Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Aug 10, 2012 02:53 AM

Bolognese - Red or White? [Moved from General Topics.]

I know that most of the Italian American versions use red wine while the Italian versions where it was invented use mostly white. If you want to get really picky about it, I think its either or in the official version sanctioned in Balonia.

Recently I saw a video from an Italian chef use both! He used white wine to deglaze the Mierpoix then later used red for the meat. It makes a lot of sense but on the other hand, he is the only one I have ever seen do that. What do you guys think? Which do you prefer and why?

His video is here:

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The traditional ragù of Bologna uses only dry red wine.

    15 Replies
    1. re: mbfant

      One might think that red wine is the logical choice for red meats, but there is also a solid tradition behind using white wine. The Accademia Italiana della Cucina issued its "official" recipe for ragù bolognese in 1982. It calls for white wine:

      Marcella Hazan's recipe, much admired on CH, also specifies white. I have tried it both ways and don't find that there is much difference in the end result.

      1. re: cheesemaestro

        Me too, but I lean towards white: there's less risk of a muddying of flavor. But it's not a strong Carbonara-like matter for me.

        1. re: cheesemaestro

          This had me worried, so I went to the site of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, and there found the recipe for tagliatelle al ragù and these are the ingredients for the ragù:

          300 gr di pomodori pelati, 150 gr di polpa di maiale, 100 gr di polpa di vitello, 100 gr di petto di pollo sminuzzato, 50 gr di vino rosso secco, 30 gr di burro, un cucchiaino di conserva di pomodoro, un cucchiaio di lardo, sedano, carota, cipolla

          This differs quite a bit from the traditional recipe used by my Bolognese friend and colleague, a food historian, especially in the presence of tomatoes, but for today let us merely note that they call for red wine.

          1. re: mbfant

            Wow. Weird. Looks like an Italian-American hacked that....

            Here's another reference - with a more typical reliance on skirt steak, and the forgiving choice of dry red or white (but not sparkling):


            1. re: Karl S

              Interesting that we have three different recipes, each supposedly the one blessed by the Accademia. The one cited by mbfant includes ground veal and minced chicken breast, which aren't ingredients in the other two recipes. I also checked the Accademia's website, but could not find the original 1982 recipe anywhere. The reason I brought up the Accademia's recipe in the first place was simply to point out that there are people in Emilia-Romagna who use white wine. It was not to claim that there is a single, "authentic" way to prepare ragǜ alla bolognese. On the contrary, there are probably almost as many ways to make it as there are cooks in that region of Italy.

              1. re: cheesemaestro

                That one was so weird: pork, veal and chicken with 50% tomato by weight. Not what I would expect as typical for the dish, even some folks prepare it that way.

                1. re: Karl S

                  My Bolognese authority is out of town for a week or so, but I'll ask her. Wine color apart (and she uses red), the Accademia recipe doesn't resemble hers at all. Although I'm sure every family has its recipe, the Bolognesi are—rare among Italians—very big on codifying recipes. They have registered tortellini filling at the chamber of commerce and even the correct width of tagliatelle, which is some fraction of the height of a particular tower (in any case, something wild), and there is a golden tagliatella available in the correct width in case a pasta maker wants to check.
         cites the "depositata" recipe (red OR white wine, only beef). I don't, however, think for a minute that Bolognese cooks consider themselves bound by the registered recipe.

                  1. re: mbfant

                    I think with a *lot* of traditional (as in handed down over generations, primarily by oral tradition) the recipes are *very* open to interpretation, as folks sometimes had to use whatever was on hand, rather than the "proper" ingredient.

                    There was a day when popping down to the corner to buy something wasn't an option -- there was no corner, there was no money, and/or there wasn't any of item x this time of year, anyway.

                    So people adjusted and added what they had on hand, and made do the best they could...sometimes a substitution really rang a bell for a family, so Mom added that the next time she made that recipe, even though her mother wouldn't have ever accepted the substitution. The next generation made their own alterations...and so on and so on.

                    That's how we end up with a jillion variations on spaghetti sauce, and chili, and chicken-noodle soup, and boeuf bourgignonne, and on, and on and on.

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      But chicken breasts were hardly typical fare for pre-Industrial peasants (unlike post-Industrial American "peasants"). Chickens were much more valuable for laying eggs; when they were spent, they went into the soup pot. Chicken was a rich person's dish, but, as in the Far East now, it was dark meat that was preferred to white meat....

                      1. re: Karl S

                        but I'm guessing that bolognese has been made with chicken more than once, when the rooster got too old to crow (or the hen too old to lay).

                        My statement was intended to be far more general than a single ingredient.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          And mine was directed at the sheer weirdness of the use of chicken breast in bolognese (breast meat does not do well in a 3-hour reduction - even that of a hold hen or rooster). It's more likely a sign of modernity than a peasant's touch.

                    2. re: mbfant

                      I'm looking at my English translation (Rizzoli ©2009) of "La Cucina", the Accademia Italiana della Cucina cookbook compilation and the "English" version (page 392) of the recipe you cited above gives the ingredients for the ragù as: 2 tbsp unsalted butter, 1 tbsp lard, 1 celery stalk, 1 carrot, 1 medium onion, 6 oz ground pork, 4 oz ground veal, 4 oz finely chopped chicken breast, 1/2 cup dry red wine, 10 oz peeled plum tomatoes, 1 tbsp tomato paste, salt & pepper. Cooking time 1 1/4 hours. :-) It also says that peas (in season) can be added at the end of cooking. ;-)

                      There are also two other "meat sauces/ragù" designated as being of Emilia-Romagna that I can find in this translated version:

                      On page 394 - Tagliatelle with Romagna-Style Meat Sauce (Tagliatelle alla Romagna), with the notation "This dish is typical of Romagna".
                      This one has: 3 tbsp olive oil, 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk, 1 small onion, 4 oz diced pancetta, 4 oz ground beef, 4 oz ground pork, 1/2 cup dry white wine, 4 oz tomato purée, 1 1/4 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt & pepper.

                      On page 330: Romagna-style Meat Sauce (Ragù alla Romagnola).
                      This one has: 1 medium onion, 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk, 1 oz minced pancetta, 1/4 cup olive oil (or 4 tbsp unsalted butter), 6 oz lean beef, 3 oz diced chicken livers, 1/4 cup wine (red or white), 3/4 lb ripe peeled plum tomatoes, pinch of grated nutmeg, 2 tbsp meat broth, salt & pepper.


                2. re: Karl S

                  I have been to that site before, their ideas of authentic are iffy. I know they are based in Italy but they seem like international travel agents of food then good authentic sources. Just look at their Sfogliatelle, looks like crap. Video is totally misleading.


                  This is how it look at most of the other places in that country.

            2. re: mbfant

              oh oh......I'm having visions of a Carbonara type fight brewing .....

              1. re: mbfant

                Yeah but the Italians traditionally used white wine in making their arguably most famous red wine, so go figure.

              2. Actually EITHER dry white or dry red is authentic depending on the region & the chef. (I'll add that these "authentic" threads bore me to tears because there's really no such thing as "authentic" when push comes to shove.)

                Italian Chef Giuliano Hazan, son of well-known Italian chef & food writer Marcella Hazan, frequently uses dry whites in recipes that most would think would require dry reds. And the results are wonderful.

                That said, I've frequently substituted a dry red for a dry white in a red-sauce recipe. For me it all depends on the other ingredients, and, as usual PERSONAL PREFERENCE.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Bacardi1

                  ...and what one might have to hand. I've added white to red sauce, because that's what was open that day.

                  Came out fine; not perceptibly different than with red (I think in strongly-flavored sauces like a Bolognaise, the alcohol's primary function is to release the alcohol-soluble flavors in the ingredients...some flavors are water-soluble, some are oil-soluble, and the alcohol-soluble flavors add an additional depth to the flavors.

                2. I use a Bugialli recipe that specifies white wine, I don't think I'd like the flavor of red in this particular sauce.

                  1. Arguing "traditional" or "authentic" or "official" for most any Italian dish is a loosing battle.

                    I prefer white whine in my bolognese. I think the red wine actually interferes with the meaty fattiness of the beef which is what I like most about a good bolognese.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: thimes

                      I've always used white, but I also add milk after the wine deglaze (and cook it off before adding the paste and stock), and I can't imagine that red wine would go well with the milk.