Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Drunken Short Ribs

You like to drink wine or you would not be reading this column, right? I’ll presume my assumption is correct, and I will also venture to guess you enjoy pairing the fruit of the vine with wine’s best friend – a compatible meal. But what about using wine as an ingredient in cooking your meal?

The most common questions I get from folks regarding the use of wine in cooking relate to: the type of varietal to select; the quantity of wine to use; and the quality of the bottle -which usually relates to price. The main concern people have, though, is that the wine they choose might not work with their menu item, and the meal will be ruined. And sometimes their fears are realized when they assume it’s okay to use that half bottle of Three Buck Chuck’s that’s been sitting on a shelf in the refrigerator for two weeks.

The first rule when using wine in cooking is to make sure the bottle you choose is sound – as in fresh. It should also be something you would enjoy drinking. It doesn’t have to be an expensive wine, but it should be one that has been recently opened (like in the last day or so) and is still tasty. And always bypass those bottles labelled “cooking wine” in the vinegar and oil section of the grocery store unless you want to add a cod liver oil or other medicinal nuance to the meal.


Regarding the amount wine to use in cooking, the best advice is to follow the recipe. Generally, recipes will call for a cup or less of wine. But if you aren’t following a specific recipe, remember the goal is to enhance the dish not to overwhelm it. And don’t worry that cooking with wine will add alcohol to the meal. The reality is that after a few seconds in a heated pan or pot, all the alcohol is dissipated, and only the flavor of the wine is retained by the food.

So, what are some of the foods that are positively influenced by the addition of wine? I would say most foods, but I still haven’t found the perfect wine pairing for cereal. Anyway, there are a plethora of great recipes out there that rely on wine to enhance the finished dish. You can open any cookbook or Google recipes online, but if you can’t wait, check out the hearty wintertime wine-enhanced dish I’ve detailed for you below.

I know I said earlier that most recipes call for moderate amounts of wine, but this one requires a full bottle of dry red to tame the hearty flavors of the dish. You can use any full-bodied, dry red like zinfandel, Cotes du Rhone, cabernet sauvignon or merlot. I chose the 2015 Terre Rouge Tete-a-Tete ($27). Terre Rouge is a California winery located in Amador County. The winery focuses on Rhone varieties, and this bottle is a blend of grenache and mourvèdre (39% each) and syrah (22%). Full-flavored, round and rich, it has the body to stand up to and enhance the hearty short rib recipe below.

Drunken Short Ribs

Ingredients (feeds four people)

Three to four pounds of short ribs cut into two-inch pieces
One large Dutch oven
Two tablespoons of flour
One tablespoon each of Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
Three cups of beef broth
Two onions, celery stalks, carrots and red bell peppers chopped
Two tablespoons each of olive oil and tomato paste
Four cloves of garlic chopped coarsely
One tablespoon each of chopped parsley, thyme and rosemary


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Season short ribs with salt and pepper and cover in flour
Sauté’ beef in Dutch oven on stovetop in batches and set aside on a plate
Add onions, carrots, celery and peppers until translucent
Add garlic and herbs and tomato paste to the Dutch oven
Stir mixture for a few minutes and then add bottle of wine
Lower heat to medium when mixture begins to boil and add short ribs
Add beef broth, cover pot and place in the oven
Cook for two and one-half hours and serve over polenta or mashed potatoes


John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book Augie’s World, which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War, is available online at Amazon. You can find out more about his novels and wine columns at

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