Substituting Vermouth for White Wine in Cooking

If you don't drink much white wine, but need it for cooking once in a while, it may go bad before you finish the bottle. Is there a substitute that keeps better?

Since few of us want to open a bottle of white wine just to use ½ cup for a sauce, vermouth—which is much more shelf-stable—seemed as though it might be a good alternative. To find out, we replaced white wine with dry vermouth—an idea made famous by Julia Child—in sauces for chicken, fish, and vegetables. It worked fine in every instance. Our tasters found the sauces made with dry vermouth to be a little sweeter and “more herbal” than the same sauces made with white wine, but the difference was subtle.

Just what is vermouth, anyhow? It’s made from wine fortified with additional alcohol, bringing the alcohol content to around 18 percent, versus about 12 percent for white wine. The additional alcohol in vermouth helps inhibit the growth of vinegar-producing microbes that can spoil wine. Vermouth and other fortified wines are also exposed to more air during production, which, our science editor explained, reduces the level of oxidizable compounds, making the wine more stable than white wine once the bottle is opened. Keeping vermouth in the refrigerator, where it’s dark and cool, further reduces oxidation.

So how long does a bottle of vermouth last? There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but most sources say that refrigerated vermouth will continue to taste good for three to nine months, whereas white wine goes south in just days. Even if you store the bottle in the refrigerator, though, expect the flavor of vermouth to slowly deteriorate (it will lose aroma and complexity) long before it actually goes bad. We have a couple of open bottles of vermouth in our fridge right now, and we will let you know for sure—in three to nine months.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Dry vermouth is a useful substitute for white wine in sauces. Open bottles will last several months in the refrigerator.

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