Sub $5 Red Wine recommendations?
May 9, 2006 12:27 PM   Subscribe

I need recommendations for a very cheap (<$5/750mL) but hearty, flavorful, and tasty red wine. This will be used as a braising liquid and then reduced to make a sauce for beef short ribs.

Normally when I make braised short ribs I use a decent but not too expensive ($10-$15) Zinfandel, but I am planning on making them en masse for a party and can't afford to spend too much. However, because it is such a fundamental part of the dish I want to make sure it's got decent flavor. Doesn't need layers of complex aromas or anything, just a healthy dose of good flavors and no bad ones. In my experience I've found that wines with too much oak and/or tannins (Cali Cab) do not work well for this recipe, nor do wines that are too sweet/jammy (Aussie Shiraz).

Unfortunately, I don't have the time/budget to do a big tasting of every cheap red and pick my favorite, so i'm relying on recommendations to at least narrow my list down to a few contenders. Bonus points for wines available at Costco, Beverages & More, or Trader Joe's.
posted by rorycberger to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Dittoing the Two Buck Chuck. It's totally inoffensive -- no "cheap wine" bitterness -- with a decent amount of flavor.
posted by occhiblu at 12:35 PM on May 9, 2006

Carlo Rossi Paisano is good cheap cooking wine. Like $10 a gallon.
posted by cosmicbandito at 12:38 PM on May 9, 2006

I'd go with the Chuck for cooking. Though it does come close to violating my "never cook with something you wouldn't drink" rule.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:46 PM on May 9, 2006

I use a jug/box of Gallo for this purpose - something like this.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:47 PM on May 9, 2006

I can usually find Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon 120 at the local wine shop for $5-$6. I'm not a connoisseur or anything but I liked it fine.
posted by aparrish at 12:53 PM on May 9, 2006

Salmon Harbor Merlot - about $5.

It's all over Seattle - but I'm not sure about your location.
I usually hate Merlot - but this is not bad...
posted by mildred-pitt at 1:01 PM on May 9, 2006

I cook with 2$chuck all the time, it's all it's good for, in spite of the never cook with something you wouldn't drink with rule. I wouldn't drink '86 Latour if I hade slow simmered garlic, aromatic herbs, salt and meat in it, so that rule can be thrown out.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:08 PM on May 9, 2006

You cannot taste (as wine) the wine used in cooking. They've done blind tests. It's ridiculous to use even a "a decent but not too expensive ($10-$15) Zinfandel" unless you enjoy the subtle flavor of thrown-away money. Use the Chuck now and always, and treat yourself to a nice steak with the savings.
posted by languagehat at 1:32 PM on May 9, 2006

Who's "they?" If a wine is too bitter or acidic, you're sure gonna taste it, unless you add a lot of sugar in the cooking process.

That said, even a $2 wine will probably be OK, as long as it's fresh; a wine worth $20 will be a bad choice if it's been exposed to air for the last week.
posted by rxrfrx at 1:34 PM on May 9, 2006

If a wine is too bitter or acidic, you're sure gonna taste it

Yes, of course. That's why I added "as wine." If you cook with rancid butter, you're going to taste that too; that doesn't mean you need to cook with the finest, most expensive butter from hand-raised cows. I don't remember who did the tests, sorry, I haven't been immersed in the world of wine-tasting for over a decade (and haven't been able to afford expensive wine for a few years now). If you want to believe that cooking with grand cru Burgundy will make a difference to your stew, don't let me stop you.
posted by languagehat at 1:38 PM on May 9, 2006

languagehat: I hear where you're coming from, but I think you might think of this question as more like "I need too cook with some cheap butter. Which brands of cheap butter are not typically rancid". He's looking for a cheap wine which is not known to have qualities that will make his meal suck.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:19 PM on May 9, 2006

Response by poster: You cannot taste (as wine) the wine used in cooking.

Yes, you can. At least in this recipe, where I usually use close to 2 bottles of wine for a few pounds of meat, and after cooking reduce it down to a cup or so of super-concentrated sauce. The end result tastes like wine, really.

I'm not saying that I'd be able to tell the difference between say, Grand Cru Burgundy and a mediocre pinot noir, but I can tell the difference between a passable wine and nail polish remover. Just trying to make sure I get something passable. I rarely drink wines (especially reds) at this price point, so I'm looking to find out which brands are ok and which ones are clearly bad.

Thanks for the suggestions everyone, I think I'll give two buck chuck a try for a test run, but I am a bit skeptical. I may fall back on some of the other suggestions if that doesn't work out.

[on preview: what RustyBrooks said]
posted by rorycberger at 2:35 PM on May 9, 2006

languagehat, all I'm saying is that the wine has to have some drinkability. What RustyBrooks said. I've tried to cook with really old wine (way past the choke-down-able stage) on several occasions and I've always regretted it.
posted by rxrfrx at 3:17 PM on May 9, 2006

I vote against Charles Shaw. I tried to convince myself that it was drinkable/cookable, but I can't live the lie any more. It's pretty crappy. The cab tastes like someone poured six packets of Splenda in the bottle, maybe that's why it's not bitter.

Give the cheaper Torres wines a try. The Sangre del Toro can be had at Trader Joes for around $6.

Pretty much any $5 Chilean cabernet will be good, Chilean wines are way cheap.
posted by jonah at 3:36 PM on May 9, 2006

If you can find it, check out Three Thieves Bandito, which comes in a couple varietals via a $7-8 box. Three Thieves is a collaboration between Joel Gott and two other vintners whose names I can't remember. Their box wine, which is their low-end product, is great for the price.
posted by mkultra at 3:48 PM on May 9, 2006

Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Zin is generally half decent. It's generally about $5-7 a bottle, so it's a bit out of your range, but check Costco. Sometimes they have it for a bit less. And, it's even drinkable.
posted by JMOZ at 6:52 PM on May 9, 2006

Response by poster: Ok, went to Trader Joe's and picked up a bottle of Charles Shaw Merlot (recommended by a bunch of people), Santa Rita Cabernet 120 (recommended by aparrish), and a Black Mountain Zinfandel (random $5 Zin). Also got some beef stew meat (they didn't have short ribs, but this should be fine for experimenting). Did a quick taste test - all three seemed fine, although nothing I would seek out to drink. Seared the meat in three separate pans, deglazed, filled with enough wine to come halfway up the meat in each pan, and into the oven they went. I'll report back later with results.
posted by rorycberger at 7:32 PM on May 9, 2006

Old Moon at Traders Joes, $5 for a decent old vine zin. Shame to cook with it actually.
posted by fshgrl at 9:37 PM on May 9, 2006

One thing to remember: sugar helps break down the meat fibers, so cheaper wines, which tend to be sweeter, tend to work better. 2 buck chuck is too sweet for me to drink, but it's fine for cooking, probably far better than the Petrus I normally imbibe ;-)
posted by johngumbo at 10:07 PM on May 9, 2006

There's a superb class on braising on eGullet, with a multipart course and hundreds of Q&As. The consensus was that the best braising liquid is not wine but beef stock, and only 2" of it, in a heavy, tightly covered pot.

I've used the (unsalted) stock in the cardboard containers many times, and it gives wonderful results.

If it has to be wine, try the Bulgarian red called Trakia, which is about $5 and quite good. They also make a merlot. Tyrell's Long Flat Red is in the same price range and is also good.
posted by KRS at 12:37 PM on May 10, 2006

I can tell the difference between a passable wine and nail polish remover.

languagehat, all I'm saying is that the wine has to have some drinkability.

Yes, yes, yes, I'm in complete agreement, I never said you could cook with any old poison that happened to be sloshing around the kitchen—my point was simply that the kind of distinctions that matter when you're planning to drink a wine ("this one's ok, but a little simple and fruity, I think I'll go with the more expensive one that's both subtler and more powerful") are irrelevant if you're just going to dump it in a cooking pot. If I seem to be overinsistent, it's just that a lot of people seem to think that you really should be using a bottle of Chambertin in your boeuf bourguignonne, which is silly.

...Rory? Rory?? Oh god, he's lying there on the kitchen floor, a bottle of Two Buck Chuck in his stiffened hand!
posted by languagehat at 3:05 PM on May 10, 2006

it must have been really good, or we killed him.

Sweet, tender, succulent death.
posted by mkultra at 5:30 PM on May 10, 2006

Response by poster: Sorry for not reporting back, yesterday was a really busy day.

Well, I won't be quitting my day job to join america's test kitchen any time soon. In shuffling the 3 pans and the 3 wine bottles around the stove, I somehow ended up doing 2 pans of the Zin, one of 2 buck chuck, and none of the cab. The 2 buck chuck tasted a bit more salty-sour, while the zin tasted a bit more fruity, but they were both tasty. In the future I would happily use either, giving a slight edge to the Zin if I didn't mind spending an extra few dollars per bottle. The meat, btw, was almost inedibly dry. Stew meat != short ribs. Lesson learned.
posted by rorycberger at 7:49 AM on May 11, 2006

"Stew meat" (usually chuck) should behave roughly like a short rib. The key is to not boil, but rather to keep the temperature as low as possible for a very long time. Unless you got a cut from the round, in which case yeah, that would be gross.
posted by rxrfrx at 9:07 AM on May 11, 2006

Response by poster: I think it probably was from the round - it was Niman Ranch "Lean Stew meat". The "lean" part should have tipped me off that it wasn't what I was looking for. Oh well, the point of the exercise was to taste the sauces. Luckily I had already eaten dinner and wasn't relying on this to be an actual meal.
posted by rorycberger at 1:11 PM on May 11, 2006

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