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red wine for french cooking?

Hi All,

I am in need of a good recommendation for a red wine for French recipes. I was recently in Paris and had the most amazing Beef Daube and Coq au Vin. Both had a sauce that had a beautiful deep reddish brown hue instead of the purplish sauce mine always looks like. The flavor was richer too, but I'm imagining a lot of that came from the use of demi glace, though wine could play a role. Any ideas?

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  1. It's about what wine tastes good to you - since it will a prominent flavor in the end product. Personally, I prefer a pinot noir or merlot that has some spice and is dry but still fruity. The other key to a great braise is to use real stock - beef, veal or chicken - nothing from a can or package will give the richness.

    1. If the recipe is a beef stew or such i would recommend pinot noir. For the rest I tend to go with a Cote du Rhone from the south of France. These wines are based on the Syrah varietal usually and therefore have a bit fuller fruitiness. They tend to make the base for some outstanding sauces.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Lenox637

        Another Pinot user here but you are right about the demi glace, makes a much richer sauce

        1. re: Lenox637

          Most Cotes du Rhone wines are mostly Grenache, not Syrah, although the amount of Syrah is increasing.

          1. re: Lenox637

            We just used up some leftover Petite Sirah in a boeuf bourguignon (I know, sacrilege!), and it turned out remarkably well. The wine itself was pretty light on tannins, which I think can easily overpower even beef when using pinot noir or cabernet in a braise. We used the petite sirah because as a drinking wine, it was presenting as a bit too light on flavor to be interesting, but figured the flavors would concentrate well in the pot. This was enough of an unexpected success that I'll be exploring more Petite Sirah and Syrahs for cooking, since many of them are quite affordable and have clean fruit flavors that seem to survive cooking and go along particularly well with the sweetness of carrots.

          2. Thanks for the suggestions! Going to try the pinot for a beef daube recipe on Sat. (along with some veal demi glace) I'll let you know how it works!

            1 Reply
            1. re: hilaryindc

              Don't become confused about cooking with wine. A red wine used for cooking within one culture is not exclusively reserved for that culture. "Red wine" used in French cooking is also acceptable for Italian cooking or any other where wine is a recommended ingredient. Pinot Noir, for example, is simply a burgundy, In spite of it's french name and its French origin, the grapes are grown outside of France, most specifically in California, Oregon, New Zealand and elsewhere so it's regional characteristics will vary. If you limit yourself to a specific variety of wine for the recipes you typically prepare in your culinary adventures you will eventually become frustrated when a recipe calls for "red wine" and your mind goes blank when you can't make a decision on the best choice of the wines available to you for your particular recipe.
              I would, incidentally, use Pinot Noir for the beef daube. If it wasn't available, a good Cabernet Sauvignon or, in a pinch, Zinfandel would also work.

            2. My personal preference is a good rich Burgundy for coq au vin, boeuf en daube, and boeuf Burguignon, but as others have said, it's a matter of personal preference. I've had good results with fine California Burgundies, as well as those from France.

              8 Replies
              1. re: Caroline1

                I agree wholeheartedly. I will cook with whatever I am drinking though I shy away from cabs because IMHO they are one dimensional when cooking with them. That is why i opt for Rhones to cook with. My preference.

                1. re: Lenox637

                  Agreed; Cabs are often one dimensional. I guess it depends on how much Merlot gets dumped into the mix to soften it. When I was a kid, nearly every household in San Francisco made its own wine. Some of those "Dago" reds (an affectionate term and not an ethnic slur in our neighborhood) were awesome. Ahhh for the old days.

                  1. re: todao

                    OOOOOH.... I would LOVE to make my own paisan wine, my Mom always said I was born 100 years too late.

                    1. re: todao

                      I also find many cabs too fruit forward, (read sweet upfront) and many have too much oak...not looking for cedar or vanilla in my sauces

                  2. re: Caroline1

                    What do you consider "California Burgundies"?!?

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Any of the varietal blends traditional to Burgundy, France, but grown in California that are bottled and sold in the traditional "Burgundy" shouldered bottles. Is it a "real" Burgundy? No. But some can be very competitive in quality with native French Burgundies. California Pinots are such a case, but the really good ones are often as expensive as the French, and many would not consider using them as a cooking wine. The shoulder shape of wine bottles is usually an international signature of the type of French wine any particular nation's wines are intended to emulate.

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        Caroline, I think you may be confusing Burgundy with Bordeaux...not much blending going on in Burgundy, as a matter of fact there is only one blended wine, Passtoutgrain, (Pinot Noir and Gamay blend) allowed. Burgundy, red Burgundy is almost always Pinot Noir. Bordeaux on the other hand is very often blended...Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdo

                        1. re: bubbles4me

                          Generally true, but not without exception. Some of the less expensive Burgundy reds are a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay. These wines will not make anyone forget the GREAT red Burgundies, but some of them are quite acceptable as a table and/or cooking wine. And I have had such blends from California vintners as well, though it was years ago. My wine pleasures have been overridden by an incompatible medication for a few years now. <sigh>

                  3. A few things come to mind:

                    1) The choice of wine will affect both the colour and the taste of the finished dish. For dishes that have a lot of red wine (e.g., coq au vin) I go for lighter bodied, more delicate reds like Cotes-du-Rhone, Gamay, reds from the Loire, and even cheaper Burgundy. Some of the super cheap Sangioveses (e.g., Farnese) or Montepulcianos are fine, too--they would be my bargain option. Here in Ontario I use a lot of Niagara Gamay, Cab Ffranc, and Pinot Noir in cooking (and drinking). Cheap Bordeaux (e.g., Mouton Cadet) would also work here. Heavier New World reds (e.g., Aussie Shiraz, California caberbets or Merlots, Zinfandel, etc.) are not ideal unless you are specifically looking for that jammy, oakey taste (can't think of a good example of a suitable dish here, but I am sure there is one--personally I don't like the oak to come through in food at all). Heavier reds will tint the sauce a generally unwelcome purple if you use a lot.

                    2) In some parts of France, a daube is made with white wine, which is, surprisingly, rather nice.

                    3) I am sure that demi glace would be a welcome addition to just about anything, addiing both body and flavour. But I think a better (and more cost-effective) solution would be a rich beef or veal stock (homemade or procured from a good source--the butchers in town turn out a decent product that I have been known to use when my stock is depleted). I think that the quality of the stock is probably more important than the quality of the wine.

                    4) The cut of meat also influences the body of the stock. Short ribs and blade roasts, for example, produce a lot of gelatin when the cook, and this makes a wonderful, rich sauce all by itself.

                    5) You might reduce the braising liquid a bit--that might help. Using a bit less liquid for braising achieves the same end with less effort.

                    6) The French often use beurre manie to thicken sauces in braised meats--works like a charm.

                    7) Cook's Illustrated recommends simply adding a bit of gelatin to build body in a sauce (why didn't I think of that?). Have never tried it, but I trust CI.

                    1. I must add that you should be careful using any wine that is too herbaceous. Generally, when selecting wine for a dish, you do not need to spend a fortune to get the flavor you seek. Yes, of course use what you are drinking, but often the recipe calls for an entire bottle. Better yet, for cooking purchase a village wine from burgundy, where the dish originates, and you should end up with something close to the original. Have fun with it and experiment. That's the fun of it.

                      1. My guess would be that the color difference and depth of flavor had more to do with a multi-day or lengthy cooking process than with the use of demi glace.

                        The daube recipes I am familiar with are provencale style, and so I would be thinking of wines from around the cotes-du-rhone or languedoc or blends from other countries that use similar varietals.

                        Where is the recipe from that you are using?

                        1. I doubt the color was substantially affected by the type of red wine--cooking time, stock, even a touch of tomato paste (works well with herbaceous daubes) are more likely the cause. As for drinking, posts here offer many great suggestions' I'd add the only thing to avoid are one-dimensional, very fruit-forward reds. Blends (a village Cotes du Rhone like Gigondas or Lirac, Languedoc-Rousillons like Corbieres, Minervois, Madiran, etc.) with some spice and dimension are fine--good acid, too, for refreshment. A somewhat fleshy barbera or a Puglian Castel del Monte or a Salice Salentino that's not too tired or jammy would be fine, too. Finally, I'd recommend the chapter on daubes/stews in Richard Olney's classic Simple French Food as a template for building your dish. Ah, les plats qui mijotent au coin du feu....

                          1. Another fantastic resource for choosing and learning about which wines to cook with in a particular dish is Anne Willan's _Cooking with Wine_. Not only does this book go into detail about many different varietals, it provides suggestions on which wines would be most appropriate to cook with in a particular recipe (over 300 ones included), and which ones to serve with the finished dish.

                            Some Red Wines I've had good luck with when cooking: Portuguese Reds from the Dão region; Côtes de Rhône; Pinot Noir Pays d'oc from Southern France (Les Jamelles for example). Cabernet Sauvignon is the one varietal I often do not use because it seems to overpower too many dishes, yet I will use it if it is what I have on hand or opened in a pinch.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: vinhotinto75

                              Thanks for the suggestion of Anne Willan's Cooking with Wine. Her La Varenne Pratique is one of my most favorite and well-used cookbooks. After your mention, I ordered Cooking with Wine, and received it today. While I haven't cooked with it yet, I can see that it will have lots of utility for me. Thanks again.

                            2. Just chiming in to emphasize that you do NOT need to buy expensive wine to cook with -- a simpler rustic wine will do just fine. Please don't put the Chambertin in the pot -- it would be a waste of very good wine.

                              Oh and, congratulations on the Sec'y of State post!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: oolah

                                oolah, agree to your first point, and as to your second, you're funny...

                              2. Interesting thread. Some good information, and some misinformation.

                                My advice would be to consider the source of the recipe. Daube comes from SE France. Coq au vin is from Burgundy. Of course, these days they are made all over, but I'm talking about their original source.

                                SE France suggests Rhone and Coq au Vin Burgundy. But you just need something with similar character to them and your results will be fine.