So many factors go into Asiana Airlines’ choice of wines served on its international first- and business-class flights. The carrier must consider both Korean and Western cuisines as well as the taste preferences of 17 million passengers from the 24 countries it serves.
And there are many more aspects the airline’s three international sommeliers — Andreas Larsson of Sweden, Evangelos Pattas of Belgium and Christine Balais of France — ponder when choosing wines every three years. They begin by sampling the airline’s in-flight meals to understand the flavors of the foods being served. They then blind taste approximately 300 wines, ultimately narrowing their choices down to about 25.
“The most important factor in choosing a wine,” Andreas Larsson says, “is the quality of the wine itself. We look for well-balanced wines. We consider aroma, flavor, length, structure, grape variety, the region, how it marries with our food. We try to offer wines from all over, not just from ‘must-have’ regions.” So while their selections often feature Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne, they also include California, South Africa, Spain, Germany and the Rhône: in short, the rest of the viticultural world. To counteract the effects of high altitude on the perception of wine, they also look for wines not overly high in tannin, acid and alcohol. And they often add other wines between their major tastings.
Once they narrow their choices, the sommeliers submit them to Hyun Mee Han, Asiana’s executive vice president, for her approval.
And that is why current passengers in Asiana’s first class can enjoy Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill 2000 Champagne and a selection of Burgundy, South African Sauvignon Blanc and German Riesling among whites; and Bordeaux, Burgundy, Australian Shiraz and California Cabernet Sauvignon among reds. Business-class passengers can choose from Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne, Burgundy and California Chardonnay among whites; and among reds, Bordeaux, California Pinot Noir and Australian Syrah. Asiana also offers a variety of beers, mostly South Korea’s own.
Every year, Asiana opens 2,400 bottles of Champagne; 4,400 bottles of red wine; and 2,000 bottles of white in first class; and 34,000 bottles of Champagne; 83,000 bottles of red wine; and 48,000 bottles of white wine in business class, for a total cost in excess of $2.1 million.
No wonder a character in the popular Korean movie The Thieves says, “Asiana, they serve excellent wine.”
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