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 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 


Rediscovering Rosé

Posted by: KaTrina Wentzel Updated: July 15, 2011 - 1:53 AM

Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote a few years ago for Imbiber magazine, but tis the season!


Okay. I admit it. I used to drink White Zinfandel. And I liked it. I can give excuses like, “I was so young,” or, “It was before I really knew wine,” but the reality is I don’t think this pre-oenophile indiscretion needs an excuse. The great thing about White Zinfandels or any easy-drinking wine is they present an opening into the wine world.


For me, it was Sutter Home White Zinfandel, bought for the “fancy” dinner my roommates and I were making in our dorm kitchen. In hindsight there is much to cringe at as I think back upon this meal:

1. We considered it gourmet because we made asparagus as a side.
2. Did I mention we were drinking White Zinfandel?
3. Asparagus is one of the hardest foods to pair—although Gruner Veltiner works great—but at the time, my three roomies and I agreed the wine was a perfect match.

Despite these faux pas, however, I can say that this meal remains on my top-ten-best-meals-ever list. My wish for everyone is that they have one of the fabulous meals in their past—or future—as well.

You see, wiine drinking tends to be circular. When we start, we often begin with an accessible wine like White Zin. It’s like drinking coffee with lots of sugar and cream before you tackle espresso or PBR before you learn the nuances of Belgian ales. I moved on from pinks to whites. Rieslings, Pinot Gris’, Chenin Blancs, and Chardonnays entered my palate and vocabulary. As I became more adventurous, I moved into that “I only drink reds” stage, believing that bigger and bolder was somehow better. Savouring meaty Cabernets, I thought I’d met the apex of my well-developed palate. The one day, by happenstance, I ended up with an unwanted glass of white. For me it was at a neighbor’s home. Maybe for you it was handed off to toast a bride and groom. Maybe it was pored at a dinner. But whatever the case, most of us are taken aback as we realize nuances to the white that we missed the first time. Our interest in white wine renews, and the circle begins again.

That circle, however, often skips our introductory wine. We look back with shame upon that first bottle we enjoyed so many years ago, be it Sutter Home White Zin, Franzia Chillable Red, or Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. Reisling? That’s fine. Chianti? No problem. But there are just some wines we don’t want to revisit. And while in many cases that might be a good idea, it does present a bit of a trap. You see pink wine—often associated with those entry wines—has gotten an unfair and bad rap. The lone bottle of rosé at the party gets passed over like the Spam dip at the potluck, and the person who brought it pretends it isn’t his or tries to brush it off as a joke. But rosés go far beyond first blush; they are serious wines and deserve that second chance.

Made from a wide variety of grapes including Syrah, Mourvédre, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo, the primary process of creating the telltale pink of rosés comes through a maceration process. Red-skinned grapes are crushed, and, after a desire hue is presented, the juice is separated from the skins and ferments like a white wine. If the juice stays on the skins for six to twelve hours, the rosé is referred to as “wine of one day.” If the maceration process is longer (usually around 24 hours) the wine is referred to s a “wine of one night.”

Another method, Saignée, utilizes the process of “bleeding,” and is employed when winemakers don’t want an entire vat of grape juice to become rosé. Like the maceration method, the grapes are crushed with their skins. Once an hour, a predetermined amount of juice is drawn off, or “bled.” When the winemaker is pleased with the color of the drawn juice, it is fermented into a rosé. The remaining juice stays on the skins and becomes a red wine.

But that’s the mechanics. What’s the result?

Well, like with all categories of wines, you can expect great variety. Rosés come from France, Spain, Italy, the U.S., and beyond. Their colors range from light orange to deep violet. And as you might expect, the flavors vary as well. The good news, however, is that quality rosés won’t give you the hints of bubble gum and cotton candy that many fear. Instead, they range from extremely dry to semi-sweet, from acidic to fruity, from still to sparkling, from simple to complex.

Regardless of these ranges, however, most rosés have a decent level of acidity—making them excellent food wines. They also tend to have alcohol levels that range from low to medium—making them great sippers. Rosés can have a high level of complexity, can develop in the glass, and a few can even be aged.

So how do you find a great rosé? Like all wines, what matters most is your own palate. You may prefer a sweeter rosé or drier one. One with less alcohol or one with greater. If you’d like to happen upon what is typically considered a good pink, look for a rosé that is drier and more acidic with less than 13% alcohol. And keep in mind that like many whites, most rosés tend to lose their aromas and nuances as they age. Because of this, make sure the vintage is no more than a year old (and also note that this means as a rule you shouldn’t cellar your pinks). When in doubt, France still remains king of the rosé world. While this by no means guarantees a good bottle, consider looking at Provence or the Loire and Rhone Valleys.


I believe that many of us face wine drinking as a circular experience. It’s part of why I love wine. I’m constantly rediscovering a grape or wine I thought I knew or was bored of. And while drinking White Zin may not be in my forseeable future, I’m not ashamed that it’s in my roots. It is, after all, the vino I first enjoyed sipping with friends on a hot summer day. It’s the wine that showed me that wine with food was a good idea. And it’s the wine that opened up the huge world of grape imbibing I am now immersed in. So, White Zinfandel, I drink to you.



How about you? What was your first wine?  


Sutter Home Zinfandel photo by Isaac Singleton Photography

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.


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