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What red wine is good for cooking short ribs?

When it comes to choosing a red wine for braising short ribs, the options can seem overwhelming. With hundreds of red wine varieties to choose from, how do you know which one will give you the best flavor? The key is finding a wine that will complement, rather than overpower, the natural flavor of the beef. Here are some tips on picking the right red wine for cooking short ribs.

Bold, Full-Bodied Reds

For braised short ribs, you’ll want to use a red wine that can stand up to extended cooking. Bold, full-bodied reds are your best bet. The high tannin levels in these wines help tenderize the meat during the long cooking process. Plus, their rich flavor provides a complex backbone that perfectly balances the richness of the short ribs.

Some examples of good full-bodied red wines for braising short ribs include:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Malbec
  • Syrah
  • Merlot
  • Zinfandel

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular choices as its notes of blackcurrant, cedar and tobacco mesh beautifully with braised beef. Malbec also pairs nicely with its ripe plum and dark cherry flavors. For a peppery kick, reach for a Syrah. And for a jammy, slightly sweet profile, use a California Zinfandel.

Avoid Light-Bodied Reds

On the flip side, steer clear of light-bodied reds like Pinot Noir when cooking short ribs. These tend to have bright fruit flavors that can clash with the rich, savory meat. Light reds also lack the tannins and boldness to properly tenderize and flavor beef short ribs during braising.

While they won’t ruin your dish, lighter reds won’t provide the same depth of flavor and tenderizing effect as a Cabernet or Malbec would. Stick to fuller-bodied varietals for the best results.

Consider Oak and Tannin Levels

When selecting a red wine for short ribs, you’ll also want to consider the oak and tannin levels. Wines that are aged extensively in oak barrels tend to be more full-bodied with earthy, smoky flavors that complement braised meats beautifully. High tannin levels will help tenderize the beef and provide structure.

For short ribs, a good benchmark is:

  • Medium-high oak influence
  • Medium-high tannin levels

This gives you the right balance of woodsy oak notes and tenderizing tannins without being overpowering. If possible, ask your wine merchant for recommendations of red wines in this flavor profile.

What About Wine Cost?

You don’t need to buy an extremely expensive wine for cooking short ribs. While elite wines can provide added depth, mid-range bottles around $15-30 offer plenty of bold flavor for braising. Focus less on the price tag and more on the overall style and taste profile when choosing a red wine for short ribs. With the long cooking process, subtle nuances get lost anyway.

Should You Use the Same Wine for Deglazing?

A key step when braising short ribs is deglazing the pan with wine to create an intense, flavorful sauce. For consistency, it’s best to use the same wine you braised the ribs with. This allows you to build on the layered flavors already developed during cooking. Just save a cup or two of wine to add at the deglazing stage.

If you don’t have enough left, you can use a different wine variety as long as it’s still a bold red. Just keep in mind the sauce will pick up slightly different flavor notes.

How Much Wine Do You Need?

For a standard 3-4 pound batch of bone-in beef short ribs, you’ll need about 2 cups of wine for braising. This provides enough liquid to keep the meat half submerged during cooking. Here are some rough wine amounts based on short rib serving sizes:

Short Ribs Wine Needed
2 pounds 1 cup
3 pounds 1 1/2 cups
4 pounds 2 cups
5 pounds 2 1/2 cups

For deglazing, you’ll need about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of extra wine depending on the quantity of meat and desired sauce volume. Always start with less wine when deglazing as you can continue adding to reach the right consistency.

Should You Cook with Wine You Would Drink?

There’s an old myth that you should only cook with wine you would drink – but that’s not necessarily true, especially for long braised dishes like short ribs. The complexities of fine wines are often lost during extended cooking. Plus, it can feel wasteful to open a $50+ bottle just for braising.

Instead, buy a decent mid-range wine in the $15-30 range. Focus on finding a bottle with the right blend of full body, oak and tannins to suit short ribs rather than the pedigree. With a long braise, even cheaper wines can provide plenty of rich flavor.

Top Red Wine Picks for Short Ribs

Based on their bold, full-bodied profile, these red wines make excellent choices for braising short ribs:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon – A classic pairing with notes of blackcurrant, tobacco and cedar. Its strong tannins help tenderize the meat.
  • Malbec – Deep flavors of ripe plum and dark cherry complement the beef. Argentina makes some great value Malbecs.
  • Shiraz/Syrah – Earthy game and black pepper flavors with soft tannins.
  • Zinfandel – Jammy and slightly sweet, Zinfandel adds a touch of fruitiness.
  • Merlot – Choose a fuller-bodied Merlot with oak influence. The soft tannins provide a smooth mouthfeel.

With any of these wines, go for something with medium-high oak and tannin levels. And remember to save some for deglazing! With the right red wine match, your braised short ribs will be lip-smackingly tender and full of flavor.

Pairing Red Wine with Finished Short Ribs

While the red wine you braise with provides tons of flavor, many people like to serve a separate wine alongside the finished short ribs. Here are some top red wine pairings to consider:

  • Pinot Noir – A lighter style that won’t overpower the dish. Pinot Noir balances the richness with bright cherry notes.
  • Sangiovese – Earthy Italian reds like Chianti Classico are an excellent choice. Their moderate tannins and acidity cut through the fat.
  • Rosé – Unexpected yet delicious, an oak-aged rosé can hold its own with the savory meat.
  • Syrah – If you didn’t braise with it, Syrah makes a wonderful pairing with its black pepper spice and meaty flavors.
  • Zinfandel – The jammy sweetness complements the umami-rich sauce beautifully.

For an all-around crowd-pleaser, a softly oaked Cabernet Sauvignon is never a bad choice either. Have fun playing around with different red wine styles to see what suits your palate.

White Wine Options

While red wine does best for braising, you can also use white for a lighter flavor profile. Full-bodied oaked varieties like Chardonnay and Viognier work well as they can still provide enough tannins and richness. Sauvignon Blanc can also impart nice herbal notes.

Just avoid very light, crisp whites like Pinot Grigio as they’ll get lost during the long cooking process. And stick to small splashes of white wine as the main braising liquid instead of fully submerging the short ribs.

Cooking with Wine Vinegar

Wine vinegar like balsamic, red wine vinegar or champagne vinegar can be used in place of wine when braising short ribs. Vinegar provides a similar function in terms of flavoring and tenderizing the meat, just with a sharper acidic taste. Combine a tablespoon or two of vinegar with beef broth instead of using all wine.

The resulting braise will have a noticeably tangier profile. Finishing with a touch of vinegar right before serving can also brighten up the sauce nicely.

Non-Alcoholic Wine Alternatives

If you need to avoid alcohol, use beef, chicken or vegetable broth instead of wine when braising short ribs. While you’ll miss out on some of the wine’s depth, the broth will still impart savory flavor.

For a mock wine flavor, add a splash of red or white grape juice blended with vinegar or lemon juice. You can also buy dealscoholized wines, though cook some of the alcohol off first before braising.

Dry Red Wine vs. Sweet/Fortified Wine

When braising short ribs, always use a dry red wine like Cabernet or Malbec. Dry reds have the right balance of tannin, oak and body to complement the beef. Sweet wines like Port will overpower the flavor of the meat, so they’re not the best choice for braises.

The exception is dry Marsala, a fortified wine similar to Sherry. A splash of dry Marsala can enhance short ribs with notes of caramelized nuts and dried fruits. Just go easy on it as you don’t want the meat tasting like a dessert!

Cooking Short Ribs in Red Wine vs. Stock

Red Wine Beef Stock
– Provides depth of flavor and tenderizes – Builds in savory, meaty taste
– Adds complexity like oak, tannin, fruit – More neutral background for spices
– Can overwhelm more delicate ingredients – Typically used as wine complement
– Requires a cup or more per pound of meat – Only need a few cups to keep moist

Both red wine and beef stock have their place when braising short ribs. For the deepest, richest flavor profile, combine a cup or two of red wine per pound of meat with equal parts stock. The winetenderizes while the stock provides savory backbone. They balance beautifully together!


The right red wine takes short ribs from great to spectacular. Look for a full-bodied red with oak and tannins to braise the meat to falling-off-the-bone tenderness and pack a flavor punch. Cabernet, Malbec, Syrah and Zinfandel are all excellent options. Spend $15-30 for a good mid-range bottle rather than breaking the bank on an elite wine. And don’t forget to save some for deglazing! With the perfect wine match, your braised short ribs will become a new favorite weeknight meal or dinner party showstopper.