HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Bottle of Wine for Braising an Italian Beef Dish?

  • s

I want to make an Italian beef dish that calls for two pounds stew beef, peppercorns, and garlic, with a bottle (or so) of red wine poured on top, braised for four hours.

What wine should I use? I don't want the dish to cost a fortune, but obviously the wine is important.....

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Lighter primitivo. Your dish sounds like the Italian version of beef burgundy so I'd go for a wine that is fruity and lighter.

    1. Cotes du Rhone style wines are great for cooking. Just because the dish is "Italian" doesn't meant the wine needs to be too.

      Cotes du Rhone work well because they're balanced blends - earthy and not fruity (not sure why anyone would want to cook with a fruity wine), dry but not tannic, not overly boozy, with enough substance to hold their own yet not overpowering.

      Cooks Illustrated did a test many years ago, using different red wines for a few different dishes, and found that the Cotes du Rhone style blends worked the best. For years, an inexpensive ($10-$13 where I live) Cotes du Rhone is my go-to for dishes that call for red wine.

      2 Replies
      1. re: foreverhungry

        Which wine might you pair w/ this "Italian" beef dish cooked in Cotes du Rhone;]

        1. re: Chinon00

          For a simple braised beef dish, I'd go with (in no particular order): Chateauneuf du Pape (staying with the Cotes du Rhone theme), a Bordeaux, a Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino if you like bigger, more tannic wines, though a hearty braised beef would match it well, or a Super Tuscan if you can find a moderately priced one.

          Depends too on what's on the side. Something with more substance, like a polenta and broccoli rabe, would pair great with the last three on the list. If the sides are a bit lighter and earthy, like carrots and a pasta dish, then the Chateauneuf would be great. The Bordeaux you could pick to match to your sides, from a high Merlot concentration to a high Cabernet Sauvignon concentration, from lighter to heavier.

          I put Italian in quotes because it's a basic braised beef dish, common to many parts of the world (at least as the author describes it, maybe there are more ingredients that truly would make it more Italian). But with beef, wine, garlic, and peppercorns, it could just as easily be a French dish, an Argentinian dish, an American dish, etc. The accompaniments, though, could make the meal more regionally distinctive - polenta, gratin Dauphinois, plantains/yucca, wild rice, for example.

      2. We have two basic rules for cooking wine.

        First is that, if a whole bottle is to be used, then we use whatever red the supermarket has on cheapest special offer.

        Second is that, if less than a bottle is to be used, then we use whatever red the supermarket has on special offer that Mrs Harters is happy to drink.

        The rules have served us well for 35+ years.

        I think that, if you wanted to be more selective, then decide on your grape variety and buy whichever is most reasonably priced. Grape variety is more important to flavour than region of origin. Shiraz is a good mid level variety for cooking - fruity and without too much tannin, so I'm told by Mrs H.

        14 Replies
        1. re: Harters

          Two basic rules: As J. Child said don't use a red wine for cooking you would not enjoy drinking.
          Adding a cheap wine to expensive ingredients is like using margarine in a beurre blanc IMO.
          When you are cooking with red wine reduce the volume by half to drive off as much alcohol as possible and to concentrate the flavor of the wine before using it in the recipe. Red meat and alcohol do like each other.
          This advice from the worlds best chefs. You can 'google' it.

          1. re: Puffin3

            Funnily enough, I have been known to use margarine.

            And, before I went on the wagon, any cheap shit would do so long as it was red. Preferably two bottles. I couldnt afford to get pissed on the decent stuff.

            If I was making a sauce to go along with, say, a grill, I'd agree with you about reducing the wine before incorporating it. In a braise or casserole, there's absolutely no need for prior reduction and it will naturally reduce during the process.

            1. re: Puffin3

              My bar for wines that I enjoy drinking is pretty low, fortunately! ;-)

              In all seriousness, for cooking I'd use a bottle of maybe $8-15 wine. I had a discussion about this once when I said "oh just use <whatever bottle>" and that Julia Child quote was inflicted on me. "Yeah yeah, I know, but unless Julia Child wants to replace a $40 bottle of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, just use that $10 CdR over there!"

              That quote of hers is applied incorrectly, a lot of times, IMO.

              1. re: Puffin3

                Strongly agree that the wine should be reduced to boil off the alcohol *before* it is added to the dish. Yes, it will boil off during cooking, but by that time the meat will be infused with raw alcohol.

                  1. re: mwhitmore

                    But stew meats take a while to cook and wine is your braising liquid. What do you substitute broth?

                    1. re: Puffin3

                      Not true -- several major magazines have done reports about how once it's been cooked, there is no discernible difference between expensive and cheap wine in the pot.

                      You still have to use something that's drinkable -- Boone's Farm is going to wreck your dish, I promise -- but there's absolutely no reason to gurgle a $35 bottle into a braise.

                      And no, you don't reduce the wine before cooking -- you pour it right out of the bottle into the pot. I'll reference the entire nations of France and Italy, both of whom know a thing or two about cooking with wine, and in neither of which I have ever read or seen a recipe (in any language) calling for a reduction of the wine prior to adding it to the meat.

                      There are flavor compounds in all dishes -- some are water-soluble, some are oil-soluble, and some are soluble only in alcohol. A little of all three unlocks all of the flavor compounds in the dish.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        Agreed! It's a waste to use an expensive top-flight wine in cooking, but whatever you use needs to be of drinkable quality. If you put crap into your stew, your stew will taste like crap.

                        As a very young person I made that mistake with a jug of Carlo Rossi and a large pot of stew. Inedible stew, as it turned out, thanks to the undrinkable plonk I had cooked it with. DON'T DO THAT!

                        There are plenty of inexpensive yet inoffensive wines available. The Cotes du Rhone people have recommended are very good for the purpose, and won't put you out of pocket or out of sorts.

                        1. re: benbenberi

                          Not true for the recipe in this thread. Carlo Rossi turns out a rather intense, deep flavor after 4 hours.

                          1. re: Steve

                            Clearly you're using a better grade of Carlo Rossi than I was!

                            1. re: benbenberi

                              Ha! This was my first purchase of Carlo Rossi. I took a sip. I have no idea why anyone would drink this stuff. I get more buzz from Lipton.

                              1. re: Steve

                                Don't forget that wine has been infused with garlic, beef juices, S & P. After a 4 hour braise it has lost almost all of it's wine flavor and become a delicious deep rich sauce. If you really want to drink the wine you use in this recipe next time try a Chianti.

                                1. re: Gio

                                  I see where you're going, but we need to be careful with blanket statements about reduced wine becoming a delicious deep sauce. Yes, it is very true that many of the complexities and nuances that distinguish great wines from very good wines from good wines will be lost when cooked for several hours. But it's also true that some of the more aggressive characteristics in a wine will tend to come out when heated, cooked, and reduced. Take an assertive tannic wine, cook it for a few hours, and those tannins will still be there, just more concentrated and harsher. Take a fruity white, cook it down, and you'll have a fruity dish. Same with an inexpensive California Chardonnay - cook it down, and you'll get oak and vanilla where you might not want it.

                                  From my experience this is more apparent for white wines than reds, and perhaps because dishes that use white wines are lighter in character, with fewer bold flavors to cover up wine flavors you might not want. Dishes using large quantities of red wine tend to me more forgiving, in part because beef is such a big flavor in-and-of-itself.

                                  I've also experimented quite a bit with wine types for dishes where wine is a major component of the dish - where at least a couple of cups are added, if not a whole bottle. That's led me to use Cote du Rhone for red, and a white Bordeaux or most any Sauvignon Blanc for white.

                  2. Unless the recipe calls for a specific wine, when a red wine is called for I use a Carlo Rossi burgundy. That works very well for us.

                    1. If you buy an expensive bottle of wine your final dish *may* be marginally better than if you used a cheap bottom shelf wine. Unless this is a seriously special occoasion I would go with a very inexpensive red. There are a ton of merlots and syrahs out there that can be used.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: jpc8015

                        Syrahs can be fruit bombs. Perhaps it's just personal taste, but I don't enjoy fruity wines ion a glass, and enjoy them even less in a dish.

                        Cooking wine can magnify the worst elements in a wine, while doing little to bring out the best. The result is that if cooking with fruity wines, the dish will taste like you added grape juice. Use a tannic wine, and you'll have a tannic dish. Cheap single varietals are flat and one dimensional, and if the wine is a significant component of the dish, as in this case, then the resulting dish will taste flat and one dimensional.

                        That's why blends, such as Cotes du Rhones, are great for cooking, because even at the low end, there's still some layering of flavors. You don't need to break the bank, but picking the cheapest bottle of wine to cook with is like picking all the cheapest ingredients from the Walmart freezer and expecting a good quality result.

                          1. re: foreverhungry

                            you have to use something drinkable. You don't have to use something expensive.

                        1. Famille Perrin Cotes Du Rhone is 7.99 at my local TJ's & the two buck or three buck chuck shiraz is not bad either.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: ceekskat

                            I cook almost exclusively with two buck chuck. It's the best $3 wine I can get living in an area without a Grocery Outlet. I have noticed no significant differences when cooking with this vs. more expensive wines, even when the wine is the centre of the dish.

                            Didn't Chow do a blind tasting a year or two ago with a variety of wines at a variety of expenses and find that it didn't make too much of a difference? I also read recently that in blind tastings most people actually prefer the taste of less expensive wines.

                            I'm happy to drink a bottle of two buck chuck when it's all I can afford. I can't say the same for a bottle of grocery store cooking wine, which I think was Julia Child's point.

                            1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

                              "a bottle of grocery store cooking wine"

                              Well, that stuff is full of salt. I wouldn't use that ever!

                          2. We keep a box of red and a box of white on hand because of their staying ability.This month is Almaden Burgundy and Chablis. Fine for cooking. We just bought a jug of Carlo Rossi also, but what we really wanted was the jug to use as a carboy.

                            1. I've cooked @ a number of good French restaurants and the chefs never made a fuss about what wine they cooked with. Cooking leveled the playing field. It was generally dry red & white California jug wine and inexpensive Madiera, Port, Brandy. The only brand name they used was Noilly Prat Vermouth. Same with liquors, if they were available domestically that's what they used. Of course when the dish called for a specific brand like a Grand Mariner souffle they used the real thing.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: zackly

                                i worked as a sommelier and beverage director for 3 james beard award-winning chefs. the kitchens all used jug wines and well-level spirits for cooking. to think of cooking with something as precious as barolo or sauternes is ludicrous.

                                i'm very disinclined to believe that del posto is pouring thousands of dollars of vintage barolo into risotto each week -- despite what the chef claims.

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  I have had the same exact experience as this only the chefs I worked with weren't James Beard award winning; but still very talented. We had a giant box of white in the kitchen and they used 1.5 L bottles of the house red.

                                  Base liquors were the cheapest we could find. The only thing that I was required to buy a certain product on was marsala.

                              2. The story is that this pepose originated with tile makers in Impruneta (outside of Florence), who would throw these ingredients together, and cooking them overnight in the kilns (after work). I've seen Chianti mentioned most often.


                                "2 bottles Chianti (other tannic dry reds will work)"

                                It's a robust dish, with a dominant flavor of black pepper.

                                I first read about in this 2007 Chow thread
                                "Bill Buford's "Peposo notturno" beef shank recipe"

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: paulj

                                  chianti was a local wine for them -- easily had and cheap.

                                2. cheap chianti - if you can't find that, I'd try a cheap Zinfandel

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. For a dish that requires a cup or less of wine, I'll use whatever I intend to drink that night. For cooking with a full, or nearly full bottle I'll use whatever is cheapest. I used to use Oz shiraz or cabernet, because it cost me about $5.99 (and I do find it the best cheap wine that I can also drink), but my local store no longer sells it. (No grocery store wine/liquor sales in NYS.) The last 2 beef stews I made I used Frontera cab/merlot mixture for about the same price. I wouldn't drink it, because I hate merlot, but the stews came out perfectly, very well flavored. I have never, ever, tasted alcohol in a dish cooked with wine, even though I add it to the pot after the meat has been browned. After several hours, there is no way that enough alcohol remains...and since the meat it only browned on the outside, the meat isn't porous enough to absorb anything while the alcohol remains. Of course, wine is one of the first things I add. Maybe if I added the wine less than an hour before serving, the story would be different. But the overall taste would be so drecky it wouldn't matter anyway.

                                    1. An inexpensive chianti. I usually pick up a couple bottles at either TJs or Costco for just these situations.

                                      1. Thanks everyone for your responses.

                                        I have a two-part follow up to my original request just to let you know how it turned out.

                                        At first I couldn't remember where I saw the recipe, so after some searching I found a traditional Italian dish called peposo. After seeing quite a few recipes online, I saw that the dish does call for the wine to be poured directly over the meat with no pre-cooking of the wine.

                                        I made two different dishes. I was still a bit unsure how this would come out, so I first experimented with what I had on hand.

                                        Instead of beef, I had a package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs (!) purchased by accident. So I used them. The only wine I had in the house was a half bottle of sauvignon blanc, so I used that. The other two ingredients were a head of garlic (I had that), and although I had whole black peppercorns, I decided to use whole green peppercorns instead. Talk about substitutions!

                                        The dish came out ok, with the flavor of the thighs completely dominating the wine. At the end I added a very small amount of maggi and and some molasses to give it more depth. But it was clear to me that no pre-cooking of the wine was needed.

                                        So I tried the recipe as written, using beef shank, 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp whole black peppercorns, and a head of garlic. I also added three slices of bacon just because i had three slices left. I did not pre-cook the bacon. I purchase a jug of Carlo Rossi burgundy as suggested by Gio and I poured a lot of it over the other ingredients in a clay pot.

                                        The wine cooked down a great deal this time until there was little left. The resulting beef came out with a thick, black bark. Much of it was falling apart. The flavors were intense. It was very delicious and easy to make, with almost no preparation. The bacon pretty much disintegrated into the resulting 'stew.' If I would do anything different, it would be to use more wine (I just covered the beef). if I wanted the beef to have maintained its structural integrity, then I guess beef chuck would work better though I like the flavor of shank more.

                                        I am definitely seeing the possibilities of using this basic recipe with different ingredients, but ones that make more sense than my first 'cost-free' attempt.

                                        Recipe link:


                                        12 Replies
                                        1. re: Steve

                                          Steve, as I was reading your substitutions, I had to chuckle a bit. If you ever read comments on recipe sites, this may ring familiar for you:

                                          "I didn't have beef, so I used a head of romaine instead. And I don't drink wine, so I used orange juice. Oh, and I didn't have a whole head of garlic, so I threw in an ice cream sandwich. This recipe sucks!"


                                          1. re: egit

                                            I had the same thought...until I saw Steve's name :)

                                            1. re: egit

                                              Hah! So right. In my case, the first time was a complete throwaway. If it sucked, i wasn't going to blame the recipe.

                                              But I was going to blame the clay pot.

                                              1. re: Steve

                                                I'm interested in the kind of clay pot you used. Was is a Romertopf?

                                                1. re: Gio

                                                  On the bottom of the 8" (or so) oval pot there are two separate markings" "Iker" and also "Made Italy" both crudely engraved. It has a completely plain, shallow top with no handles. No other markings or design. Got it as a wedding present 24 years ago.

                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                    Oh well if it's Italian it's terrific. (J/K). Thanks Steve. I'll look around.

                                              2. re: egit

                                                what it is, however, is a testament to how a cooking *method* can be adapted easily to produce other results!

                                              3. re: Steve

                                                I read your original post and was so intrigued (how can it be so simple?) that I tried it. I used 2# boneless chuck, and a bottle of generic "red wine" that was a mix of varietals. I don't have a terra cotta vessel so used a big metal pot that I make stew in.

                                                The hardest part was figuring out how many peppercorns to use because the recipe calls for grams. I ended up with 3T which was probably too many.

                                                The result was really good and very easy. I took the top off to reduce the liquid near the end and I think it ended up too black.

                                                So, I'll testify! Beef, black peppercorns, and red wine, and nothing else, makes for a lovely intense meal.

                                                1. re: 512window

                                                  Did you not use the garlic? I used a whole head of garlic. (I used the 'shaking mixing bowl' trick to peel the garlic - it works pretty well.)

                                                  I calculated the grams of whole peppercorns in the recipe to be 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon. But the lesson here is that measurements are not precise.

                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                    Yes, I did use a whole head of garlic. I peeled by hand because that's how I roll...

                                                    I didn't have any way to weigh the pepper corns so I took a brand new bottle of peppercorns which had the weight listed, poured it into a measuring cup to get a volume measure for that weight, converted to tablespoons, and rounded. There were some degrees of freedom, apparently.

                                                    It tasted great - thanks for the inspiration.

                                                    1. re: 512window

                                                      and that's the beauty of most savoury cooking -- there's LOTS of degrees of freedom, and once you have the technique down, you can take it down any flavor profile you want it to have

                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                        I found a lemongrass chicken recipe I think this technique would work well on.

                                              4. So after you poured the wine on the beef and added the peppercorns and garlic, did you cook it in the oven or on top of the stove? Covered or uncovered? For how long?

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: femmevox

                                                  I cooked it covered in a clay pot for 4 hours in a 325 degree oven. I linked the recipe in my Feb 14 post.

                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                    This morning I read a 'beef short rib' Italian style braise (stew) recipe from one of Lydia's cook books.
                                                    She calls for a 750ML bottle of red wine reduced down by boiling to 1 cup BEFORE! adding it to the other ingredients.
                                                    I follow what excellent cooks like Lydia recommend.
                                                    Far better chances of cooking an excellent dish than ignoring the experts. It took a while but I learned this lesson the hard way.

                                                    1. re: Puffin3

                                                      So who's the expert, the Tuscan tile makers who've been making this dish for centuries, or the Istrain/New York restaurant chef and cookbook author? :)

                                                      A while back we discussed a Thomas Keller recipe
                                                      that starts with reducing a bottle of wine to a glaze. Then cook short ribs with that. And finally re-purpose that meat to make a beef stroganoff inspired by the Americanize version his mother used to make.

                                                      1. re: Puffin3

                                                        There's more than one way to cook the same few ingredients. I am sure Lydia's version is very good.

                                                        I am attracted to this recipe because it takes almost no time to prepare, you just stick it in the oven. There could be infinite variations. I took a lemongrass chicken recipe and cooked it the same way as the peposo. Soy sauce, fish sauce, lemongrass, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, and water. Shove it in the oven. I couldn't believe how rich the sauce came out. It was transformed.

                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                          I just made something very similar last night for dinner - recipe called for initially reducing 1 cup of red wine (with some carrots, celery, onion, garlic, etc that were already browned and softened) then adding the (already seared) beef and topping off with the rest of the bottle of red wine. Turned out great - so there is a happy medium!

                                                  2. this thread made me think how cheap and low budget could I get away with and have good results - had to try it at the most basic level - Bone in shank, Carlo Rossi Burgundy - Garlic, Pepper Corns - in the slow cooker - no browning, no mirepoix, nothing. Served with boiled red potatoes and the crust end of a no-knead bread and hey, eating like a Tuscan tile cutter is pretty OK LOL (i imagine Tuscan tile cutters actually eat pretty amazingly). Could more ingredients and technique made it better or more complex? Sure. but nearly zero effort and little money for falling off the bone braised beef and a flavorful dippable/mashable sauce works for me.

                                                    1. I tried it again last night. This time I used a big shallow shallow Le Cruset covered dish.

                                                      I picked up green garlic in the farmer's market, so used two stalks chopped instead of the head of garlic. I also threw in a package of peeled pearl onions. 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, 1 bottle of cheapish Chianti. 3 hours at 325/300 (turned it down halfway through). Lid on the whole time.

                                                      Excellent results. It certainly doesn't give your the type of rich sauce you'd get from beef bourguignon. On the other hand, you don't have to stand around sauteeing things for an hour either.