Slakes on a Train: Our Journey to Virginia 01/31/12

When I was but a callow undergrad, wiling away my time up in the frosty recesses of Ithaca, New York, I came to be presented with a rare opportunity: the chance to attend a presentation of the postmodern cinematic classic Snakes on a Plane – with the screenwriter himself, John Heffernan, in attendance.

Although it was the third time I had seen the film, I knew I had to do it; this would be the ideal time to ask hard-hitting questions like “Did that mob boss really exhaust every other option?” and “Seriously dude? Why?” And when the smoke of the screening had cleared, and all at last was said and done, I suddenly realized nothing in particular.

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Wait, Kenan was in this movie?

Flash forward a few years. Now I’m of the legal drinking age, have a wine blog, and realize that I’ve yet to take an actual wine trip, to a wine region, to taste wine. But whither to go? Even in the United States alone, there are multitudinous options, but I won’t bother describing them because the title of this post probably already gave away my decision.

I and my friend Ben (whom you may remember from my two holidays in Hoboken) ultimately settled on Virginia for a few reasons, the first being that we wouldn’t have to fly, an ordeal which neither of us much desired to risk, mostly owing to the fact that 85% of commercial airlines take no precautions whatsoever against snake-based terrorism. Also, you can’t bring your own booze onto an airplane.

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A train, on the other hand..

So it was that we spent the better part of six hours getting drunk on the way down to Charlottesville, VA – our visit to which is the subject of a post that’s yet to come – occasionally tweeting our thoughts as we careened through various states, both geographic and mental. Because when someone gets thirsty on a railroad, how does he resolve this dilemma? Simple: he slakes…on a train.


The first wine on the agenda was the Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Black Label Claret 2009, retailing for around $20 but available for less, and received by Ben as a gift, so we may never know how much this particular bottle actually cost. I’ve actually reviewed the 2007 vintage of this wine way back when, with positive results; and then I saw a review of the 2009 over at the Reverse Wine Snob the other day, so I guess you could say we were drinking topically.

With consistent aromas and flavors of chocolate, tobacco and blackberry, this screamed Cabernet Sauvignon, and with Cab comprising over 80% of the blend, that in fact made perfect sense. The wine was well-balanced and easy to drink, and truth be told we polished it off pretty quickly, in spite (or perhaps because) of the train’s momentum, which propelled us forward just as it compelled us to keep quaffing.


Next up was the Two Barrel Alexander Valley Vineyards Syrah-Merlot 2006, a rather unconventional red blend that also retails for around $20. From the first whiff, I was a bit more intrigued by this than I had been by the Coppola; aromas of strawberry, vanilla, and something floral invited me in, along with a hint of spice that Ben thought might be clove, but I thought cinnamon.

On the palate the wine was a bit less impressive, with berry and chocolate notes along with a bit of heat on the finish. That last part might have been the heat’s fault, as the train did not provide us with a wine fridge to ensure our selections stayed at their optimum serving temperatures throughout the ride. We couldn’t even find the on-board sommelier, a grievance which Amtrak has yet to redress.

In any case, this wine paired pretty nicely with the Great American Cheese Board, although its nose was better than its palate; and moreover the cheese board in question, while passably great and mostly American, did not include any semblance of a board.

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Seriously, how hard would this have been?


Last but not least was a wine I know quite well: the Casillero del Diablo 2010 Carmenere, one of my favorite wines from Concha y Toro not because of its quality alone, but the ratio of quality to price. Regularly $11 and often on sale for $8, even in Pennsylvania, Diablo Carmenere is consistently one of my favorite wines at the price point, vintage after vintage.

With aromas of chocolate, coffee and blueberry, the wine was full-bodied and expressed similar (yet distinct) flavors to the Coppola Claret. The oak influence was strong, and in a more expensive wine that might bother me, but what I love about the Diablo Carmenere is how it manages to exhibit a surprising level of complexity, given the cost.


All three wines earn thumbs up, but given the clear price disparity, Casillero del Diablo Carmenere emerges victorious in what I have just now decided was, all along, a contest.

Now, by way of summation and/or confession, there were some flaws with our little experiment – a lack of adequate space, poor pairing options, shoddy wi-fi, and the constant risk of broken glassware ranking chief among them – but we’re nevertheless more than glad we thought to bring wine onto the train, rather than either 1) wait until we’d reached our destination, like boring people; or 2) condescend to drink the swill that was being poured on board, like easy-going people. It’s important to stay true to yourself, after all.

The icing on the cake? Another passenger, as she passed through our car, took the time to inform us, “I love what you guys are doing,” proof that we were indeed as cool as we thought we were.

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This cool.

Next stop: Virginia!

I’ll post that one in a few days, probably.

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