Sip of Suc­cess

hich air­lines serve the nest in-flight wines The win­ners of our an­nual awards are re­vealed

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Rose Dykins

Which air­lines serve the finest in­flight wines? The win­ners of our an­nual awards are re­vealed

It’s time to crack open a bot­tle and cel­e­brate. Af­ter tast­ing 250 wines from 28 air­lines, our ex­pert judges have picked the win­ners of the 2013 Busi­ness Trav­eler Cellars in the Sky Awards, pre­sented to the car­ri­ers that served the best on­board wine last year.

Head judge Charles Met­calfe, cochair­man of the In­ter­na­tional Wine Chal­lenge and food and wine match­ing guru, handed out tro­phies at a wellat­tended re­cep­tion on Fe­bru­ary 3 at Lon­don’s his­toric Trin­ity House (trin­i­ty­house.co.uk/events), with cater­ing from Cham­ber­lain’s – our thanks to Trin­ity House for pro­vid­ing the per­fect venue.

We also held wine tast­ings at the Busi­ness Travel Show in Earls Court on Fe­bru­ary 4-5.

Join­ing Met­calfe on the judg­ing panel were Peter McCom­bie, Mas­ter of Wine and top restau­rant wine con­sul­tant, Robert Joseph, au­thor and wine critic, and Richard Bamp­field, Mas­ter of Wine and wine con­sul­tant.

Choos­ing the Win­ners

Air­lines could par­tic­i­pate pro­vid­ing they served wine in busi­ness or first on mi­dor long-haul routes. Each could en­ter two reds, two whites, a sparkling and a for­ti­fied or dessert wine from both their busi­ness and first class cellars. They could com­pete in as many cat­e­gories as they liked, but to be el­i­gi­ble for the Best Cel­lar awards, they had to en­ter at least one red, white and sparkling wine.

Ev­ery bot­tle was blind-tasted so no one was in­flu­enced by the la­bels. Our thanks to the judges for all their hard work dur­ing the tast­ings, which took place over two days in De­cem­ber.

Wines were scored out of 100, with award-win­ning ones rated be­tween 90 and 97, and any­thing un­der 75 deemed un­drink­able. To cal­cu­late the Best First and Busi­ness Class Cel­lar awards, we took the aver­age mark of an air­line’s red, white and sparkling wines. For the Best Over­all Cel­lar, we took all scores into ac­count.

What the Judges Said

This year saw the re­turn of Robert Joseph to the judg­ing panel, who was one of our ex­pert judges when Cellars in the Sky be­gan in 1985.

“Back then, I don’t think air­lines thought about how the wine tasted in the air, or with the food they were serv­ing,” he says. “So I think what we did in the early years was a good way of get­ting them to fo­cus on these is­sues.”

He adds: “Some wines we used to taste in the 1980s are no longer af­ford­able. Wines you used to get in busi­ness are now in first class, and the first class wines aren’t any­where.” Then again, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily the prici­est wines that taste the best in cabin con­di­tions, and Joseph says the qual­ity has be­come “im­mea­sur­ably bet­ter.”

“This year, it was good to see some re­ally en­ter­pris­ing, un­usual wines, and some nice re­fresh­ing whites – there were some great Ries­lings, which it would be good to see more of,” he notes.

How did 2013’s en­tries com­pare with

other years? “Busi­ness class en­tries were con­sis­tently good, which they haven’t al­ways been – whereas the first class reds and whites were full of peaks and troughs,” Met­calfe says. “Some wines were ab­so­lutely de­li­cious and oth­ers not very nice at all – ei­ther too old, or just not very good. Then again, the first class fizz was as it is nor­mally – al­most en­tirely de­li­cious – as was the first class for­ti­fied/dessert cat­e­gory.”

Only one of the win­ning reds this year was a Bordeaux – a wine with the pres­tige that pre­mium pas­sen­gers may ex­pect to see on the menu, but that of­ten doesn’t work well in the air be­cause of its high level of tan­nins.

“What tends to hap­pen at al­ti­tude is that tough, tan­nic wines be­come more so,” Joseph says.“The wine with the château name on it is prob­a­bly the one that isn’t go­ing to taste great. When we’re judg­ing, we are look­ing for sim­plic­ity – wines that are easy to drink, and fruity, to fight off the tan­nins.”

Met­calfe echoes this: “We felt it was sad not to have seen more pinot noir or bur­gundy. These grapes pro­duce nice smooth wines which are very easy-drink­ing in the air – we had a few, but not as many as we would have liked. Then again, maybe there’s a prej­u­dice against serv­ing a pinot noir in a pre­mium cabin be­cause people don’t think it’s posh enough. And it’s dif­fi­cult to get bur­gundy in large quan­ti­ties, so maybe that’s an­other rea­son.”

The chal­lenge re­mains for air­lines to meet pas­sen­gers’ ex­pec­ta­tions, while choos­ing wines that ac­tu­ally taste good in the air. “Our ad­vice to air­lines is that if they want to in­clude Bordeaux, they shouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily go for the top wine,” Met­calfe says. “If they do, they should go for a lighter vin­tage, such as a 2007, which is slightly eas­ier-go­ing than some of the vin­tages sur­round­ing it.

“They could also go for a château’s sec­ond wine rather than its top, which will be pro­duced in pretty much the same way but de­lib­er­ately be made so that it is ready to drink at a younger age [thus hav­ing less tan­nins].”

How Air­lines Choose Wine

While some car­ri­ers want the big names on their lists, oth­ers pre­fer to show­case their na­tional vini­fi­ca­tion cul­ture. Yair Haidu, El Al’s head of wine, says: “Since Is­rael’s wines are lesser known, it is a great op­por­tu­nity to show people how good they are, and it opens up pas­sen­gers’ cu­rios­ity about the coun­try even be­fore they have landed. Our sunny cli­mate and moun­tain­ous land­scape pro­duces beau­ti­ful wines. The best wines in the world come from the al­ti­tudes, which gives grapes a fresh­ness that works well at 30,000 feet.”

As with Cellars in the Sky, many air­lines blind-taste their wines. Si­mon Soni, Eti­had’s head of guest ex­pe­ri­ence, cater­ing, says: “Our wines are selected by a blind tast­ing panel that in­cludes wine spe­cial­ists and some of the best cer­ti­fied som­me­liers in the UAE. The air­line con­sid­ers a num­ber of key fac­tors in­clud­ing ori­gin, grape va­ri­ety and vin­tage in har­mony with its menus. De­tails such as win­ery rep­u­ta­tion and wine­maker phi­los­o­phy are also taken into con­sid­er­a­tion. Over­all, bal­anced acid­ity, soft tan­nins and stronger fruits are im­por­tant qual­i­ties.”

con­sis­tently good

Top: Judges Charles Met­calfe and Peter McCom­bie (sec­ond and third left)

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