What’s a more comforting, warming, hearty meal than a beef stew? Nothing, obviously. But if you’re looking to give it that extra bit of flavor and pizzazz, it can help to know the best red wine for making your beef stew.

Most things in life are better with wine, and a hearty beef stew is no exception. Yes, it gives your food a richness that it might otherwise have lacked. But aside from wowing your significant other / dinner party guests, it’s also full of lovely antioxidants and pretty good for your health.

Health boffins recommend drinking between 15 and 30 grams of wine per day, and it plays a key role in the Mediterranean Diet. Adding wine to your stew is a perfect way contribute to this without going overboard. (Although, yes, drinking what you don’t use is perfectly acceptable. Waste not, want not, right?)

We talk wine, beef stew, and eternal happiness. (Except the last one, but the three are definitely linked.)

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Most wine experts seem to agree that a dry red wine is best when you’re whipping up a beef stew.

Three main types of wine will serve you well. But which one you choose depends on the flavors you want to go in your stew. Some people like beef stew to have a fruity tang, while others despise it. Some people like a little bit of sweetness in there, whereas others like meaty goodness all the way through.

So what are these three red wines you want to look out for? Let’s get the deets on our contenders!

Pinot noir

This likely originated in Burgundy in France. It’s a dry red wine that tends to be lighter than a lot of other reds, with low tannins and a medium-high acidity, and has flavor notes of cherry, raspberry, cloves, and hibiscus.

That means that it’s fruity and slightly sweet, with a hint of spice. If that’s how you enjoy your stew, this is the one for you!

Merlot

This is another French grape (and the name roughly translates as “little blackbird” — daww), and is super dry — perfect for beef stew!

It’s a lot bolder than a pinot noir, with medium tannins and moderate acidity, and it has flavors of cherry, plum, and chocolate in it, meaning that you’ll have a much stronger, robust flavor to add to your stew. But there’s also a nice, smooth note of vanilla that’ll make for some seriously moreish stew.

Cabernet sauvignon

This completes our French trio — it’s the most popular wine in the world, and for good reason.

Dry but with a strong flavor, with medium tannins and acidity, cabernet sauvignon is similar in taste to a merlot but stronger. If you want that really hearty, nonsweet, or fruity taste, this is yer boi. It’s got notes of black cherry, blackcurrant, and spices, making for a rustic-tasting stew.

So what are these tannin things we’ve been mentioning?

They’re responsible for that dry sensation that you get in your mouth when you drink red wine — the higher the tannin content, the dryer it tastes.

But what’s this got to do with beef stew? Well, tannins react with the fat in meat. They break it down, meaning that the flavor of the meat gets released and spread throughout your delicious stew. Oh, what’s that? Even more tastiness? We’ll take it.

Nonalcoholic alternatives to red wine in beef stew

So you’re not keen on the taste of red wine, or can’t drink it, but you’re still craving that richer flavor in your stews. Not a problem. There’s no reason why you should accept bland, inferior stews — you deserve better!

There are a few alternatives to red wine that’ll have your stew tasting just as good as those with vino. Try out these nifty options:

  • Nonalcoholic red wine. Yup, it’s the obvious answer, but to be honest, using nonalcoholic wine in a stew makes it taste almost exactly the same as its alcoholic cousin. Some nonalcoholic wines do contain a tiny trace element of alcohol, though, so be sure to check the label if you can’t have any alcohol at all.
  • Tomatoes. When you add red wine to a stew, you’re basically adding some notes of acidity and sweetness. Well, tomatoes do that too! A paste or even a carton of tomato juice will work well.
  • Red grape juice. Don’t want to use wine? Then use what red wine used to be before it grew up! Red grape juice will give you a sweet, fruity flavor. But be sure to use an unsweetened bottle of juice unless you like your stew hella sweet.
  • Broth. You can buy your broth or make it at home. Either way, a meaty broth will add even more rich flavor to a stew. Beef broth is a perfect partner, for previous obvious reasons. (Beef + beef = beef2)
  • Cranberry juice. CJ fans will attest to the dry, tart flavor of cranberry juice. The flavor effect of adding cranberry juice to a beef stew is reasonably similar to that of adding a red wine. Again, make sure it’s unsweetened.

What’s that? You want to drink your red wine, as well as eat it in your beef stew? You renegade!

Most people agree that cabernet sauvignon is the way to go if you need a red wine to pair with beef stew. With that dry taste thanks to all those tannins, which in turn bring out the flavor of the beef, it won’t get overwhelmed if you’ve have a really hearty stew full of meat and veggies.

However, if you fancy trying something different (or if you’ve already got some sauvignon in your stew), how about malbec? This Argentinian variety is pretty similar to its French cousin, with a dry taste and notes of plum, blackberry, and cocoa. It’ll work just as nicely for that fancy dinner you’re already planning in your head.

Tastebuds tingling? Ready to go to the supermarket and throw all the wine and beef you can get your hands on into your cart? Hold on: you need a recipe first!

If you’re looking for some delicious beef stews that put red wine front and center, check these out:

  • Beef stew with carrots and potatoes. Why mess with a classic? This traditional French recipe is a winter warmer and a heart stealer.
  • Beef Bourguignon. How can you possibly improve on a classic beef stew with red wine? Simple: add bacon to it. This recipe makes a beef stew so tender that it should fall apart at the mere touch of a fork.
  • Italian braised beef stew. OK, we know the French do awesome beef stews. How about the Italians? Try this out for a slice of la dolce vino.
  • Beef and red wine stew with dumplings. You might think that British cuisine lags behind its European brothers and sisters — until you’ve tried beef stew with dumplings. Soak them in the juices for a heavenly flavor; you’ll never go back.

Beef stew with red wine is a delicious, hearty dish — but you need to choose the right wine to bring it to perfection.

Dry red wines with plenty of tannin content are your friends: the tannin really brings out the flavor of the meat, and boosts the rustic charm of the stew itself. Go for a pinot noir if you like your stews light and fruity, cabernet sauvignon if you like it strong and rustic, and a merlot if you fall somewhere in between.

But most importantly, use a wine that you’re also happy to drink. Because it would be a shame to waste the rest of the bottle, right?

Bon appetit, and bottoms up!