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17 Best Port Wine Substitutes (For cooking or drinking)

Port wine is great to have on hand for cooking or to sip with dessert. But what happens if you run out or if your local store doesn’t have what you need? What is the best port substitute?

In cooking, substitute port wine with equal parts of red wine and grape juice, sweetened with a touch of sugar or honey. For a drinking alternative to port, opt for a sweet Marsala or a sweet red Vermouth, ensuring you adjust the sweetness to taste.

Fear not, for there is a world of possibilities waiting to be discovered with these best port substitute options.

Whether you’re cooking or sipping, this comprehensive guide will introduce you to delicious alternatives that will elevate your culinary creations and tantalize your taste buds.

Short Summary

  • The best port wine substitutes for cooking or drinking, ranging from ruby and tawny to non-alcoholic options.
  • Consider sweetness, acidity & flavor when choosing the right substitute – Chianti, Merlot & Zinfandel are great replacements for Ruby Port while Late Harvest Riesling & Sherry work well as Tawny Port alternatives.
  • Fortified wines have higher alcohol content than regular wine due to distilled spirits added during winemaking process.

What is Port Wine?

Port wine is a fortified wine hailing from Portugal, known for its unique flavors and versatility.

With four main types – ruby, tawny, white port (a lighter port), and vintage – port wine offers a range of flavors that can include anything from berries to chocolate, caramel, and spices, depending on the producer and blend. Port wine is often enjoyed as a dessert wine or used in cooking to add depth and richness to various dishes, such as cheesecakes, pies, chocolate truffles, soft cheeses, and even savory dishes like beef steak.

The process of fortifying wine with distilled spirits gives port wine its distinctive characteristics.  It also means it won’t go bad quickly like regular types of wine.

This increases the alcohol content and results in an array of flavors that set it apart from regular wines. But what if you don’t have port wine on hand or want to explore alternatives? Enter the world of port wine substitutes, which can add their own unique tastes and textures to your culinary creations.

Some popular port wine substitutes include the best port wine substitute options such as:

  • Madeira wine, a great port wine substitute
  • Marsala wine
  • Sherry wine
  • Red wine mixed with brandy or rum

These substitutes can be used in recipes that call for port wine, such as sauces, marinades, and desserts. Experiment with different substitutes to find the flavor profile that best suits your dish.

Ruby Port Substitutes

When it comes to substituting ruby port wine, you have a variety of options that can bring their own unique flavors and characteristics to your dishes.

Some of these alternatives include:

  • Chianti
  • Merlot
  • Zinfandel
  • Shiraz
  • Madeira
  • Sweet Vermouth
  • unsweetened fruit juice
  • Moscato

Each of these substitutes offers a different taste profile that can complement a variety of dishes, from beef dishes and stews to cheese boards.

Let’s explore each of these ruby port substitutes in more detail.

1. Chianti

Chianti, a semi-sweet red wine with fruity flavors, hails from Italy and can be a suitable substitute for ruby port in cooking. Its delightful taste, with hints of strawberries and cherries, can complement poultry dishes in place of ruby port. This sweet red wine blend is a versatile option for various recipes.

However, when using Chianti as a substitute, it’s essential to reduce the amount and taste as you go to avoid the dish becoming too dry and acidic, especially in dishes with a lot of fat.

2. Merlot

Merlot, known for its velvety texture and sweet fruity flavors, can be another excellent choice for replacing ruby port in cooking.

Its distinct, fruit-laden flavor and creamy consistency render it an effective replacement for ruby port, especially in robust meat dishes including duck, beef, and lamb, as well as those incorporating tomato sauce.

You can easily find Merlot at your local supermarket or liquor store as it’s a popular wine.

3. Zinfandel

Zinfandel, characterized by its light hue, potent acidity, moderate tannins, and berry scent, can replace ruby port in culinary creations, although it might not be ideal for sauces due to its reduced alcohol content.

This berry-rich red wine serves as an excellent port substitute in poultry-based meals and casseroles, contributing notes of tart cherry, overly ripe nectarine, and raspberry to the concoction. However, its lower alcohol content might not make it suitable for sauces, as it could modify the dish’s consistency.

4. Shiraz

Shiraz, a dark, fruity wine with spicy overtones, can be a suitable substitute for ruby port in cooking, particularly when making stews and dark meat dishes. Made from the same grape as Syrah, Shiraz has a distinct spiciness that brings out black pepper notes, and its flavor is usually characterized by wild black fruit flavors.

Aged in wooden barrels, Shiraz offers a unique flavor that can enhance your dish when used in place of ruby port.

5. Madeira

Madeira, a fortified wine like ruby port, comes with varying sweetness levels and is a good substitute for ruby port in cooking. The quality of cheaper Madeira wines is quite subtle when used in cooked dishes, and this substitute pairs nicely with acidic recipes, poultry dishes, and sauces.

While the specific types of Madeira wine best for dessert aren’t specified, its versatility makes it a worthy substitute to consider.

6. Sweet Vermouth

Sweet Vermouth is a type of fortified wine available in both dry and sweet varieties, the sweet version of which can be a great substitute for ruby port in cooking. However, it’s essential to use this substitute sparingly due to its high alcohol content.

Sweet Vermouth can be found in various dishes, and its delightful taste can make it a suitable replacement for ruby port when added in the right amounts.

7. Fruit Juice (no added sweetener)

For a non-alcoholic alternative to ruby port in cooking, unsweetened fruit juice provides a diversity of flavors without extra sugar. It’s critical, when employing fruit juice as a replacement, to steer clear of sweetened versions as they might over-sweeten or dominate other flavors in the dish.

Choose naturally sweet juices devoid of added sweeteners, like apple, orange, grapefruit, cranberry, or pineapple juice, to maintain a harmonious flavor in the dish.

8. Moscato

Moscato, a sweet, low-alcohol wine made from muscat grapes, is an excellent substitute for ruby port in cooking and as a dessert drink. With delicious flavors like nectarine, orange blossom, and peach, Moscato offers a sweet alternative that can add a nice touch to various dishes when used in place of ruby port.

Moscato is a great way to add a unique flavor to your favorite recipes.

Tawny Port Substitutes

When it comes to tawny port substitutes, there are several options to consider, each with unique flavors and characteristics. Some of these alternatives include:

  • Late-Harvest Riesling
  • Chardonnay
  • Dry Marsala
  • Sherry
  • Lambrusco

Let’s delve into each of these tasty port substitutes and discover how they can enhance your dishes.

9. Late-Harvest Riesling

Late Harvest Riesling, a dessert wine made from Riesling grapes left on the vine longer than usual, offers a sweet, citrusy flavor with honey and fruit aromas. This sweet white wine can replace tawny port in cooking, especially when making desserts.

Its unique flavor profile and sweetness make it a suitable substitute for tawny port in various dishes.

10. Chardonnay

Chardonnay, a white wine with oaky flavors, can substitute tawny port in cooking, particularly in seafood, poultry, and heavy cream dishes. This versatile wine can be found in many different styles and grown all over the world, allowing it to express the characteristics of the land it’s grown in.

Chardonnay’s unique flavor profile makes it a suitable substitute for tawny port in various dishes.

11. Dry Marsala

Dry Marsala, a fortified wine with a sweet caramel flavor and a hint of nuttiness, can replace tawny port in cooking in equal amounts, especially in savory and creamy dishes.

Some dishes where you can use dry Marsala as a substitute for tawny port include:

  • Beef or chicken stroganoff
  • Mushroom risotto
  • Creamy pasta sauces
  • Braised meats
  • Soups and stews

Its sweet, caramel taste with a subtle nuttiness makes it a suitable substitute for tawny port in various dishes, adding depth and richness to the dish.

Marsala naturally goes great with rich sauces, stews, and braises. Chicken marsala being the best known example of cooking with it.

12. Sherry

Sherry, a fortified wine produced from white grapes cultivated near the Andalusian city of Jerez de la Frontera in Spain, bears a resemblance to Port in taste but with diminished sugar content and an absence of berry undertones, thereby qualifying it as a fitting substitute in cooking.

Its notable alcohol content, spanning from 15% to 22% ABV, can deliver a distinctive flavor range when deployed as a replacement for tawny port in an array of dishes.

Sherry’s versatility shines in a wide spectrum of recipes, encompassing everything from sauces to desserts.

13. Lambrusco

Lambrusco, a sweet, effervescent wine hailing from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, can serve as a stand-in for tawny port in cooking, albeit its lighter texture might not make it the optimal choice.

Boasting a pronounced fruity flavor and mild effervescence, Lambrusco provides an interesting departure from tawny port. However, its light texture might fall short in imparting the same depth and opulence associated with tawny port in specific recipes.

When using Lambrusco as a substitute for tawny port, it is important to make sure it is used properly.

Non-Alcoholic Port Substitutes

For those seeking non-alcoholic alternatives to Port wine, there are several options available. Some non-alcoholic substitutes for port wine in cooking include:

  • Unsweetened fruit juice
  • Saba
  • Stock or broth
  • Bouillon cubes

Each of these options offers varying flavors and uses.

Let’s explore these non-alcoholic port substitutes in more detail.

14. Unsweetened Fruit Juice

Unsweetened fruit juice serves as a viable non-alcoholic alternative to port wine in cooking, though it may influence the texture of the dish. It’s crucial to sidestep sweetened variants when using fruit juice as a replacement, as they could shift the dish’s flavor, rendering it excessively sweet or overwhelming the other taste components.

Choose pure fruit juices devoid of added sugars, such as grape, pomegranate, cranberry, or pineapple juice, to ensure the dish’s flavor remains harmonious.

15. Saba

Saba, a sugary grape syrup extracted from fresh grape juice, can serve as a non-alcoholic port wine replacement in cooking, particularly in sweet dishes. Saba is produced by reducing grape must until it achieves a syrup-like consistency, offering a sweet port wine alternative for dishes needing a hint of sweetness.

As a top-notch non-alcoholic substitute for port wine, Saba can impart a distinct flavor dimension to your gastronomic delights.

Consider this akin to the initial phase of balsamic vinegar production, prior to its vinegar transformation, given that it doesn’t undergo a fermentation process.

16. Stock or Broth (for cooking)

Vegetable stock, chicken stock, or beef broth can be a great non-alcoholic alternative to port wine when making meat-based dishes. Adding stock or broth can give the dish a richer flavor and a darker hue, but it won’t have the same sweetness as port wine.

When selecting a meat stock or vegetable broth, consider the flavor of the dish and what type of stock or broth will work best with it.

17. Bouillon Cubes (for cooking)

Bouillon cubes, dehydrated stock cubes made from vegetables or meat stock, fat, MSG, salt, and seasonings, can be used as a non-alcoholic substitute for port wine in meat-based dishes. However, bouillon cubes should be dissolved in water first and cannot be used in desserts or drinks.

When using bouillon cubes in place of port wine, consider the type of cube (beef, chicken, or vegetable) that best complements the dish you’re preparing.

Tips for Choosing the Right Port Substitute

Selecting an appropriate port replacement can pose some difficulty, yet remembering certain vital aspects can aid in harmonizing the flavors.

Here are a few guidelines to assist you in choosing an alternative that elevates the dish.

  • Think about how the substitute’s flavor will work with the dish you’re pairing it with.
  • Consider the sweetness, acidity, and depth of flavor of the substitute.
  • Look for substitutes that have similar characteristics to port, such as rich fruitiness and a hint of sweetness.
  • Experiment with different substitutes to find the one that best complements your dish.
  • By considering these factors, you can find a suitable substitute that will enhance the flavors of your dish.

Another tip is to avoid cheap options, as these usually won’t give you the flavor you’re looking for. Investing in a higher-quality substitute can make a world of difference in the final result.

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment with different substitutes to find the one that works best for your dish. By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to discovering the perfect port substitute for your culinary creations.

How is Fortified Wine Different from Regular Wine?

Fortified wines, such as port, stand out from standard wines due to the infusion of distilled spirits in the winemaking procedure. This process elevates the wine’s alcohol level and generates a variety of tastes distinct from conventional wines.

Additionally, regular wine doesn’t involve the addition of any spirits and possesses a lower alcohol content.

The distinctive flavors and augmented alcohol concentration of fortified wines make them favored options for culinary use and as after-dinner wines. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that fortified wines like port can exude a stronger taste compared to standard wines.

So, the selection of an appropriate replacement when seeking alternatives in your recipes is crucial.


With a multitude of port wine substitutes available, you’re sure to find the perfect match for your culinary needs.

Whether you’re searching for a ruby or tawny port substitute, or even a non-alcoholic option, these 17 best port wine substitutes will open up a world of possibilities in your kitchen.

By considering the dish pairing, avoiding cheap options, and experimenting with different substitutes, you can elevate your cooking game and create mouthwatering dishes that will leave your guests asking for seconds.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I substitute for port in a recipe?

For substituting port in recipes, cream sherry is the best option as it has a sweet and thick consistency similar to port. If you don’t have cream sherry, add a couple of tablespoons of dark brown sugar to every 1/2 cup of sherry to create a ‘cream sherry’ substitute.

Can I substitute port for sherry?

It is possible to substitute port for sherry when cooking but bear in mind that port is usually sweeter and has distinct flavor profiles. Good alternatives to sherry include sweet vermouth, Madeira, and marsala.

Can I use fruit juice instead of Port wine in meat dishes?

Yes, you can use unsweetened fruit juice as a substitute for port wine in meat dishes, but keep in mind that it may affect the texture and flavor balance of your dish.

Using unsweetened fruit juice instead of port wine can be a great way to add a unique flavor to your dish. However, it is important to consider how the juice will affect the overall flavor and texture of the dish.

What should I keep in mind when choosing a Port substitute for cooking?

When selecting a Port substitute for cooking, make sure to take into account the pairing of the dish, select a quality alternative, and experiment with different varieties until you find the perfect flavor profile.

Is mead a good substitute for port?

Because mead, or any kind of honey wine is primarily made from honey, it’s not a great choice to replace port for drinking or cooking. While it will have as much or more of the sweetness of port, it lacks the complexity of flavors and lacks the dominant flavor of grape juice.

The honey flavor could easily overpower everything else.

Jeff Campbell