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Bottle of Wine for Braising an Italian Beef Dish?

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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.....

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  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.