Merlot is my favorite red cooking wine. The fruity nose and the soft, oaky tannins tend to be lovely. The wine imparts a soft sweetness without the astringent qualities of tannins.
I’ve tried using cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, syraz, chianti, malbec, and just regular table wine. Here’s a breakdown based on my experience and palatte of the different red wines as far a cooking goes:
- Cabernet Sauvignon: Little sweetness, sometimes oakiness and tannins are overwhelming after the wine is reduced. Color is rich berry to ruby.
- Zinfandel: Very fruity, fruitiness is enhanced as the wine is cooked down. Color is a dark berry stain. Tannins can be too powerful, cook with a well aged Zin
- Syraz: Very powerful. Staining dirty purple color. Strong tannins can be a little tar like after cooking. Best used with lots of garlic, good with lamb.
- Chianti: Lighter flavor. Complex bouquet of aromatics, not particularly fruity. Excellent when reduced. Ideal for lighter dishes and sauces, or any Italian cooking.
- Malbec: Subtle fruitiness, subtle tannins that are usually balanced after cooking down. Color stains red, but only moderately.
- Table Wine: Results vary greatly according to table wine.
The #1 rule of thumb with cooking wine is you need to like it to cook with it. If you happen to not finish a bottle, your food will be happy to help you. Once opened, a bottle of red wine will stay good enough to cook with for a week or two. It can be helpful to refrigerate.