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Richard, as the Coast Starlight Parlour Car Attendant, has a number of
responsibilities, not the least of which is directing the Wine Tasting
at 3:30 each day.
Richard's procedure is to first hand out napkins on which to place the
glasses so that the glass doesn't fall on the floor from the movement
of the train. Additionally
he hands out to the seated passengers a bottle of water each, for
rinsing the glass after each taste, and for cleansing the pallet.
The focus of his presentation is, How
Wines Go with Food, similar to what high-end hotels and
restaurants do. Three trays of a variety of cheeses and crackers
are provided on the serving cart and we were encouraged to fill our
He takes the first 20 minutes to explain wines. Amtrak looks for
lesser known varietals from wineries which produce excellent
wines. Once they purchased the entire production. Most of
the wines can be purchased off the train - although some may take some
Amtrak researched its sleeping car clientele and found them to be
upscale, educated, well-traveled, with disposable income, and, as
Richard put it, good looking. To
Amtrak this meant that sleeping car passengers would appreciate
wine-tasting onboard and perhaps would purchase wine. These wines
are only $14 to $16 per bottle, wrapped in a white linen napkin, and
tax is included in that price.
Richard suggested we follow the traditional Sight, Smell, Taste routine
during our tasting this afternoon. White wine is better enjoyed
young and Red is better old. Air speeds up oxidizing.
Wine is a living organism, with its own youth, maturity, decline and
end. The challenge is to catch it at maturity. White wine
enjoyed for 5 days after opening, red holds for 3 days. Sweet
wines hold longest. Some sellers, such as Trader Joe's, sell
It is very important that no air reaches the wine before opening...this
is why wines are stored cork-down to keep the cork from drying
out. "Cork" is being replaced by "closure" these days and the
closure may be cork, twist off, or plastic. Cork can crack and
air can reach the wine. Corks can rot. So a good wine
steward will show the cork to the diners for examination.
Look at the cork for mold and cracks. See if the cork will flake
off with your fingernail, if not, it is probably a good wine that has
not been reached with air.
With the first pour of white wine, is the wine clear?
Tip the glass at a 45 degree angle, if the Color is dark this means
heavy oak. Lighter in color is medium oak.
Good wine has good legs. Swirl your wine in the dry glass and in
45 seconds or so, look for legs or 'tears.' If they appear, this
means it is a premium wine. This works in a dry glass only.
Smell the 'nose' aroma, is it citrus or floral?
Swallow and check the finish. Is it smooth and fruity?
The wines for today:
First is the Chardonnay. Buchli Station, Napa Valley, CA, 2003.
The card that was handed out by Richard had the following notes:
Buchli Station is an actual train
station no longer in use, located on the property of Bochaine Vineyards
in Napa Valley and is the namesake of this wine. The station is
depicted on the label. We don't normally feature Chardonnay in
our tastings, but we liked this wine and the railroad theme caught our
attention. The wine has aromas of citrus and lemon zest with just
a hint of oak. This chardonnay has true varietal character with
citrus vanilla and spice flavors and a smooth finish. Try this
wine with trout almandine or grilled chicken breast. $14
Buchli Station is pear, melon, and apple blending. In France,
this would be called a Chablis (higher quality) or Bourgogne Blanc
(lesser quality). This is a dry wine. Oak casks
give a butter flavor.
[I had never tasted a chardonnay I liked, but this is obviously a cut
above and it was enjoyed.]
Second Tasting: Pinot Noir, Parker Station,
2005, Santa Barbara, CA
Fess Parker, the former actor
(Disney's Davey Crockett, among other roles) planted the grapes for his
vineyard in 1989 with the interest of selling the fruit to local
wineries. The initial 5 1/2 acres is now more than 700 acres and
Fess Parker Winery is producing world class wines including Chardonnay,
Syrah and Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is the noble red grape of
Burgundy and because it is so delicate, is one of the most difficult
wines to produce. This is a great example of a Pinot Noir.
It has the typical Pinot Noir aromas of cherry, leather and spice and
the flavors are that of cherry and cranberry with a hint of
vanilla and toasty oak. This is a great wine to serve with
grilled salmon, turkey dinner, or even cheese and crackers. $16
Richard added that Fess Parker's winery is where some of
the movie, Sideways, was
filmed. This is a light red, medium bodied wine best served with
steak, fish, and chicken. If it was from France, it would be
called a Burgundy, from that growing area in France. The winery
is in Los Olivos where there are cool coastal breezes with temperatures
not over 70 degrees and ample sunshine. It is earthy and fruity
with the flavors of cranberry, cherry, and stawberry. It is soft
on tannins. Grape skins are left on for red wines, givng red
wines tannins and acidity. Tannins loosen with time. It is
best to pour red wines into a carafe or decanter for one hour before
serving. One hour in a carafe or decanter equals ten years in the
bottle. In a young wine, red equals
flavor. Aged wine looses flavor. In a pinot, the tannins
are already soft. Serve at room temperature (62 degrees) or
refrigerate for 10 minutes. If too cold, it looses its
flavor. If you order this wine, Richard will aerate it for you.
Third and final Tasting of the afternoon: Symphony Obsession,
Ironstone Vineyards, Murphys,
I was glad to see Symphony still on the tasting list because the last
time I was on the Coast Starlight, with Nanette as the Parlour Car
Attendant, I tasted and purchased a bottle before wine tasting to
assure that I'd have it available in the Parlour Car and for meals in
the diner. Parlor car attendants will keep your purchased
bottle in their cooler and will pour glasses for you in the Parlour Car
during your trip.
The featured-wine-card says: Ironstone
Vineyards started in 1948, when John Kautz bought some land in Lodi,
California and started growing grapes to sell to wine producers.
They now have more than 5,000 acres. In 1988, John decided to
produce his own wines. Symphony is a new [grape] (compared to the
pinot noir grape which has been around for more than 2000 years)
developed by crossing the Muscat of Alexandria grape and the Grenache
Gris grape. The first Symphony wines were produced in 1948 - the
same year John bought his first property. This wine
has fresh floral aromas and a hint of apricot. This flavor is
full of fruit and very crisp with a clean finish. This wine is
perfectly matched with Asian and spicy foods such as Kung Pao Chicken
or Jambalaya. $14
Symphony is a sweet wine suitable to serve with barbecue, Thai,
and Cajun which are foods that go well with sweet wines. This
was developed by University of Calfironia, Davis. It has a
muscat, apricot finish.
This wine gets better with age.
Richard mentioned the five reasons to serve wine with food:
1. Wine accentuates the flavor of the food, like salt does, but
with less severity.
2. Wine draws out hidden flavors in the food. That is why
we have cheese with our wine tasting on the train.
3. Wine cuts the fat in foods by its acidity.
4. Wine brings its own character and flavor to the food.
5. Wine combines to bring a new consistency and changes the
character of the meal.
White wines have four levels of dryness: Dry, Off-dry, Medium
dry, and sweet. Symphony is a Medium dry.
After wine tasting, the Parlour Car guests continued their
conversation until their dinner time was called. Of course, you
have the option to return to your room.
At the end of wine tasting, I purchased a bottle of Symphony and had
Richard put it aside in the cooler. He mentioned at wine tasting
time that if anyone purchased a bottle of wine, he would bring it to
our table at dinner. When our dinner reservation was announced in
the evening, I reminded Richard as we walked by the bar, that we were
headed for dinner and he said, "I'll bring your wine right away."
When Richard arrived with our wine, he pointed out the good
characteristics of the cork assuring that it would be as good as
expected, which it was. When Eileen from Bellingham, and
Dick Fureer from Santa Maria joined us for dinner, I asked if they
would help me share the bottle because I did not want to drink most of
it myself, and Dick said, "Sure, we'll help you with your
problem!" I went back to the Parlour Car and got 2 more glasses
and we enjoyed the rest of the Symphony with our dinner and
Eileen mentioned that the "light" was very good
outside during our sunset dinner. I immediately asked her, "Are
you a photographer or artist?" She looked up quickly with her
bright eyes and answered, "Yes, I was a photographer, how did you
know?" I said, "Because you mentioned "the light," and
photography is 'painting with light' so your vocabulary gave away your
vocation." I asked her if she was at the wine tasting, and if so what
did she think of the Parlour Car Attendant, Richard. She
immediately responded, "He's a hoot!" (I realized she is
from the next generation behind me and this is a compliment!)
Further evidence that she enjoyed Richard's wine tasting presentation
was shown when I later saw her carrying a bag of purchased wine from
"...as gifts for my Mother and friends" she smiled. Mother's Day
was the following Sunday! The second day on the Los Angeles
to Seattle trip was wine tasting in the Parlour Car, again at
3:30. The focus again was, "How well wine goes with food."
Again, Richard handed out water to
clean the pallet between tastes and to prevent cross contamination of
the three wine tastes.
First was the Mirassou Riesling.
<<It is bottled in
Healsburg, California, and the grapes are grown in Monterey. This
reisling is off-dry and could be a substitute for
Chardonnay. An all-purpose wine, slightly sweet with
orange, mango taste. Pairs well with all food. $14
>>Second was the
Parducci, Petite Sirah, Mendocino County, California. The card that was handed out by Richard
had the following notes:
In 1921, Adolph Parducci purchased
his first vineyard, north of Ukiah, in California. He sold
grapes to home winemakers (who were allowed to produce up to 200
gallons a year) to survive the Great Depression. He and his sons
built a winery in 1932 and began producing their own wines shortly
before the repeal of Prohibition. The Winery was sold in 1996 to
Carl and Marilynn Thoma, who continue to operate it as a "family
winery" with a focus on quality. Petite Syrah is a wine that is
rapidly gaining popularity in today's growing wine industry. This
is a great example of a full-bodied red wine with dark ruby
color. Beautiful aromas of ripe berries, cocoa and a hint of
toasted oak, greet the nose. Rich, ripe black cherry and berry
flavors are accented by a touch of oakiness and a dash of
chocolate. This wine is beautifully paired with hearty foods such
as grilled steaks and our favorite - pasta with a rich, red
Richard added: It is a full-bodied steak wine. It
the wine with the most umph.
Swirl this taste of wine in the glass to release the tannins by
aerating. One hour in a carafe or decanter equals ten years in
the bottle, but drink California wines young. Use this wine
instead of heavy sauces. Add wine to moisten dry food, fish or
was Tin Roof, Sauvignon
"Tin Roof" is a play on words for the twist off cap. This is a
pure, unblended, savignon blanc. Cork is on the way out as a
'closure' for wine. One reason is that Portugal is running out of
cork. Twist off and plastic closures are replacing cork.
Richard reiterated the five reasons to use wine (mentioned above).
Premium wines are balanced wines with balanced grapes. Grapes are
watched by the vintner for sugar level, acidity, and PH factor.
Each element can be corrected with chemistry.
Check the cork for: redness, squeeze for firmness (softness is
not good), flick the top to see if it flakes off (not good).
Legs: check for purity by swirling in the glass, let set for 40
or so seconds and wine will begin to tear, or leg. This only
works on a dry glass, the first glass to taste.
Nose: Riesling should have a fruity nose. Put your nose in
the glass as far as possible to smell the aroma.
Taste: Feel the wine with your tongue, take in air, let it sit,
Finish: How does it go with food, even crackers and cheese. < >Both days, Herminio
Vargas, Car Attendant in the 1430 car poured for Richard, then passed
the bucket for unused tastes and water. He was comical and worked
with Richard as a team.
At the bottom of the card listing the wines is this
statement: If you would like
to suggest a wine for this event,
drop me a line: Matt Cahoon, Manager, On Board Services, The
Starlight, 810 N. Alameda St. 1st Floor, Los Angeles, CA
During the return trip to Los Angeles on the Coast
Starlight on May 12, I heard Matt Cahoon paged on the P.A. system
before the San Luis Obispo stop. I walked the platform for some
fresh air at SLO, and noticed a fellow with an Amtrak nametag talking
Amtrak employees. Back on the train, I asked our Parlour Car
attendant, Darren, if Matt Cahoon was on the train, and if so I'd like
to meet him. Darren said he was not sure, but he would look for
him. Sure enough, Matt soon arrived, saying he had heard that I
was on the train. We must have talked an hour about the Coast
Starlight and his career with Amtrak.
In 1995, second-generation Amtrak cars were used to make up the four
Starlight train sets. The former Santa Fe service cars were found
Beech Grove, Indiana, storage facility and renovated for use as Parlour
on the Coast Starlight. Five cars we remodeled to their current
39970, 39972, 39973, 39974 & 39975.
shared conversation not only about the American Orient Express and
Rocky Mountaineer, but about the trials, tribulations, and rewards of
working for Amtrak and being the Manager of On Board Services (OBS) for
the Coast Starlight.
One of the joys of his job is receiving letters (see address above)
complimenting Coast Starlight on-board employees, car attendants,
Parlour Car attendants, dining car workers, ticket and station agents,
Metropolitan Lounge attendants, etc. If you would like to
compliment an Amtrak employee you enjoyed on a recent Coast Starlight
trip for a job well done, Matt is the way to get the compliment to the
right person, since he passes all comments on to the specific
employee by name.
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