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Vintner Lunch Experience

ML Enjoys Her Day on the Train

The Vintner Lunch Experience

By Melodie Hilton, Director of Marketing and Public Relations

As an employee of the Wine Train, I have the opportunity to ride fairly frequently and, I never get tired of it. A trip on the Wine Train is a chance for a sumptuous and leisurely lunch when life frequently reduces me to a hurried sandwich hunched over paperwork; or worse frenetic chores shoved into the middle of a screaming hot day. It is the chance to meet new friends and enjoy (again) the beauty of the Napa Valley.

Friday, July 17, 2009. The T-Vine Vintner’s Lunch

At the last minute, a table for two cancels and I jump at the chance to ride for lunch on this beautiful mid-Summer day. The temperature is in the low 70’s though we may expect to see it rise to the 90’s by the time we get to St. Helena.

I am a fan of T-Vine wines. I love the style and find it to be a real crowd pleaser – yummy, fruity, and delicious. You don’t have to be a wine aficionado to like Greg Brown’s wines, nor do you have to be rich to afford them. Most retail in the low-to-mid $30s.

As I board the train and take my seat, Napa Valley Wine Train Wine Director Ryan Graham greets me. He wants to know why I am sitting alone and quips, “Have you been stood up?” I look around and smile, it won’t take me long to make new friends today.

After Ryan heads off to check on other guests, my steward Jose, steps up to offer me a fresh, warm hand towel smelling slightly of rose water. I clean my hands and resist the urge to wipe my face (and my makeup) off.

The train starts its journey Up Valley so slowly that I only realize it is moving when I look out the window and watch the station fade into the background. Jose brings around my appetizer, along with my first glass of T-Vine, the 2005 Napa Valley Zinfandel.

It is exquisitely paired with fennel encrusted local halibut served with sweet pea puree. Zinfandel and halibut might seem a bold move, but executive Chef Kelly Macdonald says, the tannins in the fish – the fennel, the iron and sweet flavors of the sweet peas (whole and pureed) match the tannins in the wine. Doing the same thing are the dicon sprouts which are a little peppery and taste of horseradish.

"If the wine’s complexity was the first thing you noticed,"Chef said, "this dish wouldn’t work here. There would be too much going on. But the wine is straightforward, very smooth, with some toast and some oak, blending perfectly with the preparations of the fish."

By the time we get to the second course, the group of four Australians across from me are laughing and snapping pictures of me and the Chef, as he drops by to talk about the food; and me and the Wine Director, as he drops by to tease me. There is lots of laughing and mugging for the camera.

We all love the 2006 Napa Valley T-Vine Syrah which was paired with duck confit and spinach salad, served with caramelized onions and cherries. Chef pulls out one of his secret weapons on this dish: Ouzo-soaked licorice diced into small bites. These things explode in your mouth and tease you into taking another sip of wine to blend the duo on your tongue.

It may have been the Petite Sirah that stole the show, though the Zinfandel ran a close second.

"The structure of the wine with the red meat," mused T-Vine’s assistant winemaker Fernando Candelario, "it is well-balanced. The delicious medium-rare ribeye pairs beautifully. This wine shows well with this, or perhaps a very nice New York steak or even ribs. The characteristics of this wine are its fruity (cherries and a little bit of plum), all-in-all a nice finish on the palate."

Chef grilled the wonderful local ribeye steaks in the tiny kitchen downstairs and served them with artichoke hearts and pommes frites with lavender aioli. I almost wanted two glasses of the Petite to help me get through the generous steak.

What did the Australian’s have to say about the lunch? It was "Fair Dinkum."

Also sitting a table away from me that day were Lou and Muriel. This interesting local couple was enjoying their 61st wedding anniversary. They have been celebrating on the Wine Train for 10 years now, and Jose (our steward for the day) was the second server they met on the Train nine years earlier. You would never guess this couple, who ran off to Reno to get married in 1948 (they said it would never last), was celebrating that many years of matrimony . . . let alone life -- clearly very young in spirit and body.

The three hour journey was over much too fast, and I did have to go back into the office and work. One of these days, I will indulge in the Vintner’s lunch and head off with my new friends to wander downtown Napa, or maybe even take a nap. ML