A panel of 28 judges taste, test and rate wines served by airlines around the world to declare the winners of GT’s annual Wines on the Wing airline wine competition.
SD26 is San Domenico reborn. A bright, modern, festive restaurant with soaring ceilings and edgy artwork, SD26 is the sparkling, 3-year-old descendent on Manhattan’s East 26th Street of the sedate, 20-year-old San Domenico on Central Park South. But while the name, location and décor changed, owner Tony May and his daughter, Marisa, made certain its cuisine did not. Italian-born Mr. May has always taken pride in his restaurant’s authentic Italian cuisine; and the pastas, game, meats, seafood and cheeses of San Domenico made the move to SD26.
What is new is the way diners can order wine. SD26 was one of the first restaurants to place an iPad on each table. With it, diners can flip through the restaurant’s list of 550 wines. Most are Italian, many in considerable vintage depth, while the rest are French and American wines.
It was in this setting, in SD26’s private rooms on the balcony above the dining room, that Global Traveler held its 2012 Wines on the Wing airline wine competition.
There, on an afternoon in May, 28 wine specialists sipped and sampled 134 wines submitted by 29 airlines. When the scores were tallied, the airline whose wines garnered the most points in the International First Class category was British Airways.
“A testament to our increased investment in our wines,” Lynn McClelland, head of catering for British Airways, said. “We think we have some great wines on board, and it is fantastic to see the judges agree.”
A panel blind-tasted more than a thousand wines from New and Old World wine countries and selected those great winning wines. Among those that won a place on GT’s Top Five lists are Laurent-Perrier Grande Siècle Champagne and a Chassagne-Montrachet and Sancerre among whites,while a South African Pinot Noir, Newton Johnson, and Château Gruaud Larose took first and second place, respectively, among reds. British Airways also did well in the International Business Class category, with its Châteauneuf-du-Pape the highest-rated red wine. Rarely is any wine served on board for more than three months.
The airline with the highest-scoring wines in International Business was Brussels Airlines, with four of its five wines finishing in the Top Five categories: Laurent-Perrier Champagne, Les Vieux Murs Pouilly-Fuissé, Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni and Château de Rochemorin. Brussels Airlines launched direct service connecting New York (JFK) and Brussels (BRU) in June.
“Our wine selection is as important as the meals we serve,” said Philip Mortier, sommelier and manager, inflight products, for Brussels Airlines. “We consider many factors when we choose our onboard wine cellar — for instance, that we lose 20 to 30 percent of our sense of taste when flying. In consequence, we go for full-bodied wines with good depth of flavor and freshness. We have passengers of different nationalities, each with a different understanding of a tasty wine. That’s why we have both classic French and wines from less-known regions.”
Updating its wine selection twice a year, Brussels Airlines begins with a panel of three headed by Fiona Morrison, MW. It decides what the airline’s wine needs are, and its provider, Le Palais du Vin, then selects wines that fit those needs. The panel samples them in a blind tasting to make the final choice.
The airline’s two most prestigious wines on long-haul flights are changed every six months, and two other wines change every quarter. In all, Brussels Airlines pours about 25,000 bottles of Champagne, 25,000 bottles of still wine and 500,000 small bottles of wine each year.
South African Airways finished a close second in the International Business Class Top Five airlines, while its Driehoek Sauvignon Blanc was the highest-scoring white wine and its Anura Merlot was the second-highestscoring red wine in International Business Class.
“We did it,” Todd Neuman, executive vice president, North America, pointed out, by “supporting the South African wine industry and serving only its wines. The fact that our submissions have consistently rated so highly with Global Traveler’s panel of experts is testament to the high quality of South Africa’s wines.”
The onboard wines are selected each year by a panel of 12 who blind-taste more than 1,000 South African wines over three days. From the results of the tasting, 24 red and 24 white wines are selected for business class. “Our wine list offers two reds and two whites that are changed monthly,” Neuman added.
South African Airways spends approximately $1.3 million on its international business-class wines annually.
American Airlines made an impressive showing, clinching a place among the Top Five airlines in both International First and Business classes, as well as having its Gosset Grande Réserve Champagne, Meursault and Beringer Alluvium on the Top Five First Class lists. Add to that its Champagne Moutard and Keenan Chardonnay on the Top Five lists among entries in Business Class.
“We are honored,” Alice Liu, American’s managing director, onboard products, said. “Our award-winning wine program is a tangible opportunity for our customers to experience American’s focus on enhancing travel.”
The man responsible for American’s decisive showing is Ken Chase, who designs more than 25 lists for the airline’s international and domestic flights, choosing wines from throughout the world and changing lists monthly. At any given time, there are more than 60 wines in service.
Asiana Airlines’ Pol Roger 1999 was the highestscoring Champagne among International First Class entries, garnering such comments from the judges as “rich,” “fine-balanced acidity” and “clean finish.” Asiana also submitted the highest-rated white wine in the International First Class category, Clos des Poruzots Meursault, a wine the judges described as having good depth; a silky palate; and a long, complex finish.
“We are constantly striving to provide the highestquality wine and cuisine,” said Tae Keun Han, Asiana’s executive vice president of cabin and airport service. “Asiana’s wines are chosen by a panel of three sommeliers who blind-taste at least 300 wines. One of the crucial factors in the final decision is how the wine complements our food.”
Asiana spends $170,000 a year on 5,500 bottles of wine in its international first class.
TAM finished among the Top Five highest-scoring airlines in both International First and Business Class categories. To add to the double honor, both its Champagne entries made the Top Five lists — Drappier Grande Sendrée in First Class and Drappier Carte d’Or in Business Class. And its Château Bel-Air-Ouÿ placed in the Top Five Red Wines, International Business Class.
“We face a big challenge every year in choosing great wines. Our focus is on wines from the most important wine-producing regions, wines that respect their place of origin and reflect time-honored production,” Manoela Amaro, TAM’s marketing director, said. This is done with a committee headed by sommelier Arthur Azevedo. Selections are changed yearly.
Swiss International Air Lines emerged from the competition as one of the Top Five airlines in International First Class, and its Vinattieri Bianco del Ticino finished in that category’s Top Five White Wines. “The culinary experience on SWISS is an important element of our customer satisfaction,” said Sarah Klatt-Walsh, director of the airline’s in-flight products and services. She was particularly pleased with the fine showing of its white wine. “A great example of authentic, unique Swiss wine from a renowned vintner in the canton of Ticino.”
Wine consultant Chandra Kurt, with a panel of other wine experts, chooses SWISS’ wines in a blind tasting. Onboard choices are changed every three months on international flights.
Aside from Champagne, SWISS opens 55,000 bottles of still wines in international first class and 190,000 bottles in international business class each year.
The fine showing of United Airlines’ wines put the airline on the coveted Top Five International First Class list. It also put its Bouchard Santenay on the Top Five Red Wines First Class list, an achievement that pleased Sandra Pineau-Boddison, United vice president of food services. “We try to enhance the onboard dining experience by offering a variety of high-quality wines and Champagne,” she said.
Those wine and Champagne choices begin with Doug Frost, MW, who works with an internal committee to select the wines. Among the considerations are menus, taste at altitude and customer perception. United changes its onboard wines three times a year.
Hainan Airlines serves G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Champagne on both international business- and first-class flights, and in both categories it scored well, finishing first in Business Class and fourth in First Class.
“We invite an international panel as well as representatives of our customer base to an annual tasting,” said Tony Guo, Hainan Airlines. “The tasting selection takes into account the diversity of our routes and geographic regions. We also consider the influence of the dry cabin air and pressurization and other environmental factors unique to air travel.”
In all, 14 of this year’s competing airlines are members of three alliances — oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. When scores were added and averaged, the alliance with the highest score was oneworld, represented in Wines on the Wing by airberlin, American Airlines, British Airways and Finnair.
The North America category includes airlines offering first- or business-class service between two points in North America (defined in the survey as the United States, Mexico and Canada). For the third year in a row, American Airlines was the overall winner. Also for the third year, its Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut won as the top sparkling wine. United’s Canyon Road Chardonnay was judged the top white wine, and American’s 181 Merlot was the best red wine.
Top Five International First Class Wines On The Wing
1. British Airways
2. American Airlines
3. United Airlines
4. Swiss International Air Lines
Top Five International Business Class Wines On The Wing
1. Brussels Airlines
2. South African Airways
3. American Airlines
5. British Airways
Top Five Champagnes International First Class
1. Pol Roger 1999 — Asiana Airlines
2. Gosset Grande Réserve, NV — American Airlines
3. Drappier Grande Sendrée 2004 — TAM
4. G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge, NV — Hainan Airlines
5. Laurent-Perrier Grande Siècle, NV — British Airways
Top Five Champagnes International Business Class
1. G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge, NV — Hainan Airlines
2. Jacquart Mosaïque, NV — Air Tahiti Nui
3. Laurent-Perrier, NV — Brussels Airlines
4. Moutard 2004 — American Airlines
5. Drappier Carte d’Or, NV — TAM
Top Five White Wines International First Class
1. Roux Clos des Poruzots Meursault 2009, Burgundy, France — Asiana Airlines
2. Clos de la Baronne Meursault 2009, Château Labouré-Roi, Burgundy, France — American Airlines
3. Chassagne-Montrachet 2009, Pierre André, Burgundy, France — British Airways
4. Domaine de la Chezatte Sancerre 2010, France — British Airways
5. Vinattieri Bianco del Ticino 2010 — Swiss International Air Lines
Top Five White Wines International Business Class
1. Driehoek Sauvignon Blanc 2011, South Africa — South African Airways
2. Villa Huesgen Riesling 2010, Mosel, Germany — Asiana Airlines
3. Les Vieux Murs Pouilly-Fuissé 2009, Burgundy, France — Brussels Airlines
4. Louis Jadot Mâcon-Villages 2009, Burgundy, France — Air Tahiti Nui
5. Keenan Chardonnay 2009, California — American Airlines
Top Five Red Wines International First Class
1. Newton Johnson Family Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, South Africa — British Airways
2. Château Gruaud Larose 2001 — British Airways
3. Bouchard Père et Fils Santenay 2009 — United Airlines
4. Yatir Merlot-Shiraz-Cabernet 2008, Israel — EL AL Israel Airlines
5. TIE Aquamarine Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Israel — EL AL Israel Airlines Beringer Alluvium 2007 — American Airlines
Top Five Red Wines International Business Class
1. Domaine Font de Michelle Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2009 — British Airways
2. Anura Merlot 2009, South Africa — South African Airways
3. Château Bel-Air-Ouÿ 2008, Bordeaux, France — TAM
4. Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni 2009, Tuscany, Italy — Brussels Airlines
5. Château de Rochemorin 2006, Bordeaux, France — Brussels Airlines
Top North American First Class/Business Class
Top North American Wines On The Wing
Top North American Sparkling Wine
Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut, NV, California
— American Airlines
Top North American White Wine
Canyon Road Chardonnay 2010, California
— United Airlines
Top North American Red Wine
181 Merlot 2008, California — American Airlines