This is a TOMATO red wine sauce – not a red wine reduction sauce!
Tomatoes, a love-hate situation
I grew up in New Jersey. With Jersey tomatoes. Not that that gives me clout over making tomato sauce.
I don’t even particularly have an affinity for tomatoes themselves. I didn’t start eating them fresh until I was an older teenager/young adult, and only in certain applications (see caprese salad).
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good chicken parm, lasagna, and of course pizza, but these foods were EVERYWHERE. Unless they stood out and were REALLY good, they got a little boring.
I learned quickly what makes a great sauce and which sauces we kinda just meh.
But now, I know and love the taste of a perfectly ripe deep red tomato. But more often than not, the grocery store sells an under ripe almost orangey-red tomato that’s overly acidic and low on flavor. This is how a lot of the grocery store bought sauces taste to me as well. That – plus the tons of sugar they dump in!
I want a tomato sauce that isn’t so…well…tomatoey
Anyone from the NY tri-state area can attest, the closer proximity to NYC, the better sauce you’re going to get. It’s a scientific fact.
Now that I don’t live close to the city anymore I don’t have access to great sauces like I used to, so I’ve had to start making my own.
I like a really robust sauce with lots other flavors other than tomato. So if you’re looking for a very straightforward, tomatoey marinara sauce, this is not the recipe for you.
Another thing about tomato sauces that I never particular cared for was the acidity. If you have acid reflux you might feel the same. If a sauce had that higher acidic flavor, it just really never did it for me.
Not to say my sauce isn’t acidic, I’ve never tested the pH. I mean, the main ingredients are acidic, tomatoes and wine. But it just doesn’t taste that way, if you know what I mean.
I like to put a lot of other flavors and seasonings into my red wine sauce. This is to slightly distract from the tomatoeyness but also to complement it and reduce/cover up that acidic flavor. That’s what I’m going for.
My local grocery store was out of organic crushed tomatoes. Womp womp.
If I can’t find organic I make sure to at the very least get cans that are not BPA lined. These brands were also non-GMO.
I purposely chose the no salt added variety because I like to add my own pink Himalayan salt, but you do you.
You could also get diced tomatoes, pureed tomatoes or whole tomatoes for this recipe. Mix and match if you want. I was going for a smoother texture which is why I chose crushed.
I roast a whole garlic bulb or 2 ahead of time to throw in to get that deep caramelized roasted garlic flavor. You can’t have too much garlic if you ask me, especially roasted garlic.
Feel free to throw the garlic in the food pro with the onion though if you don’t want the extra step. It’ll still come out nice and garlicky.
There’s also plenty of onions in this recipe. You can play around with the onion type depending on what you have on hand. Really any white or yellow onion will do. If you like a chunkier sauce, then hand chop the onions to any size you like. If you like a smoother sauce, throw the onions in a blender or food pro and let it do the work for you.
Now you might be thinking “if this sauce isn’t supposed to taste acidic, then why is there red wine in it?” Good question!
In my opinion, the red wine once it’s cooked down doesn’t taste that acidic. And the flavor of the wine complements the other flavors really well and gives the sauce more depth.
I usually just use whatever red wine I have in the house, but if I do choose ahead of time I go for a full bodied wine like a Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon.
This blend is what I had on hand. Inexpensive and full bodied.
Now for the (not so) secret ingredient. Carrots! Carrots are notorious for reducing acidity in dishes and they really balance out the tomatoes in this sauce.
Unlike the onions, if you want a chunkier sauce, you’ll want to put the carrots in the food pro or hand chop them.
Carrots don’t get as mushy as onions seem to in the food pro. That’s why a few pulses with the food pro or a rough chop by hand will still give you that chunkier texture.
If you want a smoother sauce, then grate them with a fine grater like I did. It will make the carrots absorb into the sauce better.
Although I generally like to make my own spice blends, I do have a couple pre-made blends on hand at all times. An Italian spice blend is one of them. If you’d like to make your own, here’s the blend ingredients for a guide.
For years, I never bothered with bay leaves. Why buy something extra that you just take out of the dish at the end? I barely even knew what they were.
But I read a post one day (I wish I could remember where!) It basically summarized my initial thoughts on bay leaves: “Why bother? And what’s the difference?” It explained how the bay leaf really does impart a certain “I-don’t-know-what” into the dishes.
That was enough for me to try it. So I did. And now I’m passing along the same sentiment.
To this day I’m not exactly sure what it is in bay leaves that add that extra depth but I never make a sauce or a broth without one. This small touch also helps mask that acidic feel I’m looking to lose.
Texture, consistency and cook time
I tend to like thick sauce. That’s just me. This sauce can be made with or without tomato paste depending on your preference.
Also, the thickness will depend on how long the sauce is cooked covered vs uncovered. I usually let this recipe simmer for about 3 hours total, 1½ hours covered and 1½ hours uncovered.
It really depends on your preference, so play around with the timing. You could tilt the lid at the 2 hour mark if you want your sauce a little thinner, or even tilt the lid only for the last half hour of cooking. Or you can leave it covered the whole time for a much thinner sauce. It’s completely your call.
One thing I love about this recipe is that there’s very easy adjustments to make to change the thickness and consistency depending on what the sauce is intended for.
Method to the red wine sauce madness
Heat up some olive oil on medium in a dutch oven or large saucepan.
Throw in the onions and saute until they’re translucent and almost start to caramelize/ brown, about 10 minutes.
If you puree the onions as much as I did, you’ll want to cook the liquid off and wait until you start to get a bit of browning. This took longer than 10 minutes because these were some really juicy onions. So use your judgement.
Add in the shredded carrots and roasted garlic and cook for 5 or 10 minutes longer. Keep stirring!
Throw in the bay leaf at this point and give it a good stir to start getting that goodness out of the leaf.
Stir in the tomato paste. Add as much or as little as you’d like. The more you add the thicker the finished sauce will be (or omit for a thinner sauce). Let that go for 2-3 minutes and keep stirring.
Once the tomato paste starts sticking to the sides and browning a little, add the red wine and scrape any stuck brown bits from the bottom and sides into the wine.
Add your spices at this point and stir it up to incorporate.
Now it’s tomato time! Add all the cans of tomato and give it one last good stir to get everything uniform.
Let that come to a boil and then reduce the heat to low to simmer.
Cover the pot and let the sauce simmer for about 1½ – 2 hours. I can’t help myself and I tend to check on it every 30-45 minutes. I’ll usually give it a little stir during these checks too. But if you have the willpower to leave it, then by all means!
Again, you’ll want to think about how thick you want your sauce. Usually at the 1½ hour mark, I will tilt the lid for the remaining 1½ hours to boil off some of the moisture.
Once it’s finished, let it cool and use in recipes or freeze for later. This is a pretty large batch since I like to freeze most of it. Then I always have a few jars on hand. But feel free to halve the recipe.
This recipe netted me over 13 cups of sauce! It was probably closer to 15 or 16 cups but I kept some off to the side to dip mozzarella sticks in.
So I’ll be good on sauce for a while!
Red Wine Sauce Recipe
- Prep Time: 1 hour
- Cook Time: 3 hours
- Total Time: 4 hours
- 3 large cans (28oz) of crushed tomatoes
- 4 medium onions, processed or chopped
- 4 carrots peeled and grated (depends on the carrot size but you want approx 1½ – 2 cups grated)
- 2 cups red wine
- Roasted whole garlic bulb (or 2 small bulbs)
- 1 small can (6oz) of tomato paste
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1-2 tbsp Italian blend seasoning
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 1 bay leaf
- Crushed red pepper to taste (optional)
- Heat olive oil on medium in a dutch oven or large saucepan
- Saute onions and until they’re translucent and almost start to caramelize/ brown, about 10+ minutes
- Throw in the shredded carrots and cook for 5 or 10 minutes longer
- Add roasted garlic cloves and bay leaf, stir to incorporate
- Stir in the tomato paste and saute for another 2-3 minutes
- Add red wine and scrape any stuck brown bits from the bottom and sides into the wine
- Let the mixture come up to a simmer for about 5 minutes
- Add the spices and stir well
- Add the cans of crushed tomatoes
- Let the sauce come to a boil and then reduce the heat to low to simmer
- Cover the pot and let the sauce simmer for about 1½ -2 hours stirring occasionally
- Tilt the cover on the pot and let cook for another 1- 1½ hours. Stir occasionally
- Let sauce cool before storing or freezing