Red Wine Cake

That saying, “Never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink” doesn’t mean much to me because wine I won’t drink is exactly what I cook with. A disappointing bottle of red means Coq au Vin the next day – and it always tastes better than the wine.

In the September issue of Food and Wine, Kristin Donnelly does a great job addressing the subject and says that the old never cook with wine you won’t drink “mantra” arose back when people used cooking wine, the salty, acrid “plonk” they keep near the vinegar. She points out how you obviously wouldn’t want to use a corked or spoiled wine in cooking, but a wine that is merely disappointing, might be a great choice.

Such was the case with last night’s cake – a Food and Wine recipe inspired by Ann Willan. I’d splurged on what the wine guy told me was an excellent Pinot Noir from a small vineyard in Carneros, my favorite Pinot Noir region. After spending twice what I usually would, I was very disappointed. The wine barely tasted like Pinot Noir and I could think of a lot of cheaper wines that were much better.

In the past, I would have called up the old saying “Life is too short to drink bad wine” and thrown the wine out, feeling guilty all the while. But these days, I bake with it.  And knowing I can do that makes me less apprehensive about trying new wines.

As for the cake, it was really easy, which was a plus – much more convenient (and delicious) than chicken or steak with red wine sauce. The texture is soft, there’s plenty of chocolate and the wine adds a little fruitiness. Since the cake is soft, moist and pretty sweet, I left off any glaze or frosting and just used fresh whipped cream. The pinot noir left a very subtle fruit taste, but I think it would have been even better with Cabernet or Red Zin. Then again, I rarely find a red zin I don’t want to drink straight!

red wine cake

Red Wine Cake
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A rich chocolate Bundt cake made with red wine
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Serves: 12
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (9 oz) -- spoon and sweep
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (8 oz)
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups dry red wine
  • Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
  • Whipped cream, for serving
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. f using a black Bundt pan, 325 F. I always use 325 F.
  2. Grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan or spray it with flour-added cooking spray.
  3. Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl using a hand-held mixer. Beat for about 4 minutes. Add the eggs and beat until incorporated. Beat in the vanilla, scraping sides of bowl. Beat for about two minutes.
  5. By hand or using lowest speed of mixer (best by hand) add the flour mixture and wine alternately beginning and ending with flour mixture.
  6. Pour into pan and bake on center rack for 45 minutes or until a tester inserted comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes. Flip from pan.


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  1. C L says

    This delicious-sounding recipe just might save the bottle of rather disappointing port that is setting in my kitchen, 🙂 The wine seemed like a good idea but just didn’t live up to expectations. Chocolate and port…life is good. 🙂

  2. Louise says

    Somewhere I have a recipe for “Port Wine Jelly” that goes with winter holiday type meals. I always used to make it at Christmas. Just in case there’s any port left after this recipe, I’ll dig it out in the next few days.

  3. says

    About that Port, it might make the cake too sweet. The recipe said “dry” and I used a fairly dry Pinot Noir. It was still sweet — not overly so. It was very good. But Port might be a little too sugary.

  4. Anonymous says

    Hi Anna,
    Interesting, this recipe is almost exactly the same as the famous Epicurious guinness chocolate cake. I made it yesterday so the recipe was fresh in my mind. The main difference is the 2/3 cup of sour cream in the guinness cake. I love moist chocolate bundt cakes. Colette peterson makes a similar cake with bourbon.

  5. says

    Hi Anonymous,

    More evidence that everything is just a twist on something else. I looked at the stout cake you were talking about and it’s similar to this cake x2, with stout and sour cream and baked in layers.

    And check this out. Back in 2001, Gourmet published a Merlot Cake which is almost identical to the F&W cake but made as layers and sandwiched together as Port.

    F&W adapted this recipe from Ann Willan and the Merlot cake was from Kay Simon. I guess both cakes came from the same original source which is probably something different. It’s intersting how recipes evolve from one formula.

  6. C L says

    Good point about the port being possibly too sweet…using it in a wine jelly might be the better option, so all is not lost, eh? 🙂

  7. says

    Yeah, you could try to make that jelly. I’m thinking that the Epicurious cake with the Port might have been on the sweet side. At least this one had an extra quarter cup of butter to balance out some of the sweet.

  8. says

    I first read this post yesterday as the cake I made for my daughter’s birthday was on the counter cooling. I didn’t have time to leave a comment then, but I think this cake looks wonderful, and I love the no frosting.
    I love the follow up you did in the comment section with the different but similar recipes.

    The Golden Egg recipe you made into muffins and little bundts looks very tasty. I still don’t have that book!

  9. Lisa says

    Just had a slice (or 3!) of this–love it. Used a Pinot Noir (‘cuz that’s what was on the counter, waiting to be used up). The cake is soft and fluffy, but still very moist. It has a distinct fruity essence of wine, but not in a hit-you-over-the-head way. I like it much more than the Guiness desserts I’ve made (cake & ice cream) because stout is too bitter for me. Like you, Anna, I left mine unfrosted, but my daughter announced that it would be perfect with marshmallow frosting (we have VERY sweet teeth around here!).
    Now if I could just stop eating it . . .

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