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Risotto.. Why the wine?

Have to admit I've avoided making risotto as any recipe I've read in my many cookbooks, online cooking sites, or cooking shows, always call for wine as an ingredient.
I'm not against wine, theres always plenty of it in my house for guests & I do on occassion use a good wine when cooking a poultry or meat dish as a bit of wine does improve the taste of the dish, but the wine in those dishes loses its strong flavor and smell after simmering or baking for a while.

I'm one of the rare few who cannot abide the taste of any wine on its own, I cannot drink even the smallest glass of wine if offered as even the smell of the wine in the glass makes me queasy. .
Thats why I've been reluctant to make risotto as I can't see the wine flavor dissapating too much as the cooking time for risotto is not very long.

So that takes me back to my question. Why do you/they/ everyone always add wine to risotto? Was there a time when there was no wine in a good risotto dish? Do some of you omit the wine in a risotto dish that calls for wine? If so, was it as good, or was it not as good?

Inquiring minds would like to know this great risotto mystery!
Thank you kindly

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  1. First of all, the cooking time for risotto - at least half an hour and often more, is quite long considering what you're doing the whole time is cooking it in a shallow, open pan while stirring it over medium heat. Basically, you're boiling off most of the water you add in the first place and while I'm no physicist, I imagine that at that point, all but a miniscule amount of alcohol would boil off, too. You can of course leave it out, though you'd probably need a little vinegar or lemon juice to provide acidity. I don't always make risotto with wine and while it obviously tastes a bit different, it's still good. Wine is not a "necessary" component per se. It adds flavor, acidity, and of course the water, all of which can be provided by other ingredients.

    Given your sensitivity you probably don't keep any wine around anyway so it may not be worth the effort to you, but I'd suggest giving it a try - using wine in a risotto that is - if you're that interested in recreating specific recipes. I don't react to it the way you do, but I'm very, very sensitive to the taste and smell of alcohol myself, and have never noticed it in a finished risotto. You might have a problem just standing over the pot while it cooks off, though, so keep that in mind too!

    1 Reply
    1. re: MikeG

      I do agree that wine cooks off with the duration of risotto cooking, I am suprised to see you saying it takes a half hour or more to make risotto. I've made lots of risotto and seldom does it take longer than 18 minutes actualy cooking time, and then I let it sit maybe 5-10 minutes, but I'm not sure much wine is "cooking off" at that point.

    2. Marcella Hazan's basic risotto recipe doesn't include wine. So obviously it's not a carved-in-stone ingredient. I'd just use stock where your recipe calls for wine. Doubt that anyone at all could tell the difference. I use wine because I've always made risotto with wine. I can't taste it in the finished product.

      1. I have a book only on risotto that has recipes with and without wine, so it seems that wine is not essential.

        As an aside, there is an old saying that rice is born in water but must die in wine, i.e. you must drink wine, not water, with risotto.

        1. Wine is an acid and tenderizes the rice before adding the main liquid, whether it's broth or water. I've made many risottos that call for 1/2 cup or so of wine without it and just adding an equal amount of broth or water instead. The recipe still comes out fine.

          1. The wine is added for flavor and acidity. That strong flavor you describe will cook out. It's there more for depth of flavor rather than a strong, one-note of flavor in the foreground.

            1. When I've used wine in a risotto, the main difference that I noticed is the touch of acidity. While I am used stews and sauces have some acidity (as often from tomatoes as from wine), it is less common in rice. So it seems to stand out more. It may also balance the richness from the cream and cheese added at the end.

              I haven't noticed any difference in creaminess when using wine, but then I haven't looked for that.

              1. I made a squash risotto last night and I omitted the wine. It was lovely and creamy and yummy. So make it without.

                1 Reply
                1. re: sherrecipes

                  Any interest in posting your recipe? Sounds tasty, and I wouldn't mind trying a wine-less risotto, just to see if I can see a difference in flavor and/or creaminess.

                2. Like everyone said, you don't need it. Using some acid like lemon juice and alcohol of your choice would probably duplicate most of the the chemical benefits of using wine. The minor addition of flavor you can do without or substitute your own. I've made risotto with all sorts of flavored broths and also just straight water.

                  1. I think you could also substitute a T. of balsamic vinegar.

                    1. The wine is needed for acidity, and for a hint of fruit.

                      I have made risotto with verjus (unfermented grape must) to good effect for family members in recovery (contrary to popular myth, the alcohol in wine does not get all cooked away). I just wish verjus were more readily available (and not as pricey as it tends to be), because it's very useful to have in the pantry.

                      In any event, risotto without an acidic/fruity note is flat and not as good (the reason I know is that I made risotto without wine before finding the verjus solution, and that's what made me crave the solution that was found in verjus). YMMV.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Karl S

                        The OP's problem doesn't seem to be not wanting to "consume" alcohol as much as not wanting to smell or taste it. I know alcohol doesn't all cook off in many dishes, but I just don't see how most of it wouldn't cook off in this particular case, certainly past the point of tasting alcohol per se. After all, most of *all* the liquid you add boils off when you make risotto, you're not counting on the alcohol evaporating faster than the water which is, I believe, the usual problem.

                        NB re the verjus: it's been a long time since I tasted it and I don't remember how well it compares to verjus proper, but if it's available, you might try the sour grape juice you can find in some Iranian and Middle Eastern markets which is quite a bit cheaper than the stuff labelled "verjus." :)

                      2. I make risotto at least every couple of weeks and purposely save the 1/2 cup of wine from the night before (whatever we were drinking). One time I realized we hadn't done that, so I routed through the cabinet and found some Harvey's Bristol Cream. I used that, and it turned out great in a mushroom risotto. Just an idea, as it keeps forever and you don't need to open a bottle of wine if you aren't a wine drinker.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: BubblyOne

                          This is what Noilly Prat dry vermouth is also wonderful for....

                          1. re: Karl S

                            Thanks! I always have that too:)

                            1. re: Karl S

                              Or any sherry, Madeira or the like...

                              1. re: Karl S

                                That's been one of the very small but nice things I've learned on CH. There's always a bottle of open vermouth around.

                                1. re: Karl S

                                  I usually use vermouth in risotto, or sometimes marsala in a mushroom risotto.

                              2. It's to counterbalance all that butter and cheese.

                                1. Thank you everyone for the great advice &suggestions. I'm more than willing to try making risotto with wine if it cooks off as most of you have said. That was my main stumbling block, having the taste and wine aroma remain.
                                  Great to know that some of you quite often make your risotto without wine too, I did wonder about that. I've come across a butternut squash risotto with spinach & pine nuts that only asks for 1/4 cup wine so will be a good recipe to start with.
                                  Thanks again for all the help!