Continued from Part 1 of Airline Wine …
Turns out, of course, the same wines were served in all three tastings.
Before the wine even gets on board, it must survive the labyrinthine logistics of thousands of flights and destinations. Ken Chase, who consults to Delta, admits to doing strange things with wine, such as heating, chilling and shaking it, to ensure that the wine can withstand the cooking on the tarmac in Mexico or being rick-shawed through bumpy streets in Bangkok.
Will the wine still perform in your glass after it’s been rerouted through Iceland? Fortunately, most airlines have a network of temperature-controlled warehouses where they build the bar carts. British Airways, for example, has sixty bar-building stations around the world.
Then there are the impoverished tools of airline wine service: proper stemware and crystal decanters are out of the question given storage constraints and glass breakage, leaving us with those little plastic pill cups.
Both British Airways and United Airlines are developing specially designed tasting glasses with shorter stems and better shape to concentrate the aromas.
To compensate for the pressurized cabins, British Airways has also created its own blend of champagne that’s bottled at a lower pressure. But that still leaves cramped quarters and turbulence. (Would you like a little more claret on your shirt sir?)
The other part of wine service is the server. It’s reassuring to know that wine training is rather low on the priority list for flight crew given the situations they face. (Would you really want them distracting hijackers with over-oaked chardonnays?)
However, most airlines squeeze in a few hours on wine training. Beyond that, they use in-flight wine guides with tasting notes, pronunciations and food matches.
British Airways further encourages staff to seek outside training by paying for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s certificate program.
The 1,000 attendants who have passed the exam are awarded sommelier status on board, with a lapel pin indicating that they can answer passenger wine questions.
The most rigourous training is Delta’s in-house Vinum Wine Academy: a seven-day course covering food and wine that runs from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Working with these constraints, airline wine buyers look for fat, fruit-forward wines from Australia, southern France, Chile and California, rather than delicate or old wines.
Aside from being reasonably priced, these wines have to be available in massive quantities. United buys 400,000 cases annually while Air Canada purchases 60,000 cases (smaller airlines can shop from smaller, quality producers).
To make their final selections, some airlines feature the wines made in their home country while others offer route-specific choices so that passengers get a taste of the destination when they board the plane.
Air Canada serves red and white kosher wines en route to Tel Aviv, saké when flying to Asian destinations.
United offers wines that passengers can find easily at home. The now defunct Canadian Airlines’ wine program took the opposite approach, serving wines that passengers couldn’t buy on the ground — wineries had to agree not to …
Read Part 3 of Airline Wine