Cook’s Toolkit: Balsamic Red Wine Sauce

Balsamic Red Wine Sauce[Jump right to the recipe: Balsamic Red Wine Sauce]

Over the years I’ve built up a collection of recipes and techniques that I go to time and again when I’m planning every sort of menu – from a quick weeknight dinner to my big holiday party. Some of the recipes in my collection are classics that have many applications, like the sauce that is the feature of this post. Others are techniques that I can easily modify with seasonal ingredients or different flavor elements, like a braised short rib or a compound butter. While I’m always looking for new and innovative ways to play with my food, I’ve discovered that much of my kitchen confidence is rooted in the fact that I can throw just about any meal together using these recipes and techniques. To that end, I thought I would start a new type of post for the blog called “Cook’s Toolkit” so I can share my secret weapons. Look for more of these posts in the coming months, particularly as we head into the holiday season.

Everyone Needs at Least One Good Sauce Recipe

So really, we all need at least 3 or 4 good sauce recipes, but one is a good place to start. A great red wine sauce can compliment just about any other ingredient – from a steak to roasted vegetables to a creamy polenta. The secret to the sauce is using a good (but not great) red wine, one that you would happily drink with friends you really like at a casual dinner party. There’s no reason to get out the extra good stuff for this sauce, but at the same time you don’t (ever) want to cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink. The wine is also the key to varying the flavor of the sauce. For a slightly lighter sauce, use a Zinfandel. For a deep, rich sauce, select a Cabernet or a Syrah. While a traditional red wine sauce doesn’t necessarily include balsamic vinegar, I like the complexity it brings to the dish. Much like the red wine, you want to choose good quality balsamic vinegar (avoid the ones on the bottom shelf), but don’t feel like you have to use the best quality vinegar you can lay hands on either. Good is just right but bad is awful.

This sauce is a reduction, so it cooks on the stove for a bit to evaporate about half of the liquid you start with. This technique melds and intensifies the flavors you start with. If you use questionable ingredients, they will only get more questionable, where as good ingredients will only get better. A little of this sauce goes a long way towards making a dish extra special, and it couldn’t be easier to put together.

The last time I made this sauce I served it over a steak topped with a bit of local goat cheese, which is what you see in the picture at the top of this post.

Recipe: Balsamic Red Wine Sauce


  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Serves: 4 as a condiment with meat or vegetables
  • Prep Time: 10 min
  • Cook Time: 20 min


  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 c. red wine
  • ¼ c. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 Tbsp. butter


  1. Heat the olive oil in a small sauce pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the shallot and cook until soft and translucent but not brown, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add the wine, vinegar, honey, and thyme to the pan. Whisk to combine.
  4. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium-high and boil mixture slowly until reduced by half, 15-20 minutes.
  6. Pour reduced mixture through a fine strainer into a small bowl, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
  7. Return the strained liquid to the sauce pan and warm over low heat.
  8. Whisk in butter until melted and fully combined.
  9. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed.

Recipe for Success

  • You can substitute a spring or two of rosemary for the thyme in this recipe or even use a combination of the two. The herbs add an additional level of earthy flavor to the wine but if you’d like, you can also leave them out if you don’t have them on hand. For this application fresh herbs are best, it’s better to skip them than use dried herbs.
  • You can make the sauce 30 minutes ahead of time. Leave it off the heat and gently re-warm it over low heat when ready to serve. The sauce may separate some but a quick whisk will recombine it.
  • I strain the herbs and shallots from the sauce to create a smoother sauce. You can absolutely skip the straining step and the sauce will have some texture from the shallots and thyme, giving it a more rustic feel. If you choose not to strain the sauce, be sure to fish out any woody stems from the thyme; the leaves will fall off during the reduction. If you use rosemary instead of or in addition to the thyme and don’t plan to strain the sauce, strip them from the stems first and give them a rough chop before adding to the sauce so you don’t end up with full-size rosemary leaves in the sauce.



  1. Top Austin Blog Posts Week of August 16th 2009 | Republic of Austin - [...] Balsamic Red Wine Sauce looks amazing over at Fete & Feast [...]
  2. Steak with Red Wine Balsamic Reduction | The Petite Filet - [...] adapted from Fete & Feast [...]