour, but that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate it into delicious recipes that will make your kitchen smell like that family-owned Italian restaurant in the heart of Little Italy.
Make Pan Sauce
You can use up old wine by making pan sauce right after you’re done searing thick-cut steaks or pork chops in your skillet.
Pour a few generous glugs of wine into the pan, throw in some aromatics like peeled cloves of garlic, a sprig or two of thyme, ½ teaspoon of sea salt, and 1 teaspoon of honey (or sugar), then bring to a simmer and reduce, stirring frequently, until saucy and viscous.
Chefs call this technique “deglazing,” and it allows you to loosen the dark-brown, burnt-on bits and pieces of meat that stick to the bottom of the skillet and turn them into the most delicious sauce that you pour over them when you serve them.
Braise Some Beef
Take that cheap cut of beef out of the fridge, pour vegetable oil in that Dutch oven with a heavy hand, and crank the heat all the way up to medium-high because you, my friend, are about to get braising!
It can be said that braising is the most forgiving of all cooking methods. Not only is it better suited to cheaper and tougher cuts of meat—the long and slow cooking process breaks down the collagen in the beef and makes it fork-tender—but it also tolerates the high acidity of leftover wine.
The technique is always the same: Go to the butcher shop and get yourself some chunk, shank, or brisket. Cut the slab of meat up into thick cubes that you and the rest of the folks on the table can easily cut into with a knife and fork. Salt generously and sear in a Dutch oven, lid off, over medium-high heat until golden brown.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add aromatics (a sprig of thyme, oregano, maybe rosemary), a few coarsely sliced vegetables (sweet, carbohydrate-rich vegetables like carrots, onions, and potatoes work best), and drown the whole thing in wine. Cover with the lid and let cook for a few hours until you’ve tenderized the meat.
(Instead of cooking the braise over medium-low heat on the stove, you can transfer it in a preheated 300°F oven with the lid closed.)
Marinade Meat With It
Make a marinade of wine, cooking oil, salt, spices and some herbs. My favorite marinades are A) white wine, olive oil, kosher salt and white pepper for chicken or pork; and B) red wine, olive oil, sea salt, black pepper and thyme for beef, pork, or lamb.
If you want to use a lean, tender cut of meat, such as chicken, choose a white wine. A heavy red sauce can drown out the flavor of the meat and make it tough and chewy. If you are using a more flavorful cut of meat, such as hearty beef or fatty pork, you will need ½ to 1 cup of red wine in your marinade.
Since old wine is acidic—and acidic marinades shouldn’t be left on the meat too long or they will make it mushy—marinate the meat for 2-3 hours depending on the thickness and fat content of the cut.
How Long Does Opened Wine Last?
How long is an opened bottle of wine good for before it turns all sour and basically becomes vinegar? Well, the long and the short of it is that it depends on the type of wine you bought and how it was packaged.
According to Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly, an opened bottle of sparkling wine will keep for 1-3 days, white and rosé wine for 3-7 days, and red wine for 3-5 days, provided it has been kept in a cool, dark place—such as a cupboard or pantry—and sealed with a cork or wine stopper.
Boxed wine, Puckette adds, must be kept in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to 28 days after opening.
This is telling you three things:
First, if you need wine for cooking and want it to last a very long time, buy boxed wine.
Second, if you have leftover wine in a bottle, do use it up within a week, whether you plan to drink it or cook with it. It’s not that you can’t cook with it after that, but its taste will be sour and frankly overwhelming.
Third, an opened bottle of wine will keep longer if it is sealed and stored in a cool and dark place, such as your cabinets, pantry, or root cellar, than if it is unsealed and stored in a warm and sunny place, such as a windowsill.
Why Wine Spoils
Once a bottle of wine is opened, it slowly but surely begins to spoil. The two culprits for this spoilage are oxygen and acetobacter bacteria.
You see, when you open a wine bottle, you expose it to air, and the air we breathe is made out of 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. The oxygen molecules react with some of the compounds in the wine, which in turn oxidizes the wine and alters its taste.
Meanwhile, a breed of bacteria called acetobacter, found in the air, in fruits and vegetables, and pretty much everywhere around us, begin to feed on the alcohol in the wine (called ethanol) with the help of oxygen, and fart out vinegar (called acetic acid) as a byproduct of their feast.
You don’t get sick by tasting spoiled wine, that’s for sure. But I wouldn’t say it’s a good idea to drink it, either. At a certain point in time, a bottle of old wine starts to smell and taste like cheap vinegar.
A better way to use it up and avoid food waste is to cook with it.