Wine at 35,000 Feet ©


Some passengers, jokingly referred to as “keno-flyers” make wine a major priority for their choice of airline. Fussy first and business class travelers often select an airline with an excellent list, paying particular attention to labels. Some airlines are investing time and money to hire knowledgeable sommeliers who look for wines that hold up well at 35,000 feet.

It’s tricky to pick good wine that retains its taste at high altitude so sommeliers need to select wines low on both acid and tannins with fruity flavors and pleasant olfactory qualities. They do better than wines with high tannin profiles in the blue yonder because pressurized cabins and dry air numb the taste buds. Altitude and lower atmospheric pressure also dull the senses, making it difficult for passengers to appreciate wine’s complex aromas and flavors. The sense of smell is also compromised, akin to trying to discern flavors with a cold, since almost 80% of taste is determined by smell. Loud noise, like the constant drone inside an airplane’s cabin, plays havoc on our palates by intensifying or dulling different flavor components, particularly with reds. The combination of these effects alters the tastes of both wine and food on a plane.

However, once a wine works well at altitude it’s difficult to find enough bottles from a single vineyard or producer to supply an airline over a long period of time since the number of bottles served to passengers each year number in the millions. Cathay Pacific is said to have served 1.5 million bottles in a recent year while United reports doling out wine on planes from 7 million bottles. Other airlines, like Qatar and Singapore Airlines claim their images are tied to perception about the quality of wine served aboard the planes, thereby attracting well-heeled travelers.



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