Apr 092010
Spy Twin Cities - Wine Thief wine shop, St. Paul

The Wine Thief of St. Paul specializes in wine finds under $20.

IF YOU’VE BEEN TO THE BRIGHT and beguiling little wine haven on St. Clair Avenue called the Wine Thief, then you’ll know about preparing to be smitten every time.

The Wine Thief just back of St. Paul’s Mac Groveland neighborhood is always a treasured stop en route to or from St. Paul restaurant haunts (such as the splendid Mango Thai).

It’s a charming storefront shop with a bell on the door: bright tangerine walls and warm hardwood floors and quirky window displays. The vibe is happy, low key, and smart (the staff includes a linguistics Ph.D.) and you may find someone at tasting counter pouring you a sip of a just-arrived Spanish Tempranillo or Chilean Sauv Blanc.

And most of all there’s this: The delight you feel prowling around this wonderful shop where well-priced finds beckon from a wall of cubbies and a dozen mismatched tables.

Named for the little gizmo used to sneak tasting samples out of a wine barrel, the Wine Thief specializes in unearthing quality wines at bargain prices. Everything is hand-chosen by the owners, with many small vineyards in the mix.

Nothing costs more than 20 bucks (save for a small table of “splurges”), and a good many of the wines you’ll pick up—and keep coming back for—likely will have $11.99 or even $9.99 penned on their tiny hand-scribbled price tags.

The Wine Thief also makes it exceptionally easy to find wines you’re sure to love. The staff knows its bottles well, and the shop’s small but varied selection of wines is imaginatively and helpfully organized by “palate palette”—bold or spicy reds, crisp or fruity whites, and so on. Best of all, charming handwritten notes (many said to be written by Wine Thief co-owner Trina Wentzel, who doubles as a high school English teacher) describe many bottles in the store.

There’s sake, too, and choice craft beer including one of the best selections of Belgian ale in the Twin Cities. Indeed, the Wine Thief recently opened a companion beer shop, The Ale Jail—expanding into the next-door space left vacant by by the demise of an old-fashioned toy store (the wonderful, lamentably vanished Essence of Nonsense).

Try to time your visits to coincide with the store’s free wine tastings, Fridays from 5 to 7 and Saturdays from 3 to 7. Those whose tastes also run to a nice Lager or Porter will also want to check out Ale Jail’s regular beer samplings.

Wine Thief | 1787 St. Clair Avenue, St. Paul (midway between Snelling and Cleveland) | 651-698-WINE (9463)
Hours: Mon-Thurs 11-8 | Fri 11-9 | Sat 10-9

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