This simple red wine risotto without cheese is an easy risotto recipe where red wine is the key flavour element. For that reason we’re using slightly more wine here than in other risotto recipes. The result is a rich and velvety red wine risotto with a distinctive aroma and a vibrant colour.
And yes, this risotto has no cheese. Strange it may seem, but it works. The addition of cheese to risotto has the double effect of providing flavour and texture. But by skipping it I promise we’re not losing on either. We really want to give red wine a place in the spotlight here when it comes to flavour. As for texture, the right type of rice and a small addition of butter at the end will do the job. Trust me on this one.
Does red wine go with risotto?
YES! Not only does red wine go with risotto, but in this very recipe red wine is the main ingredient after the rice. White wine is used in 90% of risotto recipes, but this does not mean that red wine does not work. The reason why white wine is so largely preferred is because it generally imparts a lower mark on the final flavour profile of the dish. Moreover, often risotto calls for another primary ingredient (mushrooms, asparagus, etc.), so wine plays a supporting role.
Can I use red wine instead of white in risotto? Only if the recipe calls for it, like this radicchio risotto. If the recipe calls for white, stick with white. But in this case red wine is what we want. In this risotto recipe red wine is the primary ingredient. We want something bold, with a lasting flavour. The alcohol evaporates, but the actual flavour remains. And so does the colour. And it’s a beautiful thing.
Red wine risotto ingredients
- Risotto rice – for risotto we need a type of rice that withstands this type of preparation. In this photo shoot I have used Carnaroli.
- Red wine – more on this below, my choice was Californian Merlot.
- Red onion – the other flavour provider, and we’re obviously going for red here, too.
- Stock – for this bold risotto I prefer chicken or beef stock, but vegetable one works very well, too.
- Dried thyme – this little herb does something magic when combined with red wine.
- Olive oil – to be used at the beginning to sweat the onion. Olive oil has a higher smoke point than butter and we want to sweat the onion for 10 minutes, so this is the perfect ingredient.
- Butter – added at the end will perfect the final texture.
- Salt & pepper to taste – add or not depending on how flavourful your stock is.
An overview of the recipe with step by step images follows. Please refer to the recipe card at the bottom of the post for quantities.
How to make red wine risotto
- Warm the olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy duty pot on medium heat. Peel and mince the red onion and add it to the pot. Sauté the red onion for 10 minutes on medium heat, the goal is to properly sweat it rather than brown it. I like to mince my onion coarsely, to have some onion bits here and there, and we want to make sure they get completely soft. If it starts to brown reduce the heat.
- When the onion is soft add the rice to the pan. Toast the rice stirring constantly for a couple of minutes (picture below, left).
- Pour in all the wine and increase the heat to medium-high (picture below, centre). Stir to distribute and keep cooking until the wine gets absorbed, the rice releases some of the starch and the whole mixture starts to take a creamy texture (picture below, right).
- Have the pot of stock on another burner and keep it warm. When the wine has absorbed, start adding the stock in batches. Depending on the size of your pot you may need to add 1 or 2 cups at a time, anyway you should add enough to cover the rice (picture below, left). Lower the heat to medium-low and let simmer, stirring from time to time. When the rice has absorbed the stock (after about 10 minutes) repeat. Keep adding the stock in batches until you either run out of it or your rice has cooked through – taste it from time to time.
- When the rice has cooked through, let the last addition of stock properly evaporate, always stirring to make sure it will not stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the butter (picture below, centre), this will notably improve the texture of your risotto. It is now ready to be plated and served (picture below, right).
Which wine is best for risotto?
Risotto is the number one recipe I make whenever I have wine leftovers in a bottle. Call me picky but I will not drink any wine that has been sitting around for too long in an opened bottle. Let a few days pass after opening a bottle of wine and its content will be downgraded from drink to cooking ingredient.
Which is not a bad thing at all. Because it allows me to try different types of wine in my food rather than just relying on the cheapest option because why spend on wine that ends up being cooked. And also, as a general rule you should always cook with a wine you’d enjoy to drink. So buying el cheapo wine just for cooking is, in fact, not a very good idea.
So if you have leftovers of whatever you’ve been drinking, I’m sure it will work great in this recipe. Actually, make it several times with different wines and you’ll taste the difference every time. However, if you don’t have leftovers at hand and you need to shop for this recipe, I’d recommend something with a medium-full body and a moderate acidity. I’m thinking Merlot, Sangiovese or even Shiraz.
Wines that have been significantly aged – especially barrel aged – are generally not recommended in cooking, also because if their price tag. But in this specific case we could make an exception. Red wine here is the main ingredient (yep, it’s not rice, nossir) so if you have a fancy one at hand and feel like trying it, you will only get a fantastic risotto. Amarone risotto or Châteauneuf-du-Pape risotto? Yass queen!
Make it vegan (or allergy-friendly)
So being this red wine risotto a cheeseless one, it’s actually very easy to adapt it and turn it into a vegan risotto. In fact, you only need to make 2 small adjustments:
- use a vegetable stock;
- use vegan butter.
Besides counting no cheese among its ingredients, this risotto is quite low in its butter content, too. And butter is mostly added for texture than flavour. So swapping dairy butter for a plant-based alternative will work just as well in this risotto.
Risotto is one of my favourite gluten free Italian recipes. Everyone always thinks pasta pasta pasta but I’m a northerner and I was raised on risotto. If you have guests who need a meal that is gluten free, easily adaptable to dairy free and vegan, too, this is it. This is the Italian recipe you will want to serve them.
Other risotto recipes
If you have enjoyed this red wine risotto you may want to try my other risotto recipes:
- Radicchio risotto with walnuts – this one also calls for red wine!
- Saffron risotto alla Milanese
- Asparagus and pistachio risotto
- Chanterelle mushroom risotto
- Cheddar risotto with zucchini
If you made my recipe I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave me a comment letting me know what kind of red wine you have used. Pin this recipe for later:
This recipe was originally published in February 2017 and has been updated with new pictures, better wording and a recipe card in May 2021.
Red wine risotto
- 300 g Carnaroli rice
- 300 ml red wine
- 1 red onion large, or 2 small
- 1 L stock meat preferred
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp thyme dried
- 20 g butter
- Bring the stock to a boil, then keep it on a low heat throughout the recipe as you want to be adding it warm.
- Warm the olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy duty pot. Peel and mince the red onion and add it to the pot. Sweat the red onion for 10 minutes on medium heat. If it starts to brown reduce the heat.
- When the onion is soft add the rice to the pan. Toast the rice stirring constantly for a couple of minutes.
- Add the wine and increase the heat to medium-high. Stir to distribute and keep cooking until the wine gets absorbed, the rice releases some of the starch and the whole mixture takes on a creamy texture.
- Lower the heat to medium-low and add the stock in batches, every time just enough to cover the rice. Depending on the size of your pot you may need to add 1 or 2 cups at a time. Stir from time to time to distribute the heat and check. When a stock addition has been absorbed, add the next. Proceed until you have added all the stock or the rice has cooked through (check the rice after 30 minutes).
- When the rice has cooked through, let the last addition of stock properly evaporate, always stirring to make sure it will not stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Serve right away.
- The quantities in this recipe yield 3 portions if having risotto as main course, 4-5 portions if having it as a side dish.
- Use any red wine you would enjoy to drink, preferably a dry one with a medium body and a moderate acidity. Avoid sweet or barrel aged wines.
- The nutritional information provided is an estimate from an online calculator and is only meat as a guideline.