Port Wine Substitutes: 10+ Great Recipe Solutions You Can Try

Here’s a scenario that took place in my kitchen a couple of times:

I had my mind set on preparing a particular dish, and I had all the ingredients it called for, except for one – Port wine.

It got me thinking:

How many of you have been in the same situation, but didn’t know what to use as Port wine substitutes?

That’s why I’ve decided to make a list of the best replacements for Port (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) you can use on such occasions when the original ingredient isn’t available.

Choosing The Right Port Wine Substitute: Things To Keep In Mind

What The Recipe Calls For 

There are two kinds to choose from: red (or ruby) and white (or tawny). Which one you’ll need depends entirely on the recipe and what it calls for – and so does the replacement.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that the recipe won’t clarify which kind of Port you should use (and in this case, substitute); if that’s the case, just make an educated guess.

A good rule of thumb is: if it’s wine you’d pair with the dish, it’s pretty safe to say you can cook with it. So, before you move on to looking for a replacement, make sure you know what it is that needs to be replaced.

Don’t Cook With A Wine You Wouldn’t Drink

I’m not saying you should spend an entire fortune on a bottle of wine you’ll use solely for cooking purposes, but please consider quality as a significant factor.

That’s particularly important when you’re trying to replace Port wine.

Would you drink it on its own? No?

Then you probably shouldn’t be cooking with it, either.


Ruby Port Substitutes

When the recipe calls for ruby Port, it’s only logical that you would use wine with similar characteristics. Sweet red wines are always a good choice, but if you’re looking for more specific suggestions, here’s a list of ruby Port substitutes that work like a charm:

1. Chianti

I know some chefs would shake their head at the mention of Chianti as a ruby Port substitute, and I know exactly why: they consider it a bit too dry to take Port’s place

However, it worked just fine for me on several occasions, especially when I was preparing poultry dishes.

So, what makes Chianti a suitable replacement when ruby Port isn’t available?

The answer lies in the heavily concentrated fruity flavors; if you have an open bottle of Chianti at hand, take a sip, and I’m sure you’ll see what I’m talking about – there’s a particular cherry note to it.

But there’s one thing you should keep in mind when using Chianti for culinary purposes: this is wine with high acidity, meaning it will cut through fat present in some dishes.

What I’m saying is that you should pay attention to how much you’re adding.

2. Zinfandel 

Its flavor, that’s more on the fruity side (cherry and raspberry aromas stand out the most here), and its medium acidity are what makes Zinfandel a good replacement for Port.

But don’t try using it in sauces because it just won’t do the job; believe me, I tried.

While it fits in many other aspects, the main issue is its low alcohol content – it will change the texture, and it won’t bring out the aroma you’re after.

What about desserts? By all means, give it a try.

3. Syrah

So, you’ve started making a sauce that calls for Port and in the middle of it all, you realize you don’t have a single drop of it in the house.

There’s no need to worry, though.

If there’s a bottle of Syrah somewhere in your liquor cabinet, you’re back in the game.

With the alcohol percentage falling somewhere between 14 and 20 percent, you can rest assured it will provide a similar (if not the same) texture as Port would. On top of that, there’s that dark fruit flavor – you’ll surely recognize blueberries and blackberries in it. 

All this makes it a universal replacement for Port.

4. Shiraz

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding these two wines - Syrah and Shiraz. In general, it stems from the fact that these two wines are made from the same grape, which is why a lot of people seem to think they’re the same thing.

There’s a difference, though, and it’s not just the name. If you want to learn more about it, here’s a great article on the topic, but for now, knowing that it can serve as a substitute for Port (the same way Syrah does) is more than enough. 

You can rely on its deep, dark fruit flavor and spicy overtones to bring out the best in your recipe, even if it calls for Port.

5. Merlot

Are you cooking steak, beef or lamb? 

Merlot is the way to go; the best thing is you don’t have to use it solely for cooking – a glass of Merlot will pair perfectly with a dark meat dish.

What any recipe that calls for ruby Port actually needs is the characteristic fruity flavor and Merlot offers just that - topped with an almost velvety texture.

Additional Suggestions

While I haven’t tried these personally, numerous friends had told me they gave these a try when they were out of Port, so if all else fails, here are some additional Port substitutes:

  • Black Muscat – Two words that best describe Black Muscat are "sweet" and "fruity," which is precisely what makes it an excellent replacement for Port – if it’s used in small amounts, that is. 
  • Dry Vermouth – I can see why this would work; both Port and Vermouth are fortified wines.

Tawny Port Substitutes

Known for its oaky, dry flavor, tawny Port should be replaced by white wine. However, keep in mind that fruity wines are not an option – unless you want the resulting taste of your dish to be completely altered. 

1. White Zinfandel

It’s not ideal, but it will work when no other option is available.

Here’s the thing about white Zinfandel: it’s not truly white, it’s just a drier version of the red one, and it has this lingering fruity flavor that might mess with your recipes a bit if you’re not careful.

These are some things you need keep in mind when you opt for the not-so-white white Zin, but as I said earlier, if nothing else is available, it will do the job.

2. Riesling

If your dessert recipe calls for a tawny Port, but you don’t have any, you can always use a Riesling instead.

You’re probably already familiar with this aromatic wine, but when it comes to using it for culinary purposes, I would like to remind you that it’s better to opt for a late-harvest Riesling, due to its sweeter flavor. That additional sweetness is more than welcome when your goal is to replace a tawny Port in desserts.

3. Chardonnay

Ah, Chardonnay, a housewife’s drink of choice.

All jokes aside, Chardonnay is probably the most famous white wine out there.

With its prominently oaky flavor, medium alcohol content, and high acidity, it makes not only a great addition to all kinds of seafood, heavy cream dishes, and poultry, but an excellent substitute for tawny Port, as well.

So, if you’re making salmon and you’re looking for a white wine that could replace Port, Chardonnay will do an excellent job.

Non-Alcoholic Substitutes: When Alcohol Is Not An Option

I know you want to follow the recipe to a T, but that’s not always possible, and that’s perfectly fine.

In most cases, Port is used only as a flavor enhancer – those flavors are already present in the dish. While port would add that certain something to your recipe, it won’t be the end of the world if you don’t use it. There’s a reason why the recipe calls for port wine, but trust me: your dish can still turn out to be a success, even if you leave out one of the ingredients altogether.

As I said, it’s perfectly fine to do so, especially when you’re in a situation where you need to cook for someone who just can’t have alcohol, even when it’s used for culinary purposes.

So, I want you to keep in mind that omitting an ingredient like port wine (as well as all its alcoholic substitutes) is always an option. There’s no need to feel bad for not following the recipe all the way.

But luckily for you, I’ve discovered numerous non-alcoholic substitutes for Port over the years; let’s take a look at what worked for me:

1. Chicken and Beef Broth

When you’re preparing a meat dish and using port is not an option, an equal amount of chicken or beef broth is an excellent alternative. 

You can either buy it or make your own, that’s entirely up to you. I prefer it homemade, but that’s just me; canned broth is there for a reason, so don’t hesitate to use it.

2. Vegetable Broth

Oh, and let’s not forget about vegetarians. 

When you’re cooking for someone who doesn’t eat meat in general, using a protein broth as a port substitute is out of the question, and vegetable broth comes into play.

Making vegetable broth is relatively easy, and it doesn’t require much ingredient-wise – leftover vegetable trimmings are pretty much all you need.

3. Bouillon Cubes

If for some reason, both Port and broth are out of the question, I guess you could use bouillon cubes; they’re like the alternative to the alternative. They should be used as the last resort, though. 

If you plan on using broth, here’s an additional tip: always use one that’s made from the same type of protein you’re preparing. So, if you’re cooking chicken, a cup of chicken broth is in order - you get the idea.

4. Fruit Juice

You’re probably wondering:

What about desserts? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

When I want to make a non-alcoholic dessert, but the recipe names Port as one of the ingredients, what I usually go for is some unsweetened fruit juice.

Cranberry juice with just a dash of lemon is your best bet, and if you’re looking for something lighter, orange or apple juice will work fine, as well.

Conclusion

Look inside your liquor cabinet - you probably have one of these replacements just laying in there, and now’s the time to use it. 🙂

But remember:

When a recipe requires a specific ingredient, there’s always a good reason for it - that’s especially the case with wines that have a flavor as distinct as Port does. You should only consider using a substitute for Port when there’s no other way to complete your dish.

Barbara Whitney
 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been cooking, preparing, researching, and gathering recipes, tools, and knowledge about food and the way we prepare it. Raising two lively boys and spoiling one great husband later, it’s safe to say that I’ve optimized my kitchen to deliver the best possible meal, no matter the occasion.

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