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Wines On The Wing 2006 Airline Wine Competition

Jul 1, 2006
2006 / June-July 2006

It’s time once again to reveal the results of Global Traveler’s Wines on the Wing competition — the ever-popular annual event that brings high-flying wines down to earth. This year’s judging of airlines’ international business-class wines, held at Sofitel New York in Manhattan, brought together 31 airlines pitting 150 wines against one another. Thirty-five professional judges tasted the offerings in coded glasses to find the wines whose qualities shone above the others. And the winner of Wines on the Wing 2006 — the airline whose wines garnered the highest overall score — was Air Canada.

Each year, we look for trends in the wines the airlines choose to serve. Some years, the trend has been toward Southern Hemisphere wines — those from Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Australia. Other years, it has been the move to serve only wines produced in the airline’s home country. Another trend we’ve noticed is that at times airlines invest strongly in vintage champagne while in other years, they revert sharply to non-vintage champagne.

This year’s winner set its own standards. With its five selections representing three countries, Air Canada won with the highest-rated champagne, the non-vintage Drappier Carte d’Or Brut; with the high-scoring Benton Lane Pinot Noir 1999 Reserve from Oregon; another high-scoring wine, Treana Red 2002, a blend from Paso Robles, Calif.; and with its two white wines, Viognier from France and Chardonnay from British Columbia.

“We believe our wines should represent the wine-making regions of the world, so our customers are treated to wines from both the Old World and the New World with Canadian wines a permanent feature,” said Air Canada’s Roberto Solarino, adding wines are selected based on the “best fit for the airline environment; wines that are able to compensate for the partial dulling of taste buds at high cabin altitudes.”

When it comes time to select wines, Solarino collaborates with Kenneth Chase of Chase International, Air Canada’s field consultant. Solarino drafts a proposal of the airline’s needs; Chase then gathers wines that fit the proposal and presents them to the airline’s wine council — three well-known Canadian wine experts — at a formal tasting. The final selection, made by Solarino, takes into account the council’s recommendations. On its international flights, Air Canada offers two white wines and three reds, one of which is a unique and relatively rare red wine the airline calls a “hidden treasure.” Generally, Air Canada changes the still wines it serves on board every six months. In all, the carrier opens approximately 320,000 bottles of still wine and 62,000 bottles of champagne each year on its international flights.

The trend in airline champagnes clearly has turned toward non-vintage brut. This year, only three airlines submitted vintage champagne, and none of them showed well enough to make our Top 10 Champagne/Sparkling Wine list. Neither did any of the six non-champagne sparkling entries. The result? All of the 10 coveted spots on the list were won by high-scoring non-vintage champagnes.

Air Canada’s winner, Drappier Carte d’Or Brut, is a blend of 90 percent pinot noir with the rest, chardonnay and pinot meunier. It’s a champagne that judge David Frieser complimented for its “fresh fruit, persistent flavors and crisp finish,” and Robin Kelley O’Connor found to be “well-made, with good acidity, good length and a fruity finish.”

The second-highest-scoring champagne was Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve, Mis en Cave en 2001, submitted by British Airlines — a champagne that judge Don Dombrosky enjoyed for its full flavor and richness and Melissa Sutherland-Amado declared “a wine drinker’s champagne.”

There was an interesting trend among white wines this year. Not a single big, high-alcohol, heavily oaked wine appeared among the winners. In fact, the highest-scoring white was a chablis which is, after all, chardonnay tempered by climate and t radition. It was followed closely by a riesling. The Top 10 whites also included another chablis, another riesling, an Albariño and three sauvignon blancs.

The winning chablis was SN Brussels Airlines’ Domaine William Févre 2004. It showed “hints of acacia, honey and green fruit” to judge Vito Polosa; and “a subtle, interesting complexity” to Darrin Siegfried.

“We know passengers lose some taste sensation at 35,000 feet,” said SN Brussels’ Philip Mortier. “That is why wines need to be expressive and last longer in the mouth. A wine, perhaps a bit young on the ground, can taste much better in the air.”

Mortier and his team of tasters look for classic wines. Although some passengers like to discover new wine onboard, he said, “We find the majority still prefer classic French wines. As a result, we always have a French red and white; the rest may be wines from other European countries or the New World.”

In an average year, SN Brussels uses 14,000 bottles of still wine and 15,000 bottles of champagne in its business-class international flights. The carrier also considers the foods the airline will be serving and, as much as possible, matches wines to the in-flight menu.

“In choosing this Févre Chablis, for example, we knew we would be having some great fish dishes onboard — waterzooi, a Belgian dish made with a creamy wine sauce, and grilled pollack with lemon butter. These dishes fit perfectly with the Févre,” said Mortier.

Following closely on the heels of SN Brussels’ winning chablis, United Airlines took second place with its Selbach-Oster Rieslng Kabinett 2004, Bernkasteler Badstube — a wine that judge Linda Lawry described as “crisp with apple and citrus and a long finish.”

The winning red wines showed a trend toward well-balanced, nicely structured wines. And none displayed these characteristics better than Iberia Airlines’ Viña Arnáiz Reserva 1999 from Ribera del Duero. It was not only the highest-scoring red wine, it was also the highest-scoring of all 150 wines in the competition. “Big, round, balanced,” wrote judge Eric Woods. “Deep ruby, fruit and spice, concentrated,” Linda Lawry noted.

Each year, Iberia’s passengers consume about 52,000 bottles of white wine, 150,000 bottles of red wine and 60,000 half-bottles of sparkling wine on its long-haul international business-class flights. Like all of Iberia’s wines, its winning red was chosen by a panel of Spain’s leading sommeliers who are invited to take part in the airline’s final selection of wines each year.

Coming in as the second-highest-scoring red was Air New Zealand’s Peregrine Pinot Noir 2004, from Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand. It’s a wine that W. R. Tish described as “open, lush, silky with a touch of clove — excellent balance.” To Vito Polosa, it was a “standout.”

Polosa’s remark also might be considered an apt description of the 31 airlines that participated in the Wines on the Wing competition. Each selected its wines with care, offered them with pride and trusted them — and thus, part of their reputation — to the discerning tastes of the judges. In that sense, all 31 soared above the ordinary. All 31 were standouts.

Aer Lingus
Aerolíneas Argentinas
Air Canada
Air China*
Air France*
Air Mauritius*
Air New Zealand
Air Pacific*
Air Tahiti Nui
Alitalia Airlines
All Nippon Airways
American Airlines
Asiana Airlines
Austrian Airlines
British Airways
Cathay Pacific Airways
China Airlines*
China Eastern Airlines*
China Southern Airlines*
Continental Airlines
CSA Czech Airlines
Delta Air Lines
El Al Israel Airlines*
Ethiopian Airlines*
Etihad Airways *
EVA Airways*
Gulf Air
Iberia Airlines
Japan Airlines
Korean Air*
Kuwait Airways*
LAB Bolivian Airlines*
LOT Polish Airlines*
LTU International Airways*
Malaysia Airlines
Malév Hungarian Airlines
MEA-Middle East Airlines*
Mexicana Airlines
Northwest Airlines*
Olympic Airlines*
Philippine Airlines*
Qantas Airways*
Qatar Airways*
Scandinavian Airlines
Singapore Airlines*
SN Brussels Airlines
South African Airways*
Sri Lankan Airlines*
TAM Brazilian Airlines*
Thai Airways International*
Turkish Airlines
United Airlines
US Airways
Varig Brazilian Airlines*
Vietnam Airlines*
Virgin Atlantic Airways*

*Airline did not respond or chose not to participate.

Air Canada
United Airlines
Iberia Airlines
Air New Zealand i>
Cathay Pacific Airways
Delta Air Lines
Scandinavian Airlines
SN Brussels Airlines

Drappier Carte D’or Brut, NV (Air Canada)
Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve, Mis en Cave en 2001, NV (British Airways)
De Meric Grande Réserve Sous Bois, NV (US Airways)
Duval-Leroy Fleur de Champagne Brut, NV (All Nippon Airways)
Moét & Chandon Brut Impérial, NV (Emirates)
Piper-Heidsieck Brut, NV (American Airlines)
Piper-Heidsieck Brut, NV (Japan Airlines)
Lallier Brut, NV (Delta Air Lines)
Piper-Heidsieck Brut, NV (Asiana Airlines)
Deutz Brut Classic, NV (Cathay Pacific Airways)
Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Premier Cru, NV (Aer Lingus)
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut, NV (Mexicana Airlines)
* NV – non-vintage

Viña Arnáiz Reserva 1999
Ribera del Duero, Spain (Iberia Airlines)
Peregrine Pinot Noir 2004
Central Otago, New Zealand (Air New Zealand)
Taurus Roble Tempranillo 2000
Toro, Spain (United Airlines)
Château Peymouton 2002, St. Emilion, France
(Continental Airlines)
Clos des Menuts 2002, St. Emilion, France
(Air Tahiti Nui)
Vieux Château London 2002
Médoc, France (Cathay Pacific Airways)
Osoyoos Larose 2002 Bordeaux Blend
British Columbia, Canada (Finnair)
Château du Cartillon 2002
Haut-Médoc, France (Gulf Air)
Benton Lane Pinot Noir Reserve 1999
Oregon (Air Canada)
Domain Grófzichy Merlot 2003
Barrique, Hungary (Malév Hungarian Airlines)
Oxford Landing Shiraz 2004, Australia
(Turkish Airlines)
Treana Red 2002, Paso Robles, California
(Air Canada)
Viñas Del Vero Merlot 2002, Somotano, Spain
(Iberia Airlines)

Domaine William Févre Chablis 2004
France (SN Brussels Airlines)
Selbach-Oster Riesling Kabinett 2004
Germany (United Airlines)
Fabre Montmayou Torrontes 2005
Argentina (Delta Air Lines)
Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc 2004
California (Asiana Airlines)
Lagar de Cervera Albariño 2004
Spain (Scandinavian Airlines)
Clay Station Viognier 2004, California (Icelandair)
Labouré-Roi Chablis, Le Beaunois 2004
France (United Airlines)
Hochheimer Kirchenstück Riesling Spätlese Trocken, 2004
Rheingau, Germany (Aer Lingus)
Meursault 2004, Ropiteau Fréres
Burgundy, France (Emirates)
Torres Viña Esmerelda 2004, Spain
(Iberia Airlines)
Whitehaven Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2005
New Zealand (Air New Zealand)
Conders Forest Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Montana Terroir Series, New Zealand (Air New Zealand)

To take part in the competition, airlines submitted two white wines, two red wines and one champagne or other sparkling wine currently on their international business-class wine lists, as well as the lists themselves. The wines then were divided into flights, or categories, according to their type — red Burgundy, for example, or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc — and served in numbered glasses. Judges knew only the type of wine and, when appropriate, the vintage. If judges felt a wine was flawed, a reserve bottle was served. The tasting was monitored by Global Traveler staff and aides.

Each wine was judged on a 20-point scale. The judges’ individual scores for a wine were added and averaged, and the averaged scores of an airline’s submissions were totaled. The airlines with the highest totals won the Wines on the Wing awards.


MARIO BELARDINO is the CEO and owner of Bedford International, an importer of fine Italian wines. His family began importing Italian wine in 1949. He is a frequent speaker on the development of the Italian fine wine business in the United States.

CAROL BERMAN is a wine educator and journalist. The founder of Class in a Glass/The Traveling Sommelier, Berman conducts wine-tasting parties and wine dinners and classes for corporate business entertaining.

TARCISI O COSTA is the co-owner and wine director of Alfama, a Portuguese restaurant in Manhattan where he has created an award-winning wine list of Portugal’s most outstanding wines.

JOSEPH DELISSIO is the wine director of The River Café in Brooklyn, a post he has held for 28 years. He is the author of The River Café’s Wine Primer, a consultant and frequent lecturer on wine.

PHILIP DI BELARDINO is vice president of fine wines for Banfi Vintners. A 30-plus veteran of the fine wine industry, di Belardino hosts more than 50 winemaker dinners a year, teaching wine with humor for select consumer groups.

DON DOMBROSKY is the sommelier at The River Café in Brooklyn. In 1995, he opened the wine bar, Casbah, in Pittsburgh, Penn. Previously, he was an account representative for Gateway Wines & Spirits.

MALACHY DUFFY is a writer specializing in wine and food whose work has appeared in Bon Appetit, Life, Town & Country, Town & Country Travel, Country Living and other publications.

JOHN FANNING is general manager of I Trulli restaurant in Manhattan. He previously has held positions as general manager and wine director at top Italian restaurants including Beppe, Felidia, Coco Pazzo, Le Madri and Palio in New York; and Bramante and San Michele, Rome.

FRED FERRETTI is wine and food editor for TravelClassics.com. Formerly a New York Times reporter, columnist for Gourmet magazine and a writer and correspondent for NBC-TV, he is a contributor to many national publications.

DAVID FRIESER is president of Beekman Liquors, Inc., a 48-year-old wine shop in Manhattan. He has been professionally involved in wine for more than 20 years and conducts wine tastings for clients.

DAVID GROSS is restaurant wine specialist for Southern Wine & Spirits, in New York’s southern Hudson Valley. A former caterer, he has been involved in the wine trade for 20 years.

WILL HELBURN has been a wine retailer with Neil Rosenthal, New York, for 26 years, principally as a manager. Before becoming a retailer, he worked with the wine importing companies Julius Wile and Sidney Frank.

FRANK JOHNSON is chairman of Frank Johnson Selections, a wine brokerage firm that focuses on European wines. He is also a writer who has authored two books and numerous articles about wine.

LINDA LAWRY is director of the International Wine Center in New York where she teaches advanced and diploma-level courses. She is a member of the faculty of New York University and the New School University.

HARRIET LEMBECK has been president of the Wine and Spirits Program for the past 25 years where she teaches both wine-trade personnel and consumers. She is wine director of the New School University Culinary Arts Program.

JOHNMCCLEMENT is wine and spirits director of 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.

DAVID MILLIGAN is president of David Milligan Selections, which represents top French producers. He 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.

ROBIN KELLEY O’CONNOR has been trade liaison for the Bordeaux Wine Bureau for the past 17 years. He has conducted more than 1,600 wine seminars in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

VITO POLOSA is owner and wine director of Aroma: Kitchen & Wine Bar located in NoHo in Lower Manhattan, where he specializes in both Italian wines and foods.

ROMAN ROTH is winemaker and general manager of Wölffer Estate, Long Island, N.Y., a winery he helped create in 1992. He received his degrees in winemaking in his native Germany. He also has worked in Australia and California.

JEFFREY SAPARA is North American sales manager for the Golan Heights Winery/Yarden Inc. He is a frequent lecturer on the wines of Israel. He was previously state sales manager for the fine wine division of Fedway Associates in New Jersey.

CHARLES SCICOLONE is wine director of I Trulli Restaurant and Enoteca Wine Bar and wine consultant for Vino, an Italian wine and spirits shop in Manhattan. He is also a lecturer and consultant on Italian wines and spirits.

JOHN SHELDON is a wine representative for Artisan and Pas Mal, two fine-wine importers and distributors. He is the founder and director of the 33-year-old New York Wine Tasting School and consultant to restaurants and private clubs.

FELICIA SHERBERT is president of What’s My Wine? LLC, a consulting and communications firm specializing in wine and spirits. He is a member of the International Food and Beverage Forum and the Distinguished Advisory Board at Johnson & Wales University.

PETER SICHEL is a fourth-generation wine grower and négociant. He is a leading authority on German and Bordeaux wines; co-owner of Château Fourcas-Hosten in Bordeaux; frequent lecturer; and the author of two wine books.

DARRIN SIEGFRIED is owner of Brooklyn wine shop, Red, White & Bubbly. He is also the wine director at Brooklyn’s Cucina restaurant. Previously, he was sommelier at Claude Troisgros’ CT restaurant and manager of several New York restaurants.

BERNARD SUN is corporate beverage director for the Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant group where he oversees wine programs for 15 restaurants. Previously, he worked as a sommelier at Montrachet, Lespinasse and Le Cirque in New York.

MELISSA SUTHERLAND-AMADO is assistant general manager of Vino Vino, a wine shop in Manhattan’s Tribeca. She is also a wine and food writer.

MARY TAYLOR is manager of Pasanella & Son Vintners, a wine shop at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan. Before that, she worked at Sotheby’s and Acker wine auctions.

W. R. TISH is the creator of the “Wine + Food Comedy” dinner series in New York City and developer of private and corporate wine events through his Web site, wineforall.com.

PETER WASSERMAN is the U.S. representative for Becky Wasserman Selections, a prestigious wine-exporting firm in Burgundy. He also organizes a bi-yearly weeklong seminar in Burgundy.

ERIC WHITE is sales manager for Food & Wine Associates where his focus is on the wines of South Africa. He was previously cellar master of Chelsea Wine Storage, a professional storage facility for premier restaurants and collectors.

ERIC WOODS is co-owner of Harlem Vintage, the first boutique wine shop in New York’s Harlem, specializing in artisanal wines from around the world.

MICHAEL YURCH is president of Sherry-Lehmann in Manhattan. Before joining the wine firm in 1985, he was managing director of The Wine Cart in New York for four years. Previously, he worked for The Wine Imports of America Corp.

EVA WASSEMILLER ZORAD is manager and wine buyer for September Wines & Spirits, an artisanal wine boutique in Lower Manhattan.


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