Not Your Average Railroad Dining Car

Dan Berger is Times wine critic.

No railroad dining car ever had this array of wines.

The Pacific Dining Car's wine list, modest when the restaurant opened in 1921, became a personal project of the grandson of the original owners. By 1964, Wes Idol had created an excellent list, and he has kept it that way for a quarter century.

Fans of the list at the downtown location will be pleased to know that the list at the new restaurant is identical.

"We put three or four of everything into a truck and brought it over," said manager Michael Green. The wines are now safely ensconced in a glass-enclosed cool room, along with the Waterford crystal decanters into which they are decanted.

Among the other elegant accouterments are silver ice buckets and handsome, thin-rimmed stemware.

Robert Rogness, former sommelier at Joss and one of the most knowledgeable wine stewards around, is on hand to serve the wine. He loves to talk about wine with interested diners. He is proud of the fact that the restaurant has some great wines with lower prices, including 1982 Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet at $55 (probably $20 a bottle lower than it could sell for) and 1980 BV Private Reserve Cabernet ($50) and the same wine in a magnum at $90.

Westside patrons are apparently opting for different wines than those sold at the original location. "We've actually sold more Pinot Noir than Cabernet," said Green. "I always think Cabernet is the thing to drink with steak, but we have some excellent Pinot Noirs, and the folks here are finding them."

One exceptional value is the 1984 Tulocay Pinot Noir ($29 on this list). There are a half dozen other wines priced under $30. (Pricing is about 2.5 times wholesale for most items, with a smaller markup on more expensive wines.)

Other good values: 1987 Justin Reserve from Paso Robles ($33), the wine that won the red wine sweepstakes at the Los Angeles County Fair wine competition a few months ago, and 1985 Kenwood Jack London Cabernet ($35). Among the red Burgundies, there's a 1984 Morey St. Denis from Hubert Lignier ($53).

This is a steak house, so red wine is favored by a wide margin, and white wines seem a bit overpriced; most Chardonnay sells for about three times wholesale and more. Examples: 1988 Acacia at $38; 1988 Chateau Montelena "Alexander Valley" at $39, 1987 Chateau St. Jean Robert Young at $41 and 1988 Bonny Doon at $34.

Even the Sauvignon Blancs are steep: Chateau St. Jean "Sonoma County" at $22 and 1988 Matanzas Creek at $28. One value is 1985 Robert Pepi at $22.

You might want to bring your own white wine: corkage is $10 a bottle, but it is occasionally waived.

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