Amtrak’s Coast Starlight – A Different Kind of Wine Train

I recently learned that Sleeping Car passengers on two Amtrak routes – the Coast Starlight and Empire Builder – are offered a complimentary wine and cheese tasting.  Maintaining a certain balance and harmony with the travel, the wine and cheese selections Amtrak serves are chosen from areas and locales along the respective routes.  The Coast Starlight is a route between Seattle and LA.  Washington and California?  Those are two of the best known and most productive wine regions in the United States.  Now you see what I mean about this being a different kind of wine train!  So … what can you get in a Sleeping Car on the Coast Starlight?  The wines available are Summerland Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Rabbit Ridge Zinfandel, J Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, Wente Riverbank Riesling, Firesteed Pinot Gris, Hogue Genesis Syrah, Milbrandt Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Traditions Series, and Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling.

As I live in the eastern U.S., I probably won’t have the chance to experience the Coast Starlight in the very near future.  I would love to, of course.  Can you imagine the scenery passengers are treated to?  [You won’t see it if you’re sleeping, though.  Ha!]  No, that experience will just have to go onto my bucket list.  Instead, for now I will have to content myself with grabbing one of the wines on their menu and doing a wine tasting of my own while I daydream about it all.  Well … it’s better than nothing!

Winemaker:  Chateau Ste. Michelle
Varietal:  Riesling
Vintage:  2011
Appellation:  Columbia Valley, Washington
Price:  $12.99

Notes:  The color of this Riesling was literally a barely-there wash of pale yellow.  I smelled pear and citrus in the bouquet.  This was a light-bodied wine, and the acidity was quite bright.  In fact, there was a very light effervescence to this wine as it first hit the tongue.  I like that in a Riesling.  Alcohol comes in at 11.5% on this Chateau Ste. Michelle selection which makes it a bit sweet.  Thus, you get a back-and-forth on the palate between the acidity and residual sugar – tart and sweet.  Flavors for me were pear and citrus with some hints of kiwi.  On the finish I got a nice zing of lemongrass.  At times – in particular as the wine warmed – the sweetness was very present.  I also tasted some peach as the wine lost it’s chill.  All in all, it was most definitely a pleasant wine.  I could certainly see this paired nicely with a young cheese or (because of the sweet component) with some spicy Asian food.  After all, there are several dishes at my favorite Thai restaurant that include lemongrass.

By the way, this post is a response to the first in a series of wine-blogger challenges.  The Drunken Cyclist threw down the gauntlet and called on us to write a wine blog post around the theme of transportation.  Finally, if you’re interested in taking a trip on the Coast Starlight, here is the Current Schedule.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Gnarly Head Pinot Grigio 2012

According to the Wine Institute and store shelves where I shop for wines, the popularity of Pinot Grigio has risen in recent years.  In an online article the Wine Institute states, “The acreage in California was reported at 2,692 in the year 2000 and has more than quadrupled in less than a decade to 12,907 acres in 2010 according to the most recent California Grape Acreage Report.”  Well, the folks at Gnarly Head are doing their part.  And doing it pretty well, too, I’d say.

Vineyard:  Gnarly Head
Varietal:  Pinot Grigio
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  California
Price:  $13.99

Notes:  In the glass this wine was a very pale yellow.  The bouquet was so light I just barely caught fleeting whiffs of pear, apple and citrus.  The flavors, on the other hand, were present on the palate – including apple, pear and nectarine with touches of lemon, some honeysuckle notes, and grass on the end.  The finish is quite long: as the grass abates, citrus lingers.  As expected of a Pinot Grigio, the wine was fairly light-bodied but had a detectable viscosity.  Acidity was fine, and alcohol is at 13%.  This offering from Gnarly Head should pair nicely with most seafood dishes.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Don Simón Seleccion Rosé

With these wines still strategically placed right in front of the checkout at my local Whole Foods, I just couldn’t resist another grab.  After all, there are four of these wines to choose from – Shiraz, Rosé, Tempranillo, and Chardonnay.  Maybe I’ll make my way through all of them!

Winemaker:  Don Simón Seleccion (by J. Garcia Carrión)
Varietal:  Rosé (unspecified)
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  Castilla, Spain
Price:  $3.99 at Whole Foods

Notes:   In the glass this wine was what I’d call a medium-to-light pink.  On the nose I smelled strawberries.  On the tongue this was a very light-bodied rosé.  Acidity was OK, and alcohol is at 12.5%.  Flavors for me were primarily strawberry – the whole thing including seeds and leaves.  Mostly the fruit flavor, of course.  There was a hint of mineral near the end and a twinge of chlorophyll on the finish.  I know that typically rosé doesn’t need to breathe like many red wines do.  With this one, however, I did notice a settling of the flavors.  Initially, the strawberry seemed under-ripe, but with a little time in the glass it lost some of it’s tartness.  Also, this Don Simón rosé comes across more as a dry wine – seeming to me even dryer than it’s 12.5% alcohol would suggest.  Personally, I’m happy to say that it wasn’t one of those over-sweet, cloying rosés that initially put me off drinking them.  So ….  Simple?  Yes.  But at $3.99 a bottle, I don’t think there’s anything here to seriously complain about.  Unless you want a sweet rosé!

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Vinaceous Snake Charmer Shiraz 2010

I’ve run across this Australian Shiraz several times at the stores.  Each time the striking graphics on the label have pulled me toward it.  Yet each time I’ve gone in another direction.  Perhaps it has been my natural distrust of labels which are themselves so seductive.  This time I was out for dinner with friends at a very pleasant restaurant called Redwood (although there aren’t any redwoods within 3,000 miles).  I got there early, so I went to the bar to wait.  Looking at the menu and chatting with the bartender (with no labels in sight), I decided to see just how charming this Snake Charmer is.

Winemaker:  Vinaceous
Wine:  Snake Charmer
Varietal:  Shiraz
Vintage:  2010
Appellation:   McLaren Vale, South Australia
Price:  $14.99

Notes:  This Australian Shiraz from the McLaren Vale was a dark purple in the glass.  On the nose I found scents of blackberry and barnyard.  A medium-bodied selection, the legs were quite noticeable on the sides of the glass.  The flavors for me were cherry, blackberry, an earthiness, and pepper.  Tannins were moderate.  Acidity was fine, and alcohol is at 14.5%.  This wine was quite pleasant to sip at the bar while I waited, and the second glass proved a perfect accompaniment for the tasty g.o.a.t burger I chose for dinner (which had goat cheese, bacon, and a smoked tomato aioli).  Well, I guess I was charmed!

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.


Horton Norton 2011

This is the second of the two selections I brought back from the Vintage Virginia 2013 wine festival.  The brief sample I got at the Horton booth put this wine on my “buy” list.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was a varietal I’d never tasted.  I enjoy new wine experiences.  And then there was the name.  The name of the wine made me immediately think of Dr. Seuss.  You know … Horton Hears a Who.  But in this case, Horton Makes a Norton.  OK!  I’ll admit that I have a warped imagination and sense of humor.

Horton Vineyards is a winemaker in Gordonsville, VA.  Given that the Norton grape varietal – named for it’s creator Dr. Daniel Norton – was first grown in Virginia, this seems like a natural fit.  From it’s origins in the Richmond area, Norton cultivation has spread to the Mid-Atlantic States and the Midwest.  Evidently, the Missouri wine industry relies heavily on the Norton.  This selection, however, is from it’s home turf.

Winemaker:  Horton Vineyards
Varietal:  Norton
Vintage:  2011
Appellation:  Monticello, Virginia AVA
Price:  $15.00

Notes:  Not only do I like tasting varietals that are new to me, but I also like pleasant surprises.  This wine, my friends, was truly a pleasant surprise.  In the glass the Norton Horton made was a deep purple.  On the nose I smelled tangy berries, earth, spice and violets.  It was medium-bodied with good acidity and dry at 13% alcohol.  The flavors for me were dark sweet berries at the fore (blackberry, black currant), a hint of pepper, notes of black plum and hints of fruit bread as well.  Tannins were soft but present.  On the finish I found a green, leafy note and cranberry.  While I’m sure the wine could pair well with food, this is the kind of vino I like to just sip on it’s own because as it runs the palate you get an enjoyable variety of flavor experiences.  It’s also a well balanced red in my opinion.  The Norton wines were called Virginia Claret in the 1800’s, and there is something of the more restrained European tradition in this selection.  I enjoyed it and was glad to note recently that it is available at my local Safeway!

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Oenophilogical – Shine On, Shine On!

I am hard pressed to believe it but just pleased as punch to say it: I have been nominated for the Shine On Blogger Award.  How very nice!!

This is a peer-to-peer award which means that another blogger has thought enough of your contribution to the online community to nominate you.  In my case I have to thank labellestudio for the kind nod.  If you haven’t seen her blog, you can head over there by clicking through on the picture above.

Question Me An Answer

As part of one’s acceptance, you must answer five questions that your nominating blogger has posed.  Think of it like an acceptance speech in which your subject matter is assigned rather than left up to you.  It’s cool, though.  Here are the questions labellestudio asked me along with my answers.

A. If you were to get a part in Star Trek series, which kind of alien would you rather play?

Romulan!  Yup, Romulan.  Of course, if they gave me a part, I could be flexible.

B. Which dish are you unable to resist?

This is a tough one for me.  I seem to have difficulty resisting a lot of dishes.  It’s true!
I guess I’d put good home-made fried chicken, fried okra and roasted brussel sprouts
at the top of the list.  [That’s three.  I know.]

C. If a country would give you an island for free to live and reign on, what would you call it?


D. What would be your favorite pet?

I love dogs and horses.  Horses aren’t really pets, so dogs it is.  Just about any kind.

E. Photography in color or black and white?

Well, that’s a tricky one, too.  Good question!  I think I’ll come down on the color side.
I love good black and white photography.  I just think that it takes a better eye or at
least a trained eye to come up with a good black and white photo.

The Nominatrix

So now that’s done, it’s my turn to nominate 5 distinguished bloggers for the Shine On award.  There are tons of great blogs out there that are deserving of recognition.  Here are my nominees – 5 blogs you should be taking a look at if you aren’t following their posts already.

Books Outside The Box
The Flash Cook
Ashlee Cowles
A Crust Eaten
Evalina Galli

Follow The Yellow Brick Road

I’m sorry!  I meant to say “Follow these 5 simple rules.”  For the nominees to accept, they’ll have to follow these 5 rules.

  • Link back to and thank the blogger who nominated you.
  • Post the badge on your blog.
  • Answer the questions posed to you.
  • Nominate five bloggers who shine a little light in your day and notify them.
  • Ask five questions for your nominees.

Answer Me A Question

Here are the questions I have for my nominees.  I look forward to reading the answers!

1.  If – like Merlin in the Disney animated movie “The Sword In The Stone” – you could transform into an animal for a day, what animal would you transform into?

2.  What is your favorite pasta shape, and what is the way you like it prepared best?

3.  How do you get your new music?  I.e., do you hear it via radio, YouTube, iTunes, cable TV, etc.?

4.  Speaking of music, do you play (have you played) any musical instruments?  If yes, which ones?

5.  What current TV show (including cable and web series) do you like the best?

And finally, let me leave you with this adieu —

Williamsburg Winery Governor’s White 2011

This is a winery that has some serious history behind it.  You know that wine-making in the U.S. started in Virginia.  Right?  After all, the Twelfth Acte of 1619 required that each settler plant at least 10 vines on his property for the purpose of making wine.  A few years later — a mere 369 years — the first Governor’s White from Williamsburg Winery was released.

While this is not one of the wines I brought home from Vintage Virginia 2013, I thought it would be a good time to sample this offering from one of the largest players in the Virginia wine industry.  They were at the festival, but they weren’t pouring this particular wine.  Instead, I bought this at my neighborhood grocery store.  That being said, the label clearly indicates that this wine is available in Virginia only.  Bummer!  You can buy it direct from the winery, but they only ship to 19 States plus D.C.

Winemaker:  Williamsburg Winery
Wine:  Governor’s White
Varietal:  Riesling
Vintage:  2011
Appellation:  Virginia
Price:  $11.49

Notes:  This Virginia Riesling is a pretty pale yellow in the glass.  On the nose I got scents of apple and peach.  On the tongue this was a light-bodied white with good acidity.  Flavors for me were plentiful peach with green apple, some hints of pear and apple peel on the finish.  It’s brisk while providing plenty of fruit flavor.  Alcohol is at 12.5% which gives this Governor’s White a light sweetness without it becoming cloying.  On the tart-versus-sweet-o-meter, I’d put this one down more on the tart side (but not tremendously so).  Of course, that’s right in the strike zone for my taste buds.  I enjoyed it.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Don Simón Seleccion Shiraz

Here is another budget-priced wine from the shelves of Whole Foods.  I haven’t seen this line of wines (there are several in the Don Simón Seleccion series) at my local Whole Foods previously.  Either I haven’t been paying attention, or they are a new addition.  Either way, just the other day the Don Simón wines were conspicuously placed right in front of the check-out area.  How could I pass them by?

Winemaker:  Don Simón Seleccion (by J. Garcia Carrión)
Varietal:  Shiraz
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  Castilla, Spain
Price:  $3.99 at Whole Foods

Notes:  In the glass this Spanish red was deep ruby in color.  On the nose I got berries and a dry earthy scent.  It’s a light-bodied Shiraz with very light tannins and good acidity.  On the palate I tasted primarily black raspberry and currant with a sprinkling of pepper.  There was tea leaf near the finish, and the currant flavor lingered on the tongue for quite awhile.  At this price, the long finish surprised me.  Alcohol is at 12.5%.  This is not one of those big, spicy, robust Shiraz selections from Australia.  On the contrary, it’s a simple, straightforward, soft and lightly sweet wine from Spain.  Is that bad?  Well, no.  Unless you’re unreasonably anticipating the same experience you’d expect from a $20-30 Australian Shiraz!  Personally, I think they should have labeled this as Syrah – which is what vintners usually call this grape in the “old world.”  Even some Australian producers who are making wines from these grapes in a more European style are using the Syrah name.  But enough of that!  I could imagine this pairing well with grilled veggies or perhaps chicken and veggie kebabs.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

First Colony Chardonnay 2011

This is the first of the two selections I brought back with me from the Vintage Virginia 2013 wine festival a few weeks ago.  This is a winery that was new to me, and I was intrigued enough by a quick sip or two of their wines to want to experience more.  I probably would have purchased more than just one bottle then if I’d had the room to tote them home with me.

First Colony makes a couple of Chardonnays.  One is labeled Estate Reserve and spends some eighteen months in a combination of new American and neutral French oak barrels.  This one, on the other hand, is unoaked.

Winemaker:  First Colony Winery
Varietal:  Chardonnay
Vintage:  2011
Appellation:  Monticello, Virginia AVA
Price:  $14.00

Notes:  This Virginia Chardonnay was a medium yellow in the glass with a tinge of goldenrod.  On the nose I detected light fig and citrus with some floral hints.  It was a medium-bodied Chardonnay, and the acidity was fairly lively.  On the palate I tasted fig, citrus, brown spice, and the slightest touch of butter with a nice grassy finish.  Alcohol is at 11.4%, but it didn’t present as a sweet wine.  I definitely enjoyed the fact that the flavor profile was just a tad outside the “usual” for Chardonnays I run across.  I liked it.   By the way, the winemaker says this wine presents with banana, lime and kiwi flavors.  Maybe my taster was off this go-round, but I’m sticking with my notes.  If you give it a try, please post a comment and let me know what you think.  Either way, I thought it was a pleasant Chardonnay that would pair very nicely with some succulent summer barbecue – chicken or pork, your choice.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

La Bastarda Bianco di Toscana 2012

Here is a light, refreshing white blend from Tuscany by Renzo Masi.  I had this at the pub I’ve mentioned before where they have a lot of live music.  The establishment is called Iota Club & Cafe.  It’s a very popular spot in the local area and attracts a lot of fine musicians.  The club has very recently retooled it’s wine list, and this was a new addition.   I look forward to trying some of the other new items as well.  Although I did get some odd looks from a few folks who saw me drinking a light white wine in what is generally a beer-swigging joint, I lifted my wine glass with pride and confidence.  Of course, nobody but the bartender saw the label on the bottle!

Winemaker:   Il Bastardo by Renzo Masi
Wine:  La Bastarda Bianco di Toscana
Varietal:  White Blend
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  Toscana, Italy IGT
Price:  $7.99 at Whole Foods

Notes:   This Italian white blend was very pale yellow in the glass.  On the nose I caught floral scents and pear.  On the palate I found flavors of pear, peach, young honeydew melon, grass and peach pit.    The finish is extremely quick, ending with what I can only describe as a sip from a mountain stream – you know, cool water with a slight mineral taste to it.  It was light bodied, acidity is good, and alcohol is at 12.5%.   The mix of grapes here is 70% Trebbiano and 30% Chardonnay.  I think it’s a nice, light, brisk summer cooler.  Actually it’s a lot like a wine cooler.  And this is one to definitely serve chilled.  As it warmed to room temperature it developed a chalkiness that became a little distracting.  So ice it down, and serve it up.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.