Choose your wine flight

23 October, 2017

I once had a colleague who said he chose to fly long-haul flights with United Airlines Because at the time –

This is a few years back now – it was the only carrier that served Starbucks coffee (a title recently taken by Delta Airways). When I asked him how much of a hit he was prepared to take on the ticket price for this rather minor perk (to me at least), he said he had only that year paid an extra $100 to fly back home to Toronto rather than endure a 12-hour flight sans his favourite bean-based beverage.

Our friendship, such as it was, didn’t survive my pointing out that, even if he spent the whole flight sipping lattes and frappes, that must have been quite an expensive few cups of coffee. But the conversation did at least correct a misconception of mine. I’d always thought that the little things – the various extras and niceties offered by hotels and airlines – didn’t actually make that much of a difference in themselves, and that they were, rather, just a contributor, along with dozens, maybe even hundreds, of others, to a general feeling of quality (or the absence thereof). But in my colleague’s case it was clearly more than that. The right brand could make the difference between choosing one airline over another.

Can the same be said of wine? For miserly travellers like me, whose flight decisions are always based on the numbers on the credit card receipt, the idea of choosing an airline based on the wine offering is moot to put it mildly. I’m not even all that convinced that I can taste at 30,000ft, such is the constricting effect of the pressure and dry, recycled air on my poor wee nasal passages. Generally I’m happy if the inevitable flaws of the inevitably cheap wine I’m going to have are more about meanness and acidity rather than cosmetic added sweetness, if only because I prefer sourness to sweetness when all I’m going to be getting is the basic, primal reaction of my tastebuds.

Still, if my tasting apparatus were up to the job and I was enough of an obsessive to choose my carrier on the basis of its wine list, which would get my custom? Given the theme of this issue, I decided to take a closer look at the various airlines’ wine offer to come up with an answer.

In all airlines, wine choice beyond ‘red’ and ‘white’ only really kicks in with business class. And I was impressed by the 40 fine German bottles selected, via a blind tasting with a panel of 12 other experts, by Master of Wine Marcus del Monego for Lufthansa’s business and first class offer, even though the company says it seeks out wines with “a little more residual sugar and alcohol as both are weaker in the air” – not good for my palate, but it shows it’s thinking.

Equally impressive is the approach taken by Emirates, whose list changes according to the flight. Californian wines take you to and from the States, Australians and Kiwis should you head Down Under. You can even check them out before you choose your flight, which is how I learned that, if you are going to Beijing from London, you can choose from the likes of Zind-Humbrecht, Mount Mary Chardonnay, Providence Pomerol, Château Guiraud and Graham’s Colheita Port 1963 to go with your roasted guinea fowl or pan-seared turbot. Decisions, decisions… but not for me. I’ll be saving my pennies and sticking with the 17.5cl PET of obscurely branded Merlot as I make the fateful choice – chicken or beef?

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