Port wine is one of the few ingredients that can truly bring a whole new profile of flavors and textures to a dish. So, when there’s a recipe that calls for port wine, I immediately know I’m going to enjoy cooking and eating it.
But nothing is worse than having all your ingredients lined up, ready to cook, and you’ve found out you’re out of port – the most essential ingredient.
Should you go out to buy port wine? Or can you substitute it instead?
I’m a firm believer that your kitchen has everything you need. While you can never replicate the unique depth of port wine, I’ve found some of the best substitutes for port wine that you can find at home that will do the job.
Today, I’ll be talking about the best alternatives to tawny and ruby port wine. I’ll also tell you the best non-alcoholic port wine substitutes that you can use too. Keep reading to find the best port wine substitute for cooking for you!
Tawny vs Ruby Port
Port wine is a fortified Portuguese wine made in Douro, Portugal, that is loved by many. Some Port wines are labeled as “Port” or “Porto” or you may also encounter labels that read “Tawny Port” and “Ruby Port”.
You might be wondering, What do the labels mean? What is the difference between tawny port and ruby port?
Tawny and Ruby Port are two types of port wine. The main difference between the two wines is the color, flavor, and aging process.
Ruby port is sometimes known as red port, and tawny port is known as white port. As the name suggests, ruby port has a deep red color, and tawny port usually has a light pale orange color.
Ruby port is a young wine that is usually aged in big oak barrels for several years. The little influence and minimal contact with the oak give ruby port its sweeter and fruity flavor. Ruby port is great for cooking stews, beef, or even on the side of cheese boards.
On the other hand, Tawny port is aged for a much longer time in smaller oak barrels. Tawny Port has more contact and surface area with oak, giving its wine an oaky, nutty, and caramel flavor. Tawny port is often used for seafood or poultry dishes.
Best Substitute for Cooking With Ruby Port
Merlot – The Ideal Substitute for Ruby Port Wine
One of the best substitutes for the fruity ruby port would be Merlot wine. Merlot wine is a smooth and sweet red wine with a fruit-driven plum finishing. It is also one of the more affordable options and can be commonly found in supermarkets.
With its fruity flavors and young age, its versatility is loved by many chefs; this makes it a perfect substitute for ruby port.
Merlot is a great substitute for port wine when cooking with dark meats, such as flank or ribeye steaks. You can also use it for slow-cooking, stews, and when making sauces. I’ve found that it works exceptionally well in tomato-based sauces too.
Syrah is another fruity red wine that makes be an excellent substitute for cooking with ruby port. There are many debates on whether Syrah is the same as Shiraz. They’re the same type of wine originating from the same grape family.
If you have Syrah or Shiraz wine, you won’t regret using it as a substitute for ruby port, especially to impart its rich, fruity plum flavor. Do note that Syrah has a slightly oakier and spicier black pepper flavor profile compared to ruby port.
I recommend using Syrah when cooking hearty meals, especially dishes such as stews and casseroles or braising red meats. It has high alcohol content, so it’s great for textures and sauces.
Zinfandel is a bolder but light red wine made from dark blue zinfandel grapes, notably discovered during immigration to California.
This wine has a fruity taste, with cherry and plum notes, but it is not as fruity as ruby ports. It still makes a great substitute as it brings the fruity profile as found in ruby port.
Due to its lower alcohol content and slightly more acidic properties, Zinfandel is a dry wine. I would suggest not using it in sauces as it will not be able to achieve the same flavor or texture as port.
Instead, why not try Zinfandel in braising ribs, steaks, or other red meats? It also makes a good pairing for poultry and casseroles.
Loved by many but frowned upon by some chefs, Chianti could be your best last option substitute for ruby port. Chianti is a Tuscany red wine that can be found pretty easily – it is one of the more popular Italian wines.
Chianti has a sweet and fruity cherry flavor that is perfect for substituting ruby port. However, many chefs frowned upon Chianti as it is a very dry red wine with high acidity.
It’s high acidity is evident as it cuts rich fatty foods easily. Chianti would probably not be suitable to make textured sauces as you would with ruby port. But, I’ve found that Chianti makes a decent substitution for light dishes such as poultry recipes.
Just like ruby port, Marsala is another popular fortified wine. Made in Marsala, Sicily, Marsala wine has two variations, dry and sweet. Sweet Marsala is an adequate substitute for cooking with ruby port wine.
Sweet marsala is usually used for sweet dishes such as desserts. It has a similar sweet and fruity prune flavor found in ruby port.
You can use sweet marsala wine as you would with any substitute. However, it doesn’t add as much depth or the complex flavors as you would find in ruby port.
Best Substitute for Tawny Port Wine When Cooking
Riesling is a white wine that originated from the Rhine region in Germany. It’s pretty versatile because you can use it for desserts and savory cooking, depending on the type and age you get.
You will enjoy the aromatic qualities of Riesling as well as the sweet and fruity flavors. It is also highly acidic as compared to tawny port.
Riesling and its relatively high alcohol content and sweetness would be best for poultry dishes, as you would with tawny port. However, you can also substitute it in sweet desserts or even savor it on its own.
As mentioned before, Marsala is a fortified wine. There are many types of marsala depending on the sweetness, flavor profiles, and aging process. For substituting tawny port, I would recommend dry marsala.
It has a rather sweet caramel flavor with a hint of nuttiness found in tawny port wine. Dry marsala has a high alcohol content and is acidic, thus making it a dry wine.
Dry marsala is usually used when cooking savory dishes. The acidity cuts through fat beautifully, especially so in beef or poultry. Dry marsala wine also tastes excellent in creamy dishes too.
Don’t be off-put by its pink hue, but white zinfandel is an unexpectedly decent substitute for tawny port. It has a dry but sweet, unique flavor and is often compared to rosé.
While white zinfandel is rather sweet and light than tawny port, it does have a slight hint of fruity flavor that would not overpower your dish. Perfect for any dish requiring tawny port. You can cook with white zinfandel as you would with tawny port, in poultry or seafood dishes.
Lastly, Chardonnay is a white wine everyone is familiar with. You might even have some in your pantry to use as a substitute. Although it is not a perfect substitute for tawny port, its oaky and thick flavor is excellent for compensating tawny’s nutty and oaky profile.
Depending on your batch, chardonnay also has a lemon or fruity apple flavor. It is dry and somewhat acidic. This makes it a great substitute for when you’re cooking poultry dishes or creating rich and creamy sauces and gravies.
Best Non-Alcoholic Substitute for Ruby Port Wine in Cooking
If you are staying away from alcohol or cooking for guests who don’t consume alcohol, fret not; there are a few non-alcoholic substitutes you can try out in recipes for ruby port.
The first easiest substitute for the ruby port would be stock. While it will not replicate the rich flavor of port, it does its job. Stock can be a broth or come in bullion cubes, whatever you have on hand.
If you’re cooking a beef dish, make sure to use beef stock and chicken with chicken stock. You can use vegetable stock as well. I would not recommend stock for desserts or sweeter dishes.
If you’re feeling adventurous and have some fruit juice in your pantry, fruit juice surprisingly makes a good substitute for ruby port. Specifically red grape or cranberry juice with a zest of lime or lemon for an extra acidic flavor kick.
Best Non-Alcoholic Tawny Port Wine Substitute for Cooking
You can use the same non-alcoholic substitutes mentioned for ruby port interchangeable for tawny port wine. But it will still not quite replicate the oaky caramel flavor that we love.
Chicken or vegetable stock would make decent non-alcoholic substitutes for when cooking. While the taste of tawny port is not there, it is the closest thing to recreating the texture of tawny port.
Your best bet would be to go with fruit juice as a substitute for tawny port wine for dessert and sweeter dishes. You can try fruit juices such as white grape, apple, or even pineapple. While it may not taste like tawny port, it will add a unique sweet flavor.
What if You Don’t Want to Use Port at All?
Port wine adds a unique profile of flavors to any dish you’re cooking. But maybe you don’t want the port flavor in your dish, or you may not be a massive fan of the fruitiness or oakiness of the port. And that’s totally fine.
If you simply don’t want to use port at all, you’ll do no harm in omitting port from your recipe and leaving it out of your dish altogether. A true chef can make any dish taste just as delicious withou.