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Sep 18, 2007 12:07 PM

Marcella's Bolognese - Wine?

The first coolish morning in Phoenix in months combined with a day off has inspired me to FINALLY take my copy of Essentials of Italian Cooking off the shelf and try making this. I've had the book for at least a year so it's about time...

It's simmering on the stove right now. Looking forward to dinner.

Just curious what wines folks have tried in this and which have yielded the best results. I had a bottle of Chardonnay on hand and used that(Fat Bastard someone had brought to a dinner party...not the best option I'm sure but a more dry white wine than any of the shiraz and zinfandels that we also have!).

I know my husband will be begging for this ragu regularly once he tastes next time around what wine should I pick up to use? What's been everyone's favorite? This recipe is so much about technique and quality ingredients that I'm sure the wine choice really makes a difference?

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  1. Definitely a red wine. I'd post this on the WINE Board for the best replies.

    I prefer Italian reds like a Nero D' Avola for instance.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Cheese Boy

      Marcella's recipe calls for a dry white wine (along with milk) - I'll put red wine in meat sauces, but not in ones that also call for milk.

      I think any neutral, dry, unoaked, nonmalolactic fermented white wine works fine. I usually use the cheapest drinkable sauvignon blanc I can find. No point in using great wine... all the subtleties will be cooked off.

      1. re: Cheese Boy

        The poster is asking about what wine to cook with not to serve it with (I agree that you should serve it with a red wine).

        I typically use whatever I have left from a previous night, but nothing too sweet or too heavily oaky (I've made it with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinto Gris or Grigio, Vouvray, etc.). I don't taste a real difference depending on the wine I use. (didn't somebody recently test this comparing the classic Italian braise with barolo and making it with a less expensive wine, and found no real taste difference?)

      2. Everyone loves Marcella's Bolognese Ragu.

        I usually use an inexpensive Chianti, or dry white wine, Italian , of course. I like the results better with the Chianti.

        The rule of thumb is never cook with a wine that you wouldn't does make a difference. And, I would add, always use Italian wine for Italian dishes, French wine for French, and so on.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Fleur

          "always use Italian wine for Italian dishes, French wine for French, and so on"

          I don't think that's necessary at all - I always choose for specific characteristics.

          1) red wines - bright fruit, no brettanomyces, no oak, low tannin. I usually use New World syrah, zin, or merlot. I don't cook with pinot noir because most of the inexpensive pinots I've tasted have a lot of oak, and I'm not going to use a $30 bottle to cook with. I don't cook with cabernet sauvignon or cab franc.

          2) white wines - dry, no oak, no malolactic fermentation, no tropical fruit flavors. I usually use sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, orvieto.

          I think the wine just has to be drinkable, but not necessarily something you'd serve. I've had delicious short ribs braised in Sutter Home merlot, but I'm pretty sure we didn't drink Sutter Home with it..

          1. re: daveena

            I mentioned the use of Italian wine for Italian dishes, etc because I feel it is often important, especially with Italian and French food, to get as authentic a taste as possible, even given that one has to use available ingredients.

            Just as I wouldn't use Greek Olive Oil in French or Italian dishes, I wouldn't use Greek or Spanish wine either,

            We don't like the style, taste, and finish of American wine, and never drink it or I never cook with it. Just a question of upbringing and personal taste.

            I am sure your ribs were delicious. Creating new dishes can often turn out great. But in recreating Italian, French, Spanish, whatever, I try to stick to the original as much as possible.

            1. re: Fleur

              I think that many of the properties of wine and olive oil that make them so distinctive are attributable to volatile compounds that dissipate once they hit a hot pan. That's why I focus less on the provenance of wine and olive oil used in cooking, and more on whether or not they fit my criteria. I think it's more important to screen for negative attributes (excess oakiness and tannins in red wine, rancidity in olive oil) that may intensify during the cooking process and negatively impact a dish.

              Now, if you happen to only have French and Italian wines at home, it's easy to use only French wine in French dishes, and Italian wines in Italian dishes. But if your pantry is full of inexpensive Californian wines that people brought over for a house party, that never got opened, and you don't want to use your good stuff for cooking, is it really necessary to go to a wine store to buy an inexpensive French or Italian wine for cooking? I say no.

        2. I use a pinot grigio. NOT red wine.
          Gawd, I love that bolognese. Enjoy.

          3 Replies
          1. re: monavano

            I don't have an affinity for pinot grigio OR pinot noir.
            I'll continue to use what I like -- and no dairy in my bolognese either.

            1. re: Cheese Boy

              You may enjoy your Pasta Sauce, but it is not a Bolognese Sauce, which always has meat cooked it milk and wine. If it doesn't , it may taste fine to you, but it is not a Sauce Bolognese. The the famed sauce from the city of Bologna is a classic, made with certain specific ingredients..

              1. re: Fleur

                I'm confused - I always thought the milk/cream was optional, as told to me when I asked a friend's grandma (who arrived in the US from Bologna itself in the 1930s), who learnt to make her ragu from her mother.

          2. While I've used red wine in a meat sauce (usually Chianti) it is definitely not a Bolognese sauce with red wine. For Bolognese I always use pinot grigio.

            15 Replies
            1. re: Den

              I also use a Pinot Grigio. Don't mess with Marcella's recipe...use the white wine. You'll be happy you did.

              1. re: Den

                And it's not a true Bolognese sauce without milk, either.

                  1. re: Cheese Boy

                    A traditional ingredient, but not a DEFINING one like milk is.

                    1. re: C. Hamster

                      Nutmeg is certainly a *defining* ingredient in egg nog, but milk is NOT a defining ingredient in bolognese. JMHO.
                      I would add it only if the sauce were loose or if I needed to enrichen it some, but otherwise, minus the milk -- it's still bolognese. Look up Salsa Bolognese and you're sure to find many variations which have no mention of milk included in them, yet, they're all still Bolognese.

                      1. re: Cheese Boy

                        Meat, tomatoes, vegetables, wine and dairy are essentail ingredients in an authentic bolognese sauce. There have been countles discussions regarding what types of meat, vegetables, wine to use and whether milk or cream should be added, but they are the essentials of the dish.

                        Of course there are versions of "bolognese" sauce that do not contain dairy. You'll find some that don't use wine either, for that matter. These are not authentic recipes. To paraphrase the poster above -- they might be good but they aren't bolognese.

                1. re: Den

                  For crying out loud - the wine is just in there for a smidge of acidity, the recipe doesn't call for that much of it, and the reason she calls for white is basically because a red might stain the sauce ever so slightly. Whatever utility wine you have lying around will do just fine here, including that last oxidized bit of last week's Sancerre you just couldn't bring yourself to throw away.

                  1. re: condiment

                    I use Noilly-Pratt dry white vermouth in a LOT of recipes that call for wine--if it's less than 1/2 cup. It works just fine in Marcella's Bolognese--I've made it dozens of times.

                    1. re: Tom Steele

                      I just made Marcella's Bolognese last night with the new Noilly Prat ( and found it to be a little strong. I think you're right about only using Noilly Prat if it's less than 1/2 cup. I used 2 cups for Marcella's recipe (it originally calls for 1 cup, but I doubled everything to make more sauce) and the herbs from the Noilly Prat were a little overbearing. It didn't taste bad though, but the vermouth was stronger than the other flavours. In the future, I'll stick to a dry white wine.

                    2. re: condiment

                      Condiment, your reply is the best reply to this thread yet.
                      Forceful and true !!! I'm not a Hazan worshipper and I stray from a recipe when I feel like it. Some people just can't. Hence, we see these replies.

                      The OP asks ... 'Just curious what wines folks have tried in this and which have yielded the best results' . Somehow this point was completely overlooked ... !

                      1. re: Cheese Boy

                        I thought the OP was asking for people's experiences with wine, using Marcella's recipe. If you remove the milk, you are no longer using Marcella's recipe. This isn't a matter of slavishly following a recipe - this is an entirely different style. With dairy, you get a tender, velvety, more refined sauce (the benefit of milk is as much in texture as it is in flavor. It gets added to the meat right after the meat's browned and is allowed to absorb/evaporate before the wine is added. Per MH's headnote, it "protects" the meat from the acidity of the wine and the tomatos. I'm not sure what that means exactly. Maybe the milk proteins coat the meat, and keep it from getting too dried out? Don't know how it works molecularly. But it does result in more tender meat). Without dairy, you get a coarser (both in texture and in flavor), more robust sauce. It makes sense that in general, a white wine would be more appropriate in the former, and a red wine in the latter. Although, I'm sure if you put an acidic, light-bodied red into a Bolognese with milk, it would taste great.

                      2. re: condiment

                        Condiment, I don't think that's quite accurate -- that the wine is just there for the acidity. It lends flavor, and the alcohol coaxes flavors from the other ingredients that otherwise would not emerge. The acid denatures the proteins, and actually mollifies the acid of the tomatoes in a case of wacky food chemistry.

                        Bolognese always has milk, which caramelizes and forms a brown gravy. Read up ragu and sugo if you are unsure about this.

                        Of course, you can make the dish without milk, and without any wine, but that isn't Bolognese or MH's recipe. It will still taste wonderful, though not as round in flavor and not as lip-smacking good.

                        I prefer to cook the dish with white wine, and serve it with red wine. I've also used red wine, but I think the flavor is slightly better with the white.
                        It's such a good dish, and so satisfying. If you need to use up some leftover wine, just use that, otherwise daveena's tips for something dry, fruity, and not over-oaked are good suggestions.

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          "It lends flavor, and the alcohol coaxes flavors from the other ingredients that otherwise would not emerge."
                          People often don't know or forget the second part of this.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            This might seem a silly question, but I'm single so if making a complex dish, I tend to make a big batch of sauce and freeze a lot of smaller portions. Would the addition of dairy impact the decision to freeze? I know ice cream is a dairy product that's usually frozen, but it's rare to find cheese, butter, milk, cream, etc. offered in a frozen form.... hence the question. I love Bolognese but have refrained from adding dairy because of this.

                            1. re: tastyjon

                              You'll find when you cook the dish and add milk incrementally throughout, it creates this luscious brown "gravy," and no longer seems to be anything related to dairy. In that way, it resembles any other dish that uses dairy -- homemade mac 'n' cheese, muffins, etc. -- and freezes well. I love this dish so much -- I urge you to make a big batch, portion it out for future meals, and freeze it. It'll be great.

                      3. Funny to see this thread as my SO and I just decided we would be having this Saturday night. I normally use a sauvignon blanc for this recipe as that is what I often have open but I serve it with a barolo. you will love this recipe. It is one of my all time favorite things to prepare and eat.