I taste-tested a variety of red wine substitutes to find the best ones for making stew. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
The best substitutes for red wine in stew are dry white wine and beer. And if you’re looking for an alcohol-free substitute, try unsweetened cranberry or pomegranate juice. Broth can also work, especially if you mix it with balsamic vinegar for acidity.
I made small batches of beef stew to try out several different red wine substitutes.
Red wine, with its inherent acidity, is a popular ingredient in stews because it helps tenderize the meat and adds depth and complexity. Aside from classic beef stew, red wine is also used in recipes like Coq Au Vin and beef bourguignon.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Dry White Wine||Make sure it’s a dry variety||9/10|
|Non-alcoholic red wine||Pick one you’d drink||9/10|
|Beer||Dark beers are best||9/10|
|Unsweetened Fruit Juice||Cranberry or pomegranate||9/10|
|Red Wine Vinegar + Water||Dilute in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Broth + Balsamic Vinegar||Adds acidity and depth||7/10|
|Water||Enhanced with seasonings||7/10|
|Sherry + Broth||Go for a dry sherry||6/10|
|Mushroom soaking water||Or the liquid from canned mushrooms||7/10|
Dry White Wine
I used to think white wine was just for making cream sauces and poaching, but it’s also a fabulous stand-in for red wine in hearty stews.
It’s important that you use a bottle of dry white wine. Some white wines have a sweetness to them that can be too much for savory dishes. Dry wines, like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, will cut through your stew’s richness, adding brightness and acidity.
The only drawback? White wine lacks the complex depth and color of red wine. If your stew relies on red wine for color, consider mixing in a touch of tomato paste. It will also add some umami depth.
How to Substitute: Replace red wine in a 1:1 ratio with dry white wine.
Alcohol-free red wine
This is perhaps an obvious suggestion, but I wanted to include it anyway. Non-alcoholic red wine tastes very similar to red wine, with the only complaint being that it sometimes lacks depth.
Note that some options will contain very low levels of alcohol, while others will be completely alcohol-free. If you’re avoiding alcohol completely, make sure to check the labels.
Pro tip: Stick with the tried-and-tested advice here: only use a wine in your stew that you would drink. Don’t be tempted to cheap out.
How to Substitute: Replace red wine in a 1:1 ratio with alcohol-free red wine.
Ah, beer! This frothy delight is more than just a drinking companion. Dark beers, like Guinness, offer malty and roasted notes that are perfect for adding depth to stews.
However, they lack the natural acidity of red wine. The remedy? A splash of vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice. These simple additions will help liven up your stew.
Psst… go for a beer that isn’t too bitter. I went with my favorite stout beer. And don’t forget, you can also use a non-alcoholic beer if you prefer!
How to Substitute: Replace red wine in a 1:1 ratio with beer.
Pomegranate or Cranberry Juice
Looking for a non-alcoholic alternative to red wine? I recommend cranberry, pomegranate, or red grape juice. I went with pomegranate juice in my tests and was impressed with the results. The juice had the same tannic qualities and light tartness as red wine (if you want more tartness, add a spoonful of vinegar along with the juice).
Of course, other options like white grape juice or apple juice will also provide acidity, but they don’t have the same color as red wine.
Pro-tip: Make sure to check the labels and avoid using sweetened fruit juices, these will add too much sugar to your stew. If sweetened juice is all you have, add half the amount at first and then add more to taste.
How to Substitute: Replace red wine in a 1:1 ratio with your choice of unsweetened fruit juice.
Red Wine Vinegar + Water
Red wine vinegar is fermented red wine, so it’s no surprise that it carries the same bold flavors as red wine. But as it’s vinegar, you can’t swap it in a 1:1 ratio – that would be a disaster! Instead, you need to mellow out the acidity with water or stock.
I used a 50:50 mixture of water and vinegar in my experiment and it worked well, but next time I would try beef or chicken stock to add another layer of flavor.
I can see this option working well for deglazing purposes too.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 cup of red wine with 1/2 cup red wine vinegar + 1/2 cup water.
Broth + Balsamic Vinegar
When all else fails, you can’t go wrong swapping red wine for broth. Any broth gets the job done, but I like to match it with the stew I’m making. I used beef broth for this experiment’s stew. But if you’re vegetarian, vegetable broth is the way to go.
The caveat with using broth is it lacks that bright, acidic flavor you’d get with red wine. That’s why I recommend combining it with a splash of balsamic vinegar to introduce those vibrant notes, a hint of fruitiness, and some much-needed depth to round out your stew’s flavor profile.
If you’re using store-bought broth, always go for the low-salt version to avoid over-salting your dish.
Psst… if you don’t have balsamic vinegar, try one of my tried and tested balsamic vinegar substitutes.
How to Substitute: Replace red wine in a 1:1 ratio with broth and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
Water + Seasonings
At first glance, water might seem like an uninspired substitute. But its role in any dish is undeniable. While it can’t match red wine in flavor or aroma, it ensures your dish retains the correct consistency.
And you can think of water as a blank canvas. With a pinch of creativity, you can use different seasonings to deepen the flavors of your stew. I added a pinch of MSG powder and a dollop of tomato paste to my water and both did wonders in adding depth. You can also try other umami-rich ingredients like yeast extract, Worcestershire sauce, or even a splash of soy sauce.
It’s all about layering flavors to transform your dish from blah to fab.
How to Substitute: Replace red wine in a 1:1 ratio with water and your choice of seasonings.
If you don’t mind using another alcoholic beverage, sherry is a solid alternative. It’s less fruity than traditional wine but has a delightful nutty twist that will give any dish complexity.
However, using sherry alone can introduce too much sweetness. That’s why I suggest mixing it with broth or even plain water to dilute its potency. I also like adding a splash of lemon juice to add some acidity and tie all the flavors together.
Psst… make sure you opt for dry sherry, which tends to be less sweet.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 cup red wine with ¾ cup sherry + ¼ cup broth.
Mushroom soaking water or the liquid from canned mushrooms
Mushrooms are full of umami, so any liquid that’s had mushrooms in will take on some of that flavor. You can use water you’ve been soaking dried mushrooms in, or the liquid from canned mushrooms.
The flavor is pretty different from red wine in that it’s very savory. This can work well in some stews, but if you were aiming for a sweeter flavor, consider mixing the mushroom water with something like cranberry juice.
Another watch-out is that canned mushrooms can be very salty, so you might want to avoid this option if you’re watching your sodium intake.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 cup red wine with 1 cup of mushroom-soaking water.
Other substitute options
The options listed above are my top picks for red wine substitutes in stews, but here are a couple more alternatives that are worth a shot:
- Port: A fortified wine hailing from Portugal, port offers rich and sweet nuances making it an enticing substitute for red wine in stews. But just like sherry, you’ll need to cut this with broth or water to balance its sweetness.
- Verjus: This is the tart, fresh juice of unripe grapes. It doesn’t have the depth of red wine, its acidic nature makes it a suitable alcohol-free alternative. The only reason why it’s not on the main list is that it can be difficult to find.
Substitutes to avoid
There are lots of substitutes for wine in general, but it’s important not to fall into the trap of using a substitute that’s better for white wine than red. For example, ginger ale and diluted lemon juice are okay for white wine, but not a good swap for red wine.
I also tested tomato juice in my stew because I saw it recommended on another site, but I didn’t like the result. My stew turned out way too tomatoey because the flavor was too strong. It was more like tomato soup.
Substitutes for Red Wine in Stews + What To Avoid
- 1 dry white wine
- 1 beer
- 1 unsweetened fruit juice
- ½ cup red wine vinegar + ½ cup water
- 1 cup broth + a splash of balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup Water
- ½ cup Sherry +½ cup broth
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen red wine substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.