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Dec 6, 2011
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Wine With . . . Osso Buco

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

We’ve heard people say that osso buco is complicated to cook, but if you can make pot roast or braised short ribs, you certainly can make osso buco. The only tricky thing, really, can be finding the right cut of meat. Veal is the traditional choice in this Milanese specialty, but lamb or even beef shanks also make good osso buco. The critical factor is to use the cross cut shanks that give the dish its intense, meaty flavor as well as its name, “bones with holes” (osso means “bones,” buco “hole”). Whether you choose veal, lamb or beef, any butcher ought to be able to cut the shanks for you if you don’t find them ready cut in the meat case.

Osso buco Milanese is traditionally served with saffron flavored risotto. Alternatively, the dish may be accompanied by creamy polenta, mashed potatoes, or pasta. This is a wonderful, make-ahead, one-dish meal whose only gourmet additions need be a loaf of good bread for sopping up the juices and, perhaps, a refreshing green salad. If you have little demitasse spoons, pass those around for guests to use to scoop the intoxicatingly rich marrow from the central hole in the bones.

When we have time, we like to cook osso buco a day ahead, giving the flavors time to intensify overnight in the refrigerator.

Osso Buco

serves 4

4 veal shanks, preferable 2-3 inches high*

salt and pepper

about 4 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup finely minced fresh herbs including rosemary, thyme, parsley, and basil**

1 bay leaf

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes

1 cup white wine

3 cups water or broth (chicken, vegetable or beef)

1 orange

4 large carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds about 1 ½-2 inches thick

Gremolata (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 475°.

Pat the veal shanks dry with paper towels (they will brown better if they’re not too moist) and season with salt and pepper. Put about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or deep oven-going skillet. Add the shanks and place the pan in the oven for about 8 minutes, or until the meat is lightly browned on both sides (turn them over about halfway through the cooking). Remove the meat and pour off the grease, but do not wash the pan. (Leaving the brown bits stuck on the bottom intensifies the dish’s flavor).

Lower the oven temperature to 325°.

Meanwhile, add the remaining olive oil to the pan and cook the onions in it, over medium low heat, until they begin to soften. Add the garlic, herbs, and bay leaf, and continue cooking until the onions are soft and translucent (but don’t let them brown). Add the tomatoes and their liquid. Using a pair of scissors or a potato masher, coarsely break the tomatoes into pieces. Pour in the wine and the water or broth, and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Wash and dry the orange. Using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler remove as much of the peel as possible without getting any of the bitter white pith (long, even strips of peel are nice, but not necessary). Drop the pieces of peel into boiling water and blanch them for 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and add them to the other ingredients in the pot. Add the shanks to the pot and scatter the carrots over the top.

Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and transfer it to the oven. Braise the osso buco at 325° for about 2 hours, or until it is fork tender.

To serve, nestle each shank on top of a portion of rice, polenta, or mashed potatoes and scatter the gremolata over the top.

*Since the meat that surrounds the shank bone is not a solid piece, it tends to break apart as it cooks. If you are a perfectionist, you may want to tie the meat around its circumference with twine to hold it close to the bone. Be sure to remove the twine before serving.

**A couple of tablespoons of mixed dried herbs may be substituted (we’ve used herbes de Provence with good results).


1 lemon

1/3 cup finely minced parsley

1 garlic clove, finely minced

Wash and dry the lemon and remove the peel. Mince the peel very finely. Alternatively, grate the zest off the lemon with a fine grater such as a microplane. Combine all ingredients. The gremolata may be made up to several hours ahead and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.

* * *

This is a rich, meaty, and deeply-flavored dish, perfect for cold-weather dining, and so a delicious partner for an equally rich, flavorful red wine. We tried some lighter reds (a Pinot and a Chianti Classico), but found them too delicate to work satisfactorily. We also found that the very best matches came when the wines offered spicy or rustic flavors in addition to fruit-forward ones. Osso buco tasted deliciously earthy. A wine that echoes that character will be sure to please.


Approx. Price


Angulo Innocenti,

La Consulta, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec 2010

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


A dark, inky Malbec, with forceful red and black fruit flavors and firm tannins, this powerful wine had plenty of personality, and so never risked being overwhelmed by the dish. The note of anise or licorice that seems so typical of Argentinean Malbec only added to its appeal.

Chateu Aydie,

Madiran (France) “Vignobles LaPlace” 2007

(Imported by LVDH)


A powerhouse of a wine, with deep, brooding flavors and taut tannins, this was a consensus favorite. It not only held its own with the deep, earthy food, but added intriguing aromas and flavors to the match.

Jean-Luc Colombo, Côtes du Rhône (France) “Les Abeilles” 2009

(Imported by Palm Bay)


Medium-bodied so not as muscular as the other reds we are recommending, this wine nonetheless proved very enjoyable, due in large measure to the peppery, earthy spice notes that become prominent in its finish.


Santa Barbara County (California) Syrah “Vintner’s Reserve” 2009


Supple on the palate but still evidencing plenty of brawn, this Syrah offered sweet but in no sense sappy plum and dark cherry fruit flavors that seemed to lighten and enliven the dish.

Spice Route

Swartland (South Africa) Shiraz 2008(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


Spicy and intensely-flavored, with dark fruit flavors and a floral edge to the bouquet, this wine made for an exciting match. It echoed the meaty character of the dish, while at the same time adding new savory elements of its own.