On a blustery spring day in midtown Manhattan, 35 prominent wine judges gathered at the Millennium Broadway Hotel to swirl, sniff and sip the wines airlines around the globe are serving in their business-class cabins. The winner? Read on.
There’s a global vineyard flying high in the sky. That’s what Global Traveler discovered at its first Wines on the Wing Awards competition for airlines’ international-business-class wine. Held at the Millennium Broadway Hotel, Manhattan in March, the competition featured 35 prominent wine judges who tasted and evaluated wines made from three dozen different grape varieties that grow in 13 countries around the world in myriad variations of soil and climate. The setting produced a small portrait of a much larger picture-a sample of the riches that await the airborne wine lover.
Upscale travelers find this liquid fulfillment on airlines that consider wine an integral part of their service: the airlines that select wine with care and creativity, note passengers’ interests and requests, and are open to new trends and new directions. Airlines from around the world who have an international business class were invited to participate in gT’s competition. The 23 that elected to participate-submitting a total of 114 wines for consideration-represent those confident of the high quality of the wines they serve their business-class passengers.
The roster of submissions was a balance of classic and cutting edge, in many cases highlighting some of the world’s lesser-known wine regions. The selection made for a lively and fascinating competition. In the not-too-distant past, the majority of the 114 wines in the competition would have hailed from France. Certainly, Champagne still reigns in the Champagne/sparkling wine category. Seventeen of the 23 submissions in that category were sparklers from the Champagne region of France. Of the 10 top winners in the category, nine were Champagne.
The 91 table wines submitted for consideration-including both red and white-told a markedly different story, one that reflects the growing trend toward looking beyond the classics and venturing into new worlds of wine. Twenty were French-the rest represented what amounted to a stroll through the vineyards of the world. California and Italy accounted for 11 entries each. Chile and Australia were represented by 10 each. Spain followed with six entries, and South Africa, Portugal and Hungary each had five entries. There were four from Austria, two from Argentina, two from New Zealand and one from Canada.
Iberia Air Lines of Spain-winner of the Wines on the Wing Award with five wines totaling the highest score-submitted five wines from Spain, a country that has seen an explosion of new wine regions, reborn regions and newly invigorated regions, all producing exciting wines. In fact, one of Iberia’s red wine entries, Barón de Ley Rioja Reserva 2000, was the highest scoring red wine and the highest scoring of all 114 wines. All Nippon Airways came in a close second with wines chosen from California, New Zealand, Australia and France. Icelandair, the third-highest scoring airline, also roamed the world’s vineyards, selecting its wines from Italy, Australia and France.
Following Iberia’s Rioja in the red wine category was Virgin Atlantic’s Pieve di Spaltenna 1999 from Tuscany, Italy. Icelandair came in third with another Italian wine, Altavilla Della Corte 2001 from Sicily.
Two airlines tied for best Champagne: Varig Brazilian’s Henriot Blanc de Blancs, NV and Thai Airways International’s Charles Lafitte Grande Cuvée, NV. Qantas Airways came in second with its Charles Heidsieck Réserve, NV, “mis en cave en 1998.” Virgin Atlantic won third place with Jacquart Champagne Mosaïque, NV.
All Nippon Airways’ Mission Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2002 from New Zealand won best white wine, followed by Thai Airways International’s Bestheim Gewürztraminer Réserve 2000 from the Alsace region of France, and Austria Airlines’ Weinbau Wenzl Grüner Veltliner 2002, from Austria.
Not many years ago, most airlines and passengers might have asked, “Gewürz who?” and Grüner what?” Now, airlines are seeking lesser-known vintages that pique interest, impress judges and satisfy business-class flyers, whether they are wine connoisseurs or interested neophytes.
Iberia was not alone in opting to feature its country’s own wines. Alitalia Airlines, TAP Air Portugal and Malev Hungarian Airlines also presented native products. Four other airlines from wine-producing countries-South African Airways, Lan Chile, Qantas Airways and Austrian Airlines-chose to pour their own table wines, but turned to France and Champagne for their sparkling wines. In all, airlines that presented home-grown wines won nine places among the winners.
How did the highly experienced judges rate the selection?
“The wines are more interesting because they are not necessarily the usual suspects,” noted John Sheldon. “There’s more variety, new wines as well as classics.”
“The wines we tasted were of good quality, and some were definitely off the beaten track,” said Karen King. “It’s exciting to see that airlines are branching out. They played it safe for so long, and it became so dull. You never got excited when you thought of wines on an airplane. But some of these selections surprise you. You’d be pleased to have them on a flight.”
“It’s very encouraging that airlines are willing to experiment and really search out the best wines from all over the world,” said David Frieser. “Also encouraging to me is that the quality of wines from all over the world has gone up considerably. Winemakers are looking to modernize and do the best they can. Poor wines do not do anybody a service, neither the passengers nor the airline.”
Nor judges, for that matter. Good wines are the soul of the gT competition. They are a sign that airlines care about pleasing. And they may very well be a reason a traveler chooses one airline over another. Pleasure, after all, should be part of the flight package.
All Nippon Airways
Iberia Air Lines of Spain
LOT Polish Airlines
Malev Hungarian Airlines
South African Airways
TAP Air Portugal
Thai Airways International
Varig Brazilian Airlines
The Judging Process
Airlines were invited to submit two white wines, two red wines and one Champagne/sparkling wine from their current international business-class wine lists. The wines were then divided into flights, or categories, according to type-red Bordeaux or California Chardonnay for example-and served in numbered glasses. Judges knew only the type of wine and, when appropriate, the vintage. If judges deemed a wine flawed, a reserve bottle was opened and tasted. Each wine was judged on a 20-point scale. The judges’ individual scores for each wine were compiled, then averaged. The five average scores awarded each airline’s submissions were totaled. The airlines with the highest total score won the Wines on the Wing Awards. The tasting was monitored by gT’s staff and aides.
Meet the Judges
Winemaster and co-owner of Brotherhood Winery in New York state. A native of Chile, Baeza studied winemaking there as well as in France, Spain and California.
President of Wine & Food Associates, a market development firm whose wine clients include Spain, New Zealand and South Africa. Callahan is a graduate of the University of California Davis’ School of Viticulture and Enology and co-founder of the International Wine Center.
Wine buyer for Astor Wine & Spirits, a large wine shop in Manhattan, and the owner of vineyards in Hillier, Ontario, Canada, along the north shore of Lake Ontario.
Master sommelier, wine director and maître d’hôtel of Chanterelle restaurant in Manhattan for the past 14 years and adjunct professor of wine at New York Technical College, CUNY.
A master sommelier for 28 years, Dean has been wine director and beverage manager at The Mark Hotel in Manhattan fo r the past seven years.
Wine director of The River Café for the past 26 years, author of The River Café‘s Wine Primer, consultant and frequent lecturer on wine.
Philip Di Belardino
Vice president of fine wines for Banfi Vintners, Di Belardino hosts 40 winemaker dinners every year for select consumer groups. Like a stand-up comedian, he teaches wine with humor. He has been in the fine-wine business since 1973.
General manager and wine director of Beppe Trattoria in Manhattan since its inception in 1999, Fanning was previously restaurant manager at Felidia, Coco Pazzo, Le Madri and Palio in New York and at Le Palmerie in Rome.
Wine and food editor for TravelClassics.com. Formerly a New York Times reporter, a writer and correspondent for NBC-TV and a columnist for Gourmet magazine, Ferretti is a contributor to many national publications.
Regional marketing representative and consulting winemaker for Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars and Chateau Frank Winery. With advanced degrees in winemaking, Frank previously worked at S. Anderson, Schramsberg, Navarro and Domaine Mumm.
President of Beekman Liquors Inc, a 46-year-old wine shop in Manhattan, Frieser has been involved in wine professionally for more than 20 years. He also conducts wine tastings for clients.
President and founder of Tenfolks Enterprises, a wine education and marketing company created to broaden the interest in wine among African-Americans through tastings, seminars and other events.
Director of Frank Johnson Selections, a unit of Admiral Wine Merchants, for which he selects wines from France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Johnson has written about wine for more than 30 years.
Food and beverage manager of the Millennium Broadway Hotel, Khorsandi was previously sommelier at the 21 Club and at Laurent Restaurant in Manhattan.
Beverage director of Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan, King also held that position at Union Square Café.
Wine director of the New School University Culinary Arts Program, for the past 24 years Lembeck has served as president of the Wine and Spirits Program, teaching both wine-trade personnel and consumers. She also writes about wine.
Director of Vinconsult, where he is an adviser to producers and importers, and an industry and personal wine consultant, Mazur was previously tasting director for Wine Enthusiast magazine.
Wine and spirits director for All Weather Management, a restaurant group that includes Keens Chop House, Noho Star, Temple Bar and Elephant & Castle in New York; Ginger Island in California; and Elephant & Castle in Ireland.
Northeastern U.S. manager for Broadbent Selections, a San Francisco-based wine importing company. Previously, Miles was sommelier at the City Grocery, an award-winning restaurant in Oxford, Miss.
President of David Milligan Selections, which represents top French producers, Milligan has been in the wine trade for more than 40 years, beginning with his training in England. He also served as president of Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines Co.
Deputy director of Wines From Spain and the editor in chief of Wines From Spain magazine.
Proprietor of is-wine, a wine shop in Manhattan. For eight years, Pellechia was the winemaker and owner of Cana Vineyards in the Finger Lakes, New York; and for 15 years, a wine and food writer.
Co-owner of Alambic Inc./Germain-Robin, fine brandy distillers in Ukiah, Calif., Rossbach has been in the wine trade for 26 years.
Winemaker and general manager of Wölffer Estate on Long Island in New York, a winery he helped create in 1992. Roth received his degrees in winemaking in his native Germany and has worked there and in Australia and California.
State sales manager for Washington Selections, the fine-wine division of Fedway Associates in New Jersey, and a frequent lecturer on wines. Previously, Sapara worked in restaurants in the New York area.
Wine director of I Trulli Restaurant and Enoteca wine bar and wine consultant for Vino, an Italian wine and spirits shop in Manhattan. Scicolone is also a lecturer and consultant on Italian wines and spirits.
Executive vice president of Dreyfus Alliance, a wine importing firm.
Owner of HB Wine Merchants/R. Shack Selections and of Clos Robert Winery in Sonoma, Calif. Previously, Shack was vice president and manager of the Premiere Wine Merchants Division of Remy Amerique for 20 years.
Wine representative of Artisan and of Pas Mal, two fine-wine importers and distributors; founder and director of the 31-year-old New York Wine Tasting School; and consultant to restaurants and private clubs.
Fourth-generation wine grower and négociant; leading authority on German and Bordeaux wines; co-owner of Château Fourcas-Hosten in Bordeaux; frequent lecturer; and author of two wine books.
Head sommelier of the three-star restaurant Montrachet in Manhattan. Sun formerly worked at Lespinasse and Le Cirque 2000.
Creator of a series of “wine + food comedy” dinners in New York City and developer of private and corporate wine events through his Web site, wineforall.com.
Beth von Benz
Wine director at Judson Grill since 1999, von Benz is on the Executive Advisory Board of Santé Magazine and also teaches wine classes at I.C.E.
Kristen Wolfe Bieler
Managing editor of Beverage Media in New York, Bieler’s articles on wine and food have also appeared in CITY Magazine, Detour and The Evening Standard.
President of Sherry-Lehmann in Manhattan. Before joining the wine firm in 1985, Yurch was managing director of The Wine Cart in New York for four years; earlier, he worked for The Wine Imports of America Corp.
The Winners’ Circle
Top 10 Champagnes/Sparkling Wines
Charles Lafitte Grande Cuvée Champagne
NV (Thai Airways International)
Henriot Blanc de Blancs Champagne
NV (Varig Brazilian Airlines)
2. Charles Heidsieck Réserve Champagne
NV, “mis en cave en 1998” (Qantas Airways)
3. Jacquart Champagne Mosaïque
NV (Virgin Atlantic)
Comte A. de Dampierre Champagne 1998
Grand Cru, Family Réserve (Finnair)
Carte d’Or, NV (Air Canada)
5. Perrier-Joüet Grand Brut Champagne
NV (Northwest Airlines)
6. Antica Fratta
NV, Franciacorta, Italy (Alitalia)
7. Duval-Leroy Champagne
8. Henriot Champagne Millésime 1995
(Scandinavian Airlines System)
9. De Saint Gall Blanc de Blancs Champagne 1998
Premier Cru (Malaysia Airlines)
10. Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne
Premier Cru, NV (Aer Lingus)
Top 10 Red Wines
1. Barón de Ley Rioja Reserva 2000
Finca Monasterio, Spain (Iberia Air Lines of Spain)
2. Pieve di Spaltenna 1999
Tuscany, Italy (Virgin Atlantic)
3. Altavilla Della Corte 2001
Sicily, Italy (Icelandair)
4. Montecillo Rioja 1995
Gran Reserva, Spain (Iberia Air Lines of Spain)
5. De Bortoli Deen Cabernet Sauvignon 2000
6. Danzante Merlot della Sicilia 2001
Sicily, Italy (Varig Brazilian Airlines)
7. Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
Australia (Qantas Airways)
8. Hawk Crest Cabernet Sauvignon 2000
California (All Nippon Airways)
9. Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino 2000
Tuscany, Italy (Alitalia Airlines)
10. Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
Top 10 White Wines
1. Mission Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2002
New Zealand (All Nippon Airways)
2. Bestheim Gewürztraminer Réserve 2000
Alsace, France (Thai Airways International)
3. Weinbau Wenzl Grüner Veltliner 2002
Austria (Austrian Airlines)
4. Wente Chardonnay 2001
Arroyo Seco, Monterey, Calif. (Malaysia Airlines)
5. Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2001
Central Coast, Calif. (AeroMexico)
Hilltop Neszmélyi Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Hungary (Malev Hungarian Airlines)
Michel Laroche Chablis 2002
France (LOT Polish Airlines)
7. Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay 2002
Margaret River, Australia (Qantas Airways)
8. La Crema Chardonnay 2002
Sonoma, Calif. (Virgin Atlantic)
9. Stonehaven Chardonnay 2001
Limestone Coast, Australia (Scandinavian Airlines System)
10. Pierre Sparr Pinot Gris 2002 Réserve
Alsace, France (Virgin Atlantic)
Top 10 Overall
1. Iberia Air Lines of Spain
2. All Nippon Airways
4. Virgin Atlantic
5. Thai Airways International
7. LOT Polish Airlines
8. Alitalia Airlines
9. Malaysia Airlines
10. Aer Lingus
“We are delighted to learn of our success in Global Traveler’s business-class wine competition. Customer satisfaction is our number one priority. That is why, in 1999, when we presented our new intercontinental business class, we included among the innovations, enhanced menus of Mediterranean cuisine and, of course, carefully selected Spanish wines.”
-Jose Alvarado, general manager
Iberia Air Lines of Spain
“I fly Iberia business class often, and to its credit, it always offers a very well-selected choice of wines. There are usually three reds, two whites, a Cava and sherry. I’m always particularly pleased when a national airline features its own wines. A few times, I’ve flown airlines other than Iberia to Spain. They were airlines that were pushing their Spain routes, and yet, they did not serve a single Spanish wine. “The choice of Barón de Ley as the red winner does not surprise me. Rioja goes with so many kinds of food. And this one comes from a very reputable producer. It combines the newer style of Rioja with the traditional one.”
-Katrin Naelapaa, director
Wines of Spain
“It is a great honor to receive this recognition from Global Traveler. At ANA, we are constantly trying to find new ways to delight and surprise our passengers, to keep up with new trends and to offer wines unique in character. To find the right wines, we taste 1,200 possibilities over eight months; from them, we choose 12 labels. Last year for the first time, we tried New World wines alongside the traditional. This award is a testament to the producers and to the changing tastes of our passengers.”
-Tomoko Kishida, sommelier
All Nippon Airways
“Winning first place for our Champagne is an amazing recognition of our efforts to offer Varig’s passengers the best in-flight experience. To select our wines we employ the BSA, the Brazilian Sommeliers Association-Rio de Janeiro. From samples preselected at major wine trade shows, BSA this year blind-tasted 600 wines in two weeks. “We find our passengers are more demanding and well-informed, and so we have refreshed our wine program, broadened our frontiers and created new oenological routes. Now, besides the classic French wines, we have introduced wines of the highest quality from Chile, Argentina, California, Italy, South Africa and Australia. Our winning proves we are on the right track.”
-Edward Couto, in-flight product manager
Varig Brazilian Airlines
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