Never pass up an opportunity to taste.
That's my rule. After my recent flight to London was delayed due to an aircraft change, my exit row seat was swapped out for middle, back of plane - not ideal for an overnight 9.5 hour flight. The new, smaller plane was overbooked, so seat movement seemed bleak. But by not being fussed, and by being a loyal British Airways flyer (and silver card holder), I was miraculously bumped up to Club World (business class). Result!
And, provided with an unexpected opportunity to taste. Wine tasting at 35,000 feet is not without its challenges, and it's not for formal note-taking. The pressurized, low-humidity, noisy, vibrating cabins can affect the way we perceive the wines, dulling our ability to smell and taste. The wines don't change, but rather, how we interpret them does. Wines selected by airlines are chosen to compensate for that, with fruitier, more forward wines showing better than shy and subtle ones, and tannins and acidity both appearing exaggerated at altitude.
Some airlines put a lot of emphasis on their wine programs, employing top tier wine directors to advise on selections in flight, and in lounges. Air Canada has recently hired Quebec's world-ranking sommelier Véronique Rivest as their company sommelier, for example. There is even a competition for best in-flight wine program, the Business Traveller Cellars in the Sky awards (amusingly, judged on the gound). In 2016, British Airways took top spot, winning best business class cellar and best overall wine cellar at the awards. Master of Wine Keith Isaac is BA's head business class wine buyer, and the airline also has a busy Wine Club, in conjunction with Laithwaites, for the airline's Executive Club members.
Taking full advantage of my spot of luck, I settled into my seat at 1am in the morning, and shortly after wheels up tasted through all the wines currently on offer in Club World. Temperature was ok (whites and reds both a little warmer than optimal), and the tiny glass wine coupe effective. Of course, this wasn't an official tasting, so no notes filed, but these are my impressions of the wines, the selections, and how they presented at 35,000 feet.
Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain NV, Champagne, France
Light toaste, apple and fresh bread dough, this showed quite bright and fruity on the round paplate. Falls a bit short on the finish. 88
Gavi del Comune di Gavi 2015, DOCG Masseria dei Carmelitani, Piemonte, Italy
Very perfumed pear, blossoms, very soft on the palate with white peach, pear oil. A silken smooth palate snaps on the finish. 88
EOS Estate Chardonnay 2014, Central Coast, California, USA
Very full, rich and over ripe peach, apricot and a line of lime drawing the lemon curd richness to the heavy, warm finish. Not so effective. 87
La Font du Loup Signature 2015, Côtes du Rhône, Rhône, France
Bright, briory, tight cassis, with a bitter anise and branchiness. Fine grip and briskness with some fine, earthy florals within. 89
Firestone Vineyard Merlot 2012, Santa Ynez Valley, California, USA
Sweet blueberry, pulm and dusky dark florals with a big tug of tannic grip on the finihs. Black licorice and light smoke on the finish. 87