The Best Port Wine Substitute for Cooking (The Ultimate Guide)

img of cooking substitute for port wine

We love to cook with wine; it works well with so many dishes!

Whether we use it as a cooking liquid, flavoring as a marinade, or even in desserts, wine is so versatile and has numerous purposes in the culinary world. (*)

One famous wine we use for cooking is port wine, which can intensify a dish’s flavor and aroma.

But there’s one downside – Not every cook can use port wine, or they may not have it on hand!

If you’re one of those cooks, you most likely have access to alternatives to provide the features port wine offers.

Read on to discover the best port wine substitute for your dishes!

What’s The Difference Between Tawny and Ruby Port Wine?

You may have come across Tawny Port and Ruby Port wine. These are two kinds of Port wine with a few differences in their flavor, color, and the aging process.

We also call Ruby Port “Red Port,” while Tawny Port is otherwise known as “White Port.” As their names suggest, Ruby Port has a deep red color, while Tawny is light pale orange.

Furthermore, Ruby Port is a young wine aged in huge oak barrels for years, having a sweeter and fruity flavor. We use Ruby port for beef dishes, stews, or drinks alongside cheese boards.

Tawny Port is aged for even longer in smaller oak barrels. As a result, this wine has a nuttier and oaky caramel flavor. We would use this wine in poultry or seafood dishes.

Is Port Wine A Fortified Wine?

Yes, port wine is a kind of fortified wine originating from Portugal. The name derives from Porto, a coastal city, while Douro Valley produces authentic port wines. There are many styles of Port wine, two of which are Ruby and Tawny port wine. (*)

What makes port wine special is how manufacturers use a one-of-a-kind blend of Portuguese grapes, giving the wine a unique flavor!

We commonly use this as a dessert wine and drink it with various dishes and baked goods, particularly cheesecakes, pies, chocolate truffles, and soft cheeses. However, there are many uses to this wine, and we use it on dishes like:

  • Port wine marinade or sauce
  • Chocolate cake and brownies
  • French onion soup
  • Cocktails
  • Pasta

So, How To Choose The Best Port Wine SubstitutE

Here are a few tips to consider when selecting a proper cooking substitute for port wine:

Tips on Choosing a Port Wine SubstituteDescription
Determine the Type of Wine Used in the RecipeCheck whether the recipe calls for red, white wine, or any specific Port wine variety to help narrow down your options.

If the recipe doesn’t mention it, make an educated guess based on what wine you would pair with the finished dish.
Choose a Wine You Enjoy DrinkingDon’t purchase a wine that you don’t like drinking and only use once for cooking. If you don’t want to drink it, you shouldn’t be cooking with it.
Use High-Quality WineJust like cooking and drinking Port wine, your substitute should be of high quality.

You don’t need to purchase the most expensive bottle, but make sure you don’t scrimp since this could negatively affect the dish’s flavor.

The Best Ruby Port Substitutes In A Recipe

Ruby Port wine is basically red wine, and if this is what your recipe calls for, we recommend replacing it with any of these:

Here’s a comparison table to help you decide which wine to use as a Ruby Port Wine substitute:

WineFlavor ProfileBest PairingsSubstitute Ratio
ChiantiDry, acidic, tannicTomato-based sauces, hearty meat dishes1:1
ZinfandelFruity, slightly sweetSpicy dishes, barbecue sauces1:1
SyrahBold, peppery, earthyGame meats, stews, earthy flavors1:1
ShirazFruity, pepperyGlazed meats, fruit-based sauces1:1
MerlotSmooth, medium-bodied, versatileSauces, braises, reductions1:1
Keep in mind that when substituting Ruby Port Wine with any of these wines, you may need to adjust the sugar content in your recipe to achieve the desired sweetness level.

1. Chianti

This is one of the most popular Italian wines worldwide, a red blend from Tuscany.

It tastes similar to cherries and strawberries, which is why many people use it as a substitute for port wine.

However, note that Chianti might be too dry for certain dishes but works well with poultry.

Furthermore, Chianti has high acidity levels, so it may cut through any fat in dishes, so be wary of how much you add.

2. Zinfandel

This wine is an excellent Port wine substitute because of the flavor and medium acidity levels. It is more on the fruity side, which we like in cooking and drinking!

But we don’t recommend using it in sauces.

Since Zinfandel has a low alcohol content, it can change your dish’s texture, so it may not bring out your desired aroma. However, you can try it in desserts for its fruity flavors.

3. Syrah

If you’re making a sauce, then we highly recommend using Syrah.

Its alcoholic content is 14-20%, so it can provide the similar, if not the same, texture Port wine could. Plus, it has a dark, fruity flavor, kind of like blackberries and blueberries. 

4. Shiraz

Many people confuse Shiraz with Syrah. These two wines are made from the same grape, so we can’t blame people for interchanging them.

Shiraz is darker and has spicy overtones so that you can detect fruit flavors with a hint of black pepper and wood because of the aging process.

Even with the minor differences, you can use both wines to replace for Port wine. Shiraz has a deep, dark fruity flavor with spicy overtones for various recipes.

5. Merlot 

If you are cooking beef, steak, or lamb, then you can use Merlot instead of pork wine. You don’t even need to use it for cooking; we pair it for drinking with our dishes.

If a recipe requires Ruby Port, it’s looking for a characteristic fruity flavor, with Merlot offering a velvety texture.

We believe this is an ideal substitute for Ruby Port wine, and it’s more likely accessible in your local supermarket or liquor store! 

The Best Tawny Port Substitutes in Cooking

You should replace tawny Port wine with white wine because of the dry, oaky flavor notes. Fruity wines aren’t an option, which are the ones we mentioned above for Ruby Port since your dishes’ flavors end up completely altering.

Tawny Port Wine SubstituteSweetness LevelFlavor ProfileRatio to Tawny PortAdditional Sweetener Needed?
White ZinfandelSlightly sweetLight, fruity1:1Yes, if needed
RieslingMedium-sweetFruity, floral1:1Yes, if needed
ChardonnayDryVaried1:1Yes, most likely
Dry MarsalaLess sweetNutty, caramel1:1Yes, if needed

NOTES: This comparison table highlights the differences between the suggested wine substitutes for Tawny Port, including their sweetness levels, flavor profiles, substitution ratios, and whether additional sweeteners may be needed.

Keep in mind that the final taste of your dish may vary slightly depending on the wine substitute you choose.

1. White Zinfandel

White Zinfandel isn’t ideal, but it works well if you have no other option.

Why isn’t it the best option?

While it’s called White Zinfandel, it isn’t white. It’s just a drier version of Red Zinfandel. It also has a lingering fruity flavor which can make or break your recipes if you aren’t careful.

2. Riesling

If you have a recipe calling for Tawny Port, Riesling is another good option. You probably know about this aromatic wine, but in terms of cooking, we recommend getting a late-harvest Riesling because it has a sweet flavor.

3. Chardonnay

Chardonnay is one of the most famous white wines available. It has an oaky flavor, medium alcohol content, and high acidity levels, making it suitable for seafood, poultry, and heavy cream dishes that ask for Tawny Port.

So, let’s say you’re preparing a salmon dish and need a white wine to replace Port, then go for Chardonnay.

4. Dry Marsala

Marsala is a fortified wine.

  • While Sweet Marsala works as a great Port wine substitute.
  • Dry Marsala works for Tawny Port.

Dry Marsala has a sweet, caramel flavor and a hint of nuttiness you can find in Tawny Port. Furthermore, it has high alcohol content and acidity levels.

We recommend using this for savory recipes that call for Tawny Port. The acidity of the wine cuts through fat amazingly, particularly in beef and poultry dishes. We also like using this in creamy dishes.

Other Alcohol & Non-Alcohol Port Wine Substitutes in Cooking!

There are also more port wine substitutes you can use other than the ones mentioned above. These may not be the absolute best, but they do just the trick.

Plus, some of these options are non-alcoholic if you cannot consume alcohol for any reason.

Check out the following substitutes for Port wine: 

1. Madeira

Madeira is another type of fortified wine that comes in various styles. As long as you choose the right one for your recipe, we believe that it will make an excellent replacement for port wine, especially with Ruby Port. It has a similar texture and alcohol content, working well with acidic recipes, poultry dishes, and sauces.

While Madeira can be pretty sweet, there are different types to choose from, so you can select the degree of sweetness based on your personal taste.

2. Dry Vermouth

Like Madeira, Vermouth is a fortified wine and a good substitute for Port Wine. However, it contains high alcohol levels and intense flavors, so go easy on how much you add to your dish to prevent altering the taste.

Learn more: Vermouth Substitute

3. Black Muscat

Black Muscat tastes sweet and fruity, like Port wine. However, it’s a bit sweeter, so it’s a good substitute only when used in small amounts.

Since it has a 15% alcohol content, we recommend using this when making sauces so you can have a fine texture.

4. Sherry

We consider Sherry as Port wine’s cousin since they have similar tastes.

While Port comes from Portugal, Sherry comes from Spain. And since they are closely located regions, that makes them more related to one another.

However, Port has more berry flavors, whereas Sherry does not. Furthermore, Sherry has lower sugar levels than Port.

Learn more: Dry Sherry Substitute

5. Sweet Red Wine Blend

All types of Port wine are sweet to an extent, so you can try using sweet red wine.

You most likely have this in your kitchen if you enjoy an aperitif with desserts or toasts.

Sweet red wines are popular and accessible substitutes for Port wine! If you only have dry red wine, then that works fine, too.

Mix two parts dry bold red wine, ¼ part pure cane sugar, and 1 part vodka or brandy to fortify the wine.

6. Fruit Juice

If you need to make desserts with alcohol, the best non-alcoholic option is unsweetened fruit juice. We highly recommend cranberry juice with a dash of lemon, but if you want something lighter, you can opt for apple or orange juice, too.

Don’t opt for sweetened fruit juice because the added sugars can alter the dish’s flavor. Also, note that the lack of alcohol content can affect the dish’s texture.

7. Chicken, Beef, or Vegetable Stock

If you’re preparing a meat dish and need a non-alcoholic option, then you can use an equal amount of your chosen broth. You can either purchase stock or make your own.

We prefer making it on our own, but we understand that it’s more convenient buying your own.

If you’re a vegetarian, you can opt for vegetable stock instead! You can make your own by using leftover vegetable trimmings.

Another option would be bouillon cubes, but this is your last resort if there’s nothing left in the kitchen!

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are more insightful questions from our readers to learn more about port wine and how to replace it in cooking.

Wrapping It Up

We hope you found the best Port wine substitute on our list. Whether you’ll use fortified wines or beef broth, we’re sure you’ll nail your recipe. Good luck and happy cooking!

If you’d like to learn more about cooking or substituting certain ingredients, check out what we have to offer on our other blogs!

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