KaTrina Wentzel

KaTrina Wentzel is a co-owner (with her husband, Paul) of The Wine Thief & Ale Jail in St. Paul. Along with her love of wine and travel, she bides her time teaching English at Mounds Park Academy and raising her fabulous children, who have been known to swirl and smell their milk.

Best Wine Happy Hours

Posted by: KaTrina Wentzel under Food and drink, Restaurant Bargains, Restaurants Updated: August 19, 2011 - 1:45 AM

Here it is: I love going out to eat.

But dining out can be tough on the pocketbook—especially during these current times. So I have found myself turning more than ever to that wonderful invention: happy hour. But instead of filling my head with college happy hour images of stale popcorn and big mugs of beer (although a pint of beer for $2 can still make me smile), many of today’s happy hours instead bring about pictures of high-end food and cocktails in settings that are more like my parents’ night out than my parents’ basement.

There are many great choices around town—more than I know about to be sure—but here are just a few of my favorites, chosen for deals and atmosphere.

 

The Madmen Happy Hour
Where: Ike’s
When: M-F: 3:00–6:00
Why I like it: This old school steakhouse will send you off with cocktails that will make you want to wear a suit and start smoking, but you can also grab $3 glasses of house wine and still feel ad-agency chic. Eat mini-burgers or roast beef sandwiches for $3, or, if that doesn’t do it for you, appetizers are half off.
Bummer: Vegetarians (ahem, me) do not have many options on the menu.


The Late Night Happy Hour
Where: Scusi
When: Everyday 4:00–6:00 and 9:00 to close
Why I like it: Scusi’s half priced individual pizzas and $4 house red (Astoria Pinot Noir) make this a great steal for a more midscale experience, and I especially like going here for the after-the-kids-are-in-bed happy hour. The atmosphere is a mix of old-school Italian and modern cool, with complimentary rosemary crackers and spread brought out alongside your water service. And each glass pour is 1/3 a bottle of wine, so no skimping there. 
Bummer: Limited seating can make it tough to get in on the action.

 

The You’ll Be Cool Happy Hour
Where: Il Gatto
When: M-F: 4:00–6:00; M-Th: 10:00pm–midnight
Why I like it: Nothing says “cool” like Uptown. And since I’m far from cool, I have to rely on such tricks as geographical proximity to cool. With a fun menu of $3, $5, and $7 appetizers, you can indulge on items like meatball sliders with smoked mozzarella or fire roasted clams while you sip on big glasses of house Chardonnay or Cabernet for $5 a glass.
Bummer: It can get quite crowded, plus there's the painful reminder when you leave: oh yeah, I’m not really cool, I was just pretending

 

The Food Food Food Happy Hour
Where: Downtowner Woodfire Grill
When: M-F: 3:00–6:00 (when no events are scheduled at the Xcel Center)
Why I like it: Free food. Make that free good food. This is a cheat, really, because wine isn’t on the happy hour menu. But I have to let you in on this secret if you’re unaware … They have happy hour Monday through Friday, 3-6, but on Thursdays and Fridays—if there isn’t an event at the Xcel Center—they put out free wings, breaded Persian cauliflower that’s to die for, and woodfire pizzas to nosh on while you drink $3 martinis or $2 well drinks or pints. The rest of the week you can still enjoy those great drink specials along with ½ price appetizers, but I'm telling you, Thursdays and Fridays rock.
Bummer: I never realized how many days the Xcel Center has events.


What are some of your favorite happy hours? Come on … let me in on the scoop!

Tuesday Tasting: Oak Grove Viognier 2009

Posted by: KaTrina Wentzel under Food and drink, White Wine, Wine, Wine and Food Pairings Updated: August 16, 2011 - 12:36 PM

My focus is good wine on a budget for everyday people. So every Tuesday I’ll post a wine-of-the-moment with simple tasting notes and a recipe pairing. The notes won’t be overly detailed or profound, but they’re not meant to be. Instead, they’re meant to be fun with a bit of insight into some bottles worth exploring. Enjoy!

 

 

Always for the lookout for budget wines, this Viognier made me smile. It delivers all of that rich, ripe, floral-tropical-honey-apricot flavor of its more expensive cousins, while keeping it honest with lemon-orange acidity and a hint of oak on the finish. Rich and full, it’s great with orange chicken from your favorite Chinese take-out. Around $9.

 

 

 

 

 

Tastes like:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tropical fruit, apricot, honey, orange twist, lemon zest

 

Drink with:

 

 

Orange Chicken

 

 

California Wine Trip: Last Day

Posted by: KaTrina Wentzel under Food and drink, California wines, Wine, Wine country Updated: August 6, 2011 - 3:05 AM

Final Day: August 5

Oh Sonoma. How do I love you? Let me count the ways …

I love your unique microclimates. I love your laid-back-yet-serious-about-wine ways. I love the roots of farming and sustainability that you hang on to. I love your beautiful surroundings. I love your wonderful downtowns of Healdsburg, Sonoma, and Geyserville. And I love all your family wineries.

As you might have guessed, I have a thing for family wineries. I love the commitment, I love the stories and traditions, I love the connectedness. Again, wine started out being all about farming. And throughout history, farming and family have gone together hand in hand. So family vineyards and wineries tend to feel good to me, which is why visiting Foppiano has been something I’ve been eager to do.

You see, Foppiano Vineyards is run and operated by the fifth generation of Foppianos to do so. The winery was founded in 1896 by Giovanni Foppiano and is one of Sonoma’s oldest continually-operated, family-owned wineries. It even survived Prohibition—by selling home winemaking kits. Pulling from their years of experience in the Russian River Valley (Foppiano Vineyards is one of the founding members of the RRV AVA), this family continues to produce solid wine. And while rooted in tradition, they’re not afraid to branch out and try new ideas. It’s this mix of old and new that really shows in their wines.

Today we met with Natalie West—Foppiano’s winemaker since 2008—a young, up-and-coming winemaker who has already brought new ideas to the winery including changing the barrel program to include new French and Hungarian oak. Natalie works closely with vineyard manager, Paul Foppiano, and between the two the process from vine to bottle has a beauty that is hard to ignore.

 

Foppiano winemaker, Natalie West, in front of Petite Sirah vines.

Foppiano winemaker, Natalie West, in front of Petite Sirah vines.

 

In talking with Natalie, we saw immediately not only her passion and knowledge for the wine she makes and the family she represents, but also a traditionalist at the core of this modern-day winemaker. She has a fondness for the old winery, and it really showed. New facilities, she explained, are great in regards to design and implements that are all about efficiencies and the latest and greatest. But working in an old, historic winery—where wine is made in some ways similar to the way it was 70 years ago—brings one back to wine roots. West noted that when you work in an older winery, you discover the key elements to making wine and realize what you truly need and what you don’t. “If it takes 20 minutes to complete in a new winery, it probably takes us 35,” she stated. But in her world that’s not a bad thing. It’s a way to stay grounded in tradition and history while continuing to make wine that also represents science and knowledge that we have now.

 

Beautiful Petite Sirah grapes at Foppiano ...

Beautiful Petite Sirah grapes at Foppiano ...

 

Going back to an earlier time, the Foppiano tasting room just added a tap of their wine, Lot 96. Locals can now buy the gallon bottle, then refill it for $20 a shot.

Going back to an earlier time, the Foppiano tasting room just added a tap of their wine, Lot 96. Locals can now buy the gallon bottle, then refill it for $20 a shot.

Going back to an earlier time, the Foppiano tasting room just added a tap of their wine, Lot 96. Locals can now buy the gallon bottle, then refill it for $20 a shot.

 

Foppiano fermentation tanks

Foppiano fermentation tanks

  

This large wooden tank holds 30,000 gallons

This large wooden tank holds 30,000 gallons

  

Foppiano barrels

Foppiano barrels

  

Our other stop today, Hopkiln, also had links to the past. The winery, which has been producing wines since 1976, is literally in an old hop kiln, where hops were dried over a century ago. The building is on the National Historic Register, and the winery has kept as much of the old building as possible. They’re about proprietary blends like Thousand Flowers and Big Red (which both have a cult following), but have begun to develop a HKG (Hopkiln Grown) line due to estate replantings. These estate grapes, in four distinct plots of land in the Russian River, are beginning to deliver and will only continue to grow and develop new nuances as they age. While HKG wines aren’t available in MN yet, I can only imagine that it’s a matter of time. At around $30 retail, they’re already well worth it.

 

 

Hopkiln Winery

Hopkiln Winery

 

Before we left Sonoma, a stop to Russian River Brewery and a late dinner at El Dorado Kitchen were necessary. Goodbye Sonoma. We’ll miss you, but won’t be gone so long this time!

 

Beer flight at Russian River Brewing

Beer flight at Russian River Brewing

  
Heirloom tomato and homemade mozzarella salad

Heirloom tomato and homemade mozzarella salad

 

Pork chop with grilled peaches, polenta, and Swiss chard

Pork chop with grilled peaches, polenta, and Swiss chard

 

 

California Wine Trip: Day 3

Posted by: KaTrina Wentzel under Food and drink, California wines, Wine, Wine country Updated: August 5, 2011 - 11:14 AM

Day 3: August 4

I’ll be honest with you: Napa isn’t my favorite wine destination. I guess it’s because it’s a bit more formal than I am. And by “a bit” I mean “a lot.” But Napa makes some incredible wines; I mean, there’s a reason why Napa has the reputation for wine that it does. So, even though I had to put on a dress, I was looking forward to today’s three stops.

We started the morning still in Lodi and went back to Michael David to have a farm-fresh breakfast at their restaurant. And farm fresh it was: My huevos rancheros included local eggs from free-range hens, local cheese, country potatoes made with onions and peppers, and homemade salsa made from Phillips Farm tomatoes. It was the perfect way to start the day.
 
Farm-fresh huevos rancheros and country potatoes

Farm-fresh huevos rancheros and country potatoes

 

We then left for Napa. First stop: Mason Cellars


Mason Cellars has its tasting room in Napa, but sources grapes from various areas including Lodi, Napa, and Russian River. Mason Cellars is all about whites: especially Sauv Blanc. If you make it to the tasting room however, you’ll also be treated to their Napa Merlot and Napa Cab, which they make in small batches for the tasting room only.
 

 

We met with VP Grant Hemingway (I didn’t ask if there was any relation, but boy was I wondering especially after enjoying Midnight in Paris recently) and owner/winemaker Randy Mason, a Napa star who’s been making wine for thirty years. We started with their budget-friendly Three Pears Pinot Gris (around $11 retail), which brought out flavors of not just pear, but also stone fruit and apple. We then moved to Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc (also around $11 retail), which is all about the grapefruit. It’s a big seller at our store and available in stores and restaurants around the city. It’s one of the better summer sippers I can think of, and a great wine for the cost.

 
Grant and Randy

Grant and Randy


Mason’s budget wines are phenomenal values, but it was hard not to fall in love with their higher end Sauv Blanc, self-titled Mason Sauvignon Blanc. With greater weight and complexity than the Pomelo, this is a sur lie wine (a process in which the wine is left on the lees—mostly yeasts—instead of being filtered away from them) and that toasty, baked-bread quality often associated with sur lie wines came through. And then we had a 2007 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (not available for purchase) and I was reminded that some whites—with the right closure, in the right conditions, with the right PH, etc., etc.—can age really well. This bottle was incredible.
 
The whites ... Mason Cellars, like many wineries, swears by screw tops as the best enclosure for their wines. I love that they dipped their reserve Sauv Blanc in wax.

The whites ... Mason Cellars, like many wineries, swears  screw tops are the best enclosure for their wines. I love that they dipped their reserve Sauv Blanc (far left) in wax.


Randy and Grant were wonderfully kind and accommodating, but before we got too comfortable, we had to head to our next appointment: Honig Winery.

Honig, which focuses solely on Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, is, like many of our stops, a family-run winery. We know the wines from this winery well, so our visit today was more informal. While we had a mini-tour, the bulk of our visit was joining Stephanie Honig (wife of winery owner, Michael Honig) and assistant winemaker Brett Adams for lunch at the winery. What stands out to me about this winery (besides their wine) is its sustainability practices and the winery's dedication to helping others find their way within this field. Because of this, my questions mainly surrounded this focus. I used to think of sustainable wines as wines created using organic practices without the official designation (an organic designation takes time and a whole lot of money after all), but Honig and Adams explained how much more it truly is.

 

Honig wines at lunch ...

Honig wines at lunch ...


Sustainability, Honig explained, is about supporting an entire ecosystem; reducing waste, water and power usage, and one's carbon footprint; and creating a business model that not only supports the environment, but also employees and the community.

There are no formula or “rules” like organic and biodynamic designations—what each winery can do might be different from another—so it’s hard to monitor. New regulations, though allowing for flexibility, are hoping to address this, and the Honigs were crucial in making that happen. But what Honig Winery is doing in its own vineyard and winery is remarkable.

Perhaps what’s most noticeable at first are their solar panels.

 

 
Solar panels create enough energy for the winery to run

Solar panels create enough energy for the winery to run


Installed four years ago, the winery often creates more energy than it uses, adding into the grid of the area. They’re also working to expand a nearby river to its original width, hopefully helping to bring back the original ecosystem of the area including the steelhead trout that used to call that river home.
 
This road/path was created using old fill after the city repaved roads ...

This road/path in the vineyard was created using old fill after the city repaved roads ...


In the vineyard, they’ve shifted to “dry farming.” In other words, they don’t water their vines, reducing both water and machinery usage. Instead, the clay soil holds in a lot of water and the vines’ deeps roots, unable to become dependent on water from above, fight to reach the water table below. Non-vine crops are planted in rows to help add nutrients to the soil and are kept either untrimmed (when the growers want those plants to grab more water from the soil) or cut short (when the growers want the vines to get more water). The vineyard is staggered with bluebird boxes (the birds eat insects) and owl habitats (the owls eat bigger vermin) for natural pesticides.

But their sustainability practices don’t end there. Honig bottles are made with 20% less glass than the typical wine bottle, saving on water and electricity in production and weight in shipping. They’ve also shifted to a transportation system in which anytime a truck delivery is made, it’s a two-way deal. In other words, they work to make sure no empty trucks are traveling the road due to their winery. A shipment of empty bottles comes in? The truck is loaded with wine to bring to a warehouse.

“Yes,” Honig said, “it takes some extra planning and coordination, but isn’t it worth it? It’s win-win for everyone.” Employee benefits and a quality work environment are paramount to the owners’ philosophy as well and part of their sustainability practices.

There was so much more to hear about, but we had to go: a Merryvale appointment was waiting.

Our Merryvale visit was about exploration: Maurice, the hospitality director, led us through a tasting of Merryvale wines unavailable in our market. Merryvale is a boutique winery that only bottles around 10,000 bottles a year, all with the highest degree of meticulousness. In fact, when they make their Bordeaux grape blend, Profile, the best grapes from their Napa Valley vineyards are quadruple hand sorted.
 
Pristine tanks used for fermenting

Pristine tanks used for fermenting

 
At $1500 a pop for new French oak barrels, some wineries make other choices. By my count, Merryvale's shipment of these new barrels equals around $200,000. The barrels will only be used for three years.

At $1500 a pop for new French oak barrels, some wineries make other choices. By my count, Merryvale's shipment of these new barrels equals around $200,000. The barrels will only be used for three years.

At $1500 a pop for new French oak barrels, some wineries make other choices. By my count, Merryvale's shipment of these new barrels equals around $200,000. The barrels will only be used for three years.

At $1500 a pop for new French oak barrels, some wineries make other choices. By my count, Merryvale's shipment of these new barrels equals around $200,000. The barrels will only be used for three years.

These high-end wines were stellar examples of what Napa does so well the highlight? Drinking the not-yet released 2008 Profile, which just received 96 points from Robert Parker. While it will taste even better in eight years, it was a treat already.
 
The 2008 Profile ... to be released soon!

The 2008 Profile ... to be released soon!

 
After we left Merryvale, we headed to Sonoma where we'll be spending the day tomorrow. A break was needed at this point, and Sara made sure it happened ...
 
Wine colleague and friend, Sara. Note: when on a wine trip, wine can be enjoyed on wooden swings.

Wine colleague and friend, Sara. Note: when on a wine trip, wine can be enjoyed in many places—including on wooden swings.

 
Dinner tonight was at the Girl and the Fig. It was, of course, wonderful. But my favorite? The heirloom tomato and watermelon salad amazingly fresh and delicious! All in all, Napa was wonderful. And though a bit more formal, it didn't mean the people were snobby. In fact, at the three wineries we visited today the opposite was true: people were kind, thoughtful, and down-to-earth. Totally worth putting on a dress.

 

 

 

Fried Green Tomato appetizer

Fried Green Tomato appetizer

 

 

Mussels for the seafood eaters ...

Mussels for the seafood eaters ...

 

 

Wonderful tomato and watermelon salad

Wonderful tomato and watermelon salad. The picture doesn't even begin to do it justice. 

 

 

California Wine Trip: Day 2

Posted by: KaTrina Wentzel under Food and drink, California wines, Wine, Wine country Updated: August 4, 2011 - 2:08 AM

August 3: Day 2

Today started with brunch at Fox and Goose, an English style pub that serves killer breakfasts. The additional bonus for me? They have an awesome vegetarian selection including the Vegan Pub Grill made with a tofu scramble. It was delish.

After brunch we headed to Lodi, an appellation just south of Sacramento whose Mediterranean climate yields some distinct California wines. This area, home to just 8 wineries a decade ago now boasts 80. We had only one winery, however, on today’s agenda: Michael David.

As we were a bit early, we spent a couple hours in downtown Lodi, which is sort of like a smaller scale Stillwater. We found a neat cheese shop, Cheese Central, which yielded a nice selection of cheeses and a fresh baguette for later.

 

 

Then, after milling around and playing with gadgets in fun kitchen store, we ended up at the Lodi Beer Company for a quick local brew. Brewmaster Peter York was on duty and the beer was great.

 

Toast to friends

Toast to friends

 

 

 

At 3:00, we made our way to Michael David Winery. The winery was created by the Phillips family 25 years ago after more than a century of farming in the Lodi region. At that point, the vineyard and winery were small as the bigger focus (as in 90% focus) was on the many fruits and vegetables they grew and sold in farmers markets and stands around the area.

And this is what I’m always reminded of when I travel for wine: no matter what mystique or glamour surrounds wine, the reality is that for the most part, wine is about farming. David (half of Michael David) Phillips was kind enough to spend the afternoon with us, and I loved hearing his stories of working the fruit and vegetable stands growing up and then later driving to San Francisco to sell his heirloom tomatoes to restaurants. Because good wine comes from good grapes. And good grapes come from good farming.

 

 

 

 

David Phillips amid his grapes

David Phillips amid his grapes

 

Over the past fifteen years, the Phillips farm has undergone a transformation in what they farm. The predominant part of their land is now vineyard with a small part reserved for their traditional farming. The winery, originally named Phillips after the family name and farm, changed to Michael David (the names of the two Phillips brothers) after concerns from Phillips Spirits over name infringement. While, David told us, they were concerned that changing the name would be devastating to their brand, it didn't. I'm not surprised: wine history has shown that solid grapes and wine techniques can carry one through lots of adversity. 

 

David pouring Gary some wine out of tank (before barreling); it's nice to see and taste wine "in process"

David pouring Gary some wine out of tank (before barreling); it's nice to see and taste wine "in process"

 

Now known for such labels as 7 Deadly Zins, Earthquake, and Petite Petit, this winery creates big, bold, in-your-face New World wines using both New and Old World grapes. And now they also source grapes from other growers—requiring sustainable farming practices to match their own. And, unlike many other wineries who buy from multiple growers, Michael David keeps each growers’ grapes separate in tank and through fermentation. They get to know and understand each growers’ grapes and how they convert to wine, then—I love this—they invite the growers for a special night where they can taste the wine from each of their plots. Each grower gets bottles of the vino that their particular grapes created, and the experts at Michael David help them understand what their grapes taste like. This may not seem like a big deal, but for growers who only source out their grapes it can be difficult to understand final product. Their grapes are often tossed with other growers’ grapes and are never heard from in their purest form again. This is cooperative growing and vinting at its best.

Michael David wines are not wines for the faint of heart. You’re talking big wines. As in 16% alcohol wines. As in stain your teeth wines. As in yuuuummmmm wines. Although Michael David works with multiple varietals (including a killer Syrah), especially fun today was trying three of their “sin series” Zinfandel wines side by side. These wines were created to really showcase geography and the ways in which different regions can create different flavors. Lust, their Lodi Zin, is all raspberries and caramel with pumpkin bread notes. Gluttony, their Amador Zin, is about brambly blackberries and vanilla. And Sloth, their Mendocino Zin, is all chocolate-covered cherries with spicy cinnamon, clove, and white pepper. I loved finding out that one of the next to come out, Greed, is based on Napa Zin. You gotta love a winery with a great sense of humor.

 

Sloth ... not just for Goonies

Sloth ... not just for Goonies

 

Beyond the tasting room, there is a bakery and café, a fruit stand (where you can get fresh produce from the remaining Phillips farm land), and gorgeous grounds. We also got to visit the “lab,” where they were experimenting with different tannin and sugar levels as well as trying wine from cask to make sure they were still stable and developing as hoped. Now THAT’S a lab I wouldn’t mind working in.

 

Part of the fruit stand at Michael David ... fresh peaches and pluots also caught my eye ...

Part of the fruit stand at Michael David ... fresh peaches and pluots also caught my eye ...

 

 

And big bunches of fresh rosemary? Um, yes please ...

And big bunches of fresh rosemary? Um, yes please ...

And big bunches of fresh rosemary? Um, yes please ...

 

 

Want to hang outside? No problem ...

Want to hang outside? No problem ...

Want to hang outside? No problem ...

 

 

A beautiful vine-covered pergola makes a lovely resting spot

A beautiful vine-covered pergola makes a lovely resting spot

 

 

Tasting trials in the lab ...

Tasting trials in the lab ...

 

 

A definite highlight: Trying the just agreed upon final blend of what will be bottled as the 2010 6th Sense Syrah.

A definite highlight: Trying the just agreed upon final blend of what will be bottled as the 2010 6th Sense Syrah.

 

As our time at Michael David came to a close, we weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to David. So we had dinner together at a great Mexican restaurant, Alebrijes, where the table side guacamole, roasted tomato salsa, and wonderful entrees brought us to our knees. 

Tomorrow ... Napa! 

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