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Aug 7, 2018
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WINE WITH…Risotto with Red Wine and Mushrooms

Risotto is usually served as a first course (primi) in Italy, and is generally made with white wine.  Substituting red wine makes this a much richer and more complex dish, one that can stand alone as a simple but very satisfying main course.  Pair it with meat, poultry or fish if you like, but we find it to be very gratifying on its own, accompanied perhaps by nothing more than a green salad.  You could add a vegetable such as green beans, though in truth the mushrooms are so meaty in flavor and texture that you don’t really need anything else on the plate.

Use portobello, cremini, shitake or whatever mushrooms you prefer, or a mix of several different varieties.

Risotto With Red Wine and Mushrooms

Serves 4

Going against all tradition, we do not find it necessary to heat the liquid before adding it to the rice, nor do we stand and stir the risotto constantly while it cooks.  That said, our general rule is to never really take our eyes off the stove when making risotto--whether we’re unloading the dishwasher or tearing up lettuce for salad we’re still watching the risotto.  The key to successful risotto is to stir liquid into the rice the instant the previous batch of liquid has been absorbed.

For the Mushrooms:

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup diced onion (red or yellow)
3 cups sliced mushrooms
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce or Worcestershire Sauce
Red pepper flakes (optional)
salt and pepper

For the Risotto:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup diced onion (red or yellow)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups arborio rice*
1 teaspoon thyme
2 cups deeply pigmented red wine such as Cabernet or Merlot
5-6 cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano cheese, plus more to pass at the table

To cook the mushrooms, pour the 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy braising pan or deep skillet.  Stir in the onions and mushrooms and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for a minute or two, then add the garlic.  Continue cooking for about five minutes, or until the mushrooms have softened.  Stir in the soy sauce or Worcestershire and cook for another minute or two, or until any liquid has been absorbed.  Taste for seasoning, then remove the mushrooms to a bowl.  Do not wash out the skillet.

To cook the rice, add the tablespoon of oil to the skillet and stir in the onions and garlic.  Over low-to-medium heat, cook the onions until they have begun to soften, then stir in the garlic and rice.  Keep cooking until the grains of rice are thoroughly coated with oil, adding a little more oil if necessary.  Add the thyme, then pour in the wine.  Over medium heat, stir the mixture (adjusting the heat as necessary) until the rice has absorbed all the wine (this should take about 5 minutes).  Immediately stir in about 1 cup of the stock or water, or enough to just cover the rice.  Simmer the mixture over low heat, stirring it frequently, until almost all the liquid has been absorbed.  Pour in another cup or so of stock or water, stir well, and let the mixture simmer, stirring it often and thoroughly, until the liquid is absorbed.  Continue this process--adding liquid to the rice and stirring it frequently--until the rice is just tender (if you run out of broth, add water).  Taste for seasoning, then turn off the heat and stir in the butter and cheese.

Transfer the risotto to a serving bowl.  Add the mushrooms to the skillet and quickly reheat them.  Spoon the mushrooms over the risotto and serve at once. 

* Other good risotto rice varieties are carnaroli, vialone nano, baldo, or calriso.

*         *         *

We tried only red wines with this risotto since the rice itself develops such a red wine character on its own.  And we discovered, somewhat to our surprise, that reds with quite different body types and tannin levels all worked just fine.  Flavor rather than texture is what proves complementary in this pairing.  So choose a red that you enjoy to drink on its own; odds are good that it will partner well with this earthy dish.

Connect  on Twitter:   @M_L_Thomas  and  @Wine_With_
More recipes and wine pairings:    Wine With...  



Approx. Price





Sonoma County


Cabernet Sauvignon








A lush-feeling Cabernet, yet marked by deep black fruit, this wine brings out the depth of flavor in the risotto.  It makes for a powerful combination.


Vina Eguía





(Imported by Quintessential)











A softer wine, with gentle tannins and more red fruit in its profile, this wine works equally well while striking a somewhat different note.  It tames the risotto making for a more nuanced pairing.


Sélection Laurence Féraud,




(Imported by Hand-Picked Selections)







Made by the team responsible for Domaine Pegau in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this more humble bottling shares that wine’s characteristic rusticity—a whiff of French barnyard introducing meaty as well as fruity flavors.  Not surprisingly, it evokes a comparable quality in the dish. 


Oregon Trails Wine Company,

Willamette Valley


Pinot Noir












Pinot Noir, when not too sweet or sappy, is a fantastic partner for mushrooms, and that synergy is what made this particular wine such a good partner for our risotto.  Its elegant, silky texture belies its underlying meatiness.  



Sella & Mosca,

Cannonau di Sardegna




(Imported by Palm Bay)








From Sardinia, this is a smooth and satisfying wine, bearing more than a little resemblance to southern Rhône and Languedoc reds.  Cannonau is the local name for Grenache, so the likeness makes sense.  And as with the Côtes-du-Rhône we are recommending, the combination of fresh fruitiness and rustic earthiness makes it very appealing.