SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS boasts an 83-year history, founded in 1934. Today the international airline serves 38 airports in 26 countries. And for the 31st year, it continues its meticulous program of choosing the wines offered on board. Like many airlines of wine-producing countries, South African Airways is justly proud of its own nation’s wines and serves its passengers South Africa’s best. Choosing those wines is a painstaking exercise that brings out the finest of the offerings.
This is how it works: Each year, wineries across South Africa submit wines to SAA to be judged. And each October, the airline invites 8 to 12 wine judges, all professionals such as sommeliers, winemakers and certified wine educators; most are from South Africa, with a few international judges from countries that import South African wines and, thus, professionals familiar with those wines. For three days judges taste the wines blind — that is, the wines are served in numbered glasses so that other than being told the general type of wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Pinotage, for example), judges never see a bottle and do not know which winery submitted a given wine.
While the number of wines tasted varies with the year, last year’s entry of 730 wines was typical. The judges narrow these hundreds of wines down to a workable number through their scores; internal and external auditors then compile the results. With that information, SAA selects 24 whites and 24 reds, as well as South Africa’s sparkling wines, to be served on flights and in its business-class lounges the following year.
“The selection is an integral part of our overall customer experience and unique value proposition of promoting South African wine exclusively to our worldwide passenger base,” says Kim Thipe, head of marketing, SAA.
The chosen wines are then allocated for service for a given month and for a given class of travel.
“It is not hard to imagine how challenging it is to arrive at naming the winning wines,” adds Thipe.
And not hard to imagine how intriguing they are.
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