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.

Posts about Red Wine

Pairing Wine

Posted by: KaTrina Wentzel Updated: July 22, 2011 - 9:18 PM


Even a simple garden picnic is enhanced by wine pairing ...

Even a simple garden picnic can be enhanced by a nice wine pairing ...

Food and wine go together like, well, food and wine. Many of us can remember a perfect pairing where the food and wine matched in a way that both managed to make the other taste amazing. We can also probably remember a time where a really off pairing made either the food or the wine (or both) taste totally funky. But how important is pairing wine with food? Is it more art or science? And honestly, is it really necessary? 


There are, of course, there are many schools of thought here. I tend to fall in the middle: pairing wine with food when possible is nice. It helps present a great food experience. But ultimately it's just one piece of a good meal. I can't tell you how many times I had what I considered the best bottle of wine or food pairing, only to buy the wine or try to create the pairing at a later date to be disappointed. Why? Because the meal or bottle I enjoyed so much was with friends or family and an entire experience. It was a night full of laughter, good company, intellectual conversation (or not), and the food and wine never tasted so good. Or the music was good. Or the weather. Or the space. Or any number of things that made me enjoy myself. The realty is if the wine is decent, the food is decent, and the overall experience is good, I don't overanalyze. I don't continually swish and smell my wine, I don't try to even out my bites of food with sips of wine, I don't expound upon the notes of cocoa or bramble. I enjoy my here and now with whomever I'm with, and chances are, unless the wine pairing is completely off, I enjoy both the wine and food.

Still, a bad pairing—whether for a "special meal" or pizza night—can dim the meal. Trying to pair wine when possible will increase your overall experience, so why not try? Plus, I must admit, it can be really fun—and it's a wonderful way to increase your wine knowledge. Unfortunately the simple "whites with fish and poultry and reds with red meat" doesn't always work in this fusionistic world of cuisine we now live in.  There are many pairing "rules"  you can read about—in fact, so many that spreadsheets and flow charts might be necessary—but my husband and I have narrowed it down to three simple ones. We call them our 3 Rules for Food and Wine Pairing. Clever, right?

1. Start with what you like.

Don't drink a wine you don't enjoy just because it's "supposed" to be good with a certain dish. Instead, start with what you enjoy.

Comparison: Have you ever grudgingly invited people over that you don't care for because everyone else says they're fun? Sometimes it's best just to stick with the friends you know will make you smile and laugh all night.


2. Consider the weight and preparation of the food.

Heavy foods pair with full-bodied, bolder wines while light foods pair with light-bodied wines; a poached chicken salad, for example, doesn't carry the same weight as a jerk chicken. Consider the wine as a condiment of sorts for the dish, thinking about the sauce or seasoning. If you would add lemon as a condiment, how about a wine with notes of citrus? If you would add BBQ sauce, how about a smokey, jammy red?

Comparison: Sumo wrestler in a tutu? A flute and tuba duet? Yeah, it doesn't work for us either...


3. Aim for balance.

Wine shouldn't overpower food, nor should food overpower wine. Balance can be achieved by matching flavors (an earthy Pinot Noir with mushrooms? A citrus-filled Sauvignon Blanc with fish?) or by pairing opposites (spicy foods often pair wonderfully with sweet or fruity wines).

Comparison: Our friends Dan and Leslie are very similar. They love each other. My husband Paul and I are very different. We love each other, too. Love is good... and so is wine.


Do you have a favorite pairing? Our favorite at the moment is Sancerre and goat cheese. If you haven't tried it, I can't recommend it enough! 

Tuesday Tasting: Gine Gine Priorat 2008

Posted by: KaTrina Wentzel Updated: July 19, 2011 - 11:17 AM

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!





Not many of us can afford a pricey bottle of Spain's famed Priorat, but grab this 91 pointer (Wine & Spirits) and you’ll feel like you sneakily grabbed something mismarked from the splurge section of a store. A blend of Carignan and Garnacha (Grenache), this introductory Priorat is full of bright concentrated fruit, ripe tannins, and silky texture—all of which make it an extremely versatile food wine. Both bright and dense, you’ll get deep flavors of black currant, dried fig, stewed plum, and a hint of cinnamon and black tea. With solid acidy and a medium body, this wine doesn't get too big for its britches, but instead offers a great introduction to a unique wine region in Spain. Around $20.



Tastes like:



black currant, dried fig, stewed plum, cinnamon, black tea


Drink with:

 grilled sausages 


Stewed plum image courtesy of Jane Maynard 


Tuesday Tasting: Chateau de Lascaux Rouge 2008

Posted by: KaTrina Wentzel Updated: July 12, 2011 - 9:54 AM


The caves of Lascaux root us to a primal, early ancestor in a time where having a piece of chalk was a really, really big deal. Chateau de Lascaux, though not as ancient, is also tied to a time long ago and it shows in this Syrah/Grenache blend from the Languedoc region of France. Earthy and deeply flavored, you’ll also get robust flavors of meat, smoke, dark plum and mineral, with peppery and spicy notes. Around $16.





Tastes like:



 plum, smoke, meat, black pepper, spice


Drink with:

 Steak Tartare 


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!

Old Vine Wines

Posted by: KaTrina Wentzel Updated: July 8, 2011 - 11:34 AM

“Can I ask a stupid question?” Ah, everyone’s favorite opening. And as a teacher, I’m supposed to say there are no stupid questions. But I was prepared for one when our friend Will opened with that earlier this month. His question, however, was far from stupid: “What, exactly, is the deal with wines labeled ‘old vine’?”

Yes, what IS the deal with that? It appears on a fair number of bottles these days, often without descriptor. And it does seem like the thing that would be stupid to ask, so people don’t.

Bottles marked in some way as “old vine” contain vino made with, well, grapes from vines that are old. Sometimes really, really old. Interestingly enough, there’s not an industry standard for what designates calling something “old vine,” but generally you can count on the grapes coming from vines at least 30 years old, and often they’re more than twice that age. The vines are gnarly and thick by that time (we have an old vine carcass on our store patio if you want to take a peek)—a truly distinct look.







Once vines hit a certain point (around 20 years), the older they get, their yields decrease. Because of this, at a certain stage, many vineyards will tear them out and replace them with new vines. Why get 25 hectoliters of grapes per hectare when you can get 50? (Grape yields are measured in hectoliters per hectare in most of Europe, but often in tons per acres in the U.S.) But the reason some vineyards hold onto those old vines is their potential.

The neat thing about old vines, you see, is while they produce significantly fewer usable grapes, they tend to produce grapes that are much more intense and concentrated. So while a winemaker won’t get nearly as many bottles out of them, the bottles they do get are often more interesting, deep, and complex. They’re also, due to the loss the vineyard takes on not getting to sell as many bottles, often more expensive. You’ll see this particularly with French wines. But there are some great budget old vine wines out there, especially from California and Spain. I love, for instance, Cline’s “Ancient Vine” line (they have a Zin, Mourvedre, and a Carignane), which all retail for around $15 or less.



Buying an old vine wine doesn’t guarantee your wine will be great, but they’re fun to explore. So no stupid questions around here. If you think you have one, let me know and I’ll try to dispel your worries.

Sulfites Smulfites

Posted by: KaTrina Wentzel Updated: July 1, 2011 - 1:53 PM


Perhaps nothing in the wine world has more misunderstanding than sulfites. Or rather, people’s reaction to them. Are there people with sulfite issues? Definitely. There are, however, very few people with true sulfite allergies or problems.


If you can drink white wine but not red, you don’t have a sulfite issue. Really. Sulfites are generally higher in whites.

If you can eat dried apricots or those lovely craisins, you don’t have a sulfite issue. There are about ten times more sulfites in two ounces of dried apricots than in a glass of wine.

Study after study has shown that there is no correlation between sulfites and headaches; a true reaction to sulfites is more like an asthmatic response. In fact, people with asthma are more prone to sulfite issues, which stems from a deficiency in the natural enzyme that breaks sulfites down.


So What Are Sulfites?
Sulfites, an inclusive term for sulfur dioxide, are part of the wine-making process and are produced naturally by the yeasts during fermentation. They’re also a great preservative and stabilizer with antibacterial properties, so many wineries add additional sulfites to stabilize their wines. Bacteria lowers, and that’s a good thing.

Lower sulfite wines are available; generally it means no additional sulfites were added, something required to receive an organic designation in the U.S. (Note: the label “made with organic grapes” does not require that no additional sulfites were added, just that the grapes themselves were organic.) But sulfite-free wines are rare; they have to undergo a process that removes the natural-occurring sulfites from the wine. And because sulfites stabilize, these wines can often be less consistent and of lower overall quality. Their shelf life is extremely limited (about six months), and they need to be kept in perfect storage conditions to ensure stability.

But, as I said, sulfites aren’t generally the issue. So what is? Are those headaches and stuffy noses all a placebo effect? Hardly. There are culprits.

RWH (Red Wine Headaches) and allergy-type reactions to wine are real things with no agreement on a real cause. But most likely to blame? Histamines and tannins.

In fact, I have a histamine issue with red wines. I often get stuffed up when I enjoy them, which, of course, makes me mad. A Zyrtec in my system beforehand works for me, but make sure you talk with your doctor before mixing any kind of drug with alcohol, even if it’s already prescribed or over-the-counter. Red wines have anywhere from 20%-200% higher levels of histamines than white, and if you already know you have allergy issues, this could be your culprit.

The tannins in red wines can also be an issue. While tannins show up lots of places (tea, chocolate, and soy for instance), somehow the way they react in wine—or rather the way people react to them—is different.

Tannins occur naturally in grape skins, and red wines get their color and some flavor from their prolonged time on the skins. They also, however, pick up tannins. The benefits, beside taste and texture, are in many ways the same as sulfites: stability and preservation. Because of this, red wines often need less or no additional sulfites. But studies have shown that some people react to these tannins poorly. Tannins cause the release of serotonin in the brain, which has been tied to headaches. This may be the case for RWH, but honestly, nobody is sure.

What to Do
If you know already which wines work for you and which don’t, you’re in a good place. It’s good to know what you like and what works for you. Many studies have shown that a single aspirin taken beforehand does wonders, and others show that antihistamines are great as well. Again, check with your doctor.

And if you show up at a gathering and a new glass is offered to you? Drink half a glass. If you don’t have a reaction within fifteen minutes (especially those of you prone to headaches), you’re probably in the clear. Try to stay to less than two glasses overall, and, if you enjoy it, write the bottle down for future “in the clear” reference.

And that headache the next day after going through multiple bottles with your friends? Not an allergic reaction. That’s called a hangover. 



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