The Grand Salon Of The Jumeirah Essex House has hosted many spectacular events in its 77 years as one of Manhattan’s finest spots for celebrations. In its early years, society and celebrities danced to the big bands of Sammy Kaye, Abe Lyman and Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra. Broadway columnists Ed Sullivan and Walter Winchell often stopped by to look in on the crowd. Albert Einstein and 200 others honored W.E.B. Du Bois on his 83rd birthday. Luncheons, dinners, weddings, receptions and reunions continue to fill the elegant setting.
This spring, the Beaux Arts décor of the Grand Salon was the backdrop for Global Traveler’s annual Wines on the Wing International Business Class Airline Wine Competition. The 2008 event — the largest ever of GT’s competitions — featured a panel of 36 professional judges who tasted and evaluated 140 wines. In keeping with the contest’s worldwide participation, this year’s wines came from 60 wine regions within a dozen countries.
In competition with 27 other airlines, Iberia Airlines garnered the highest score to win the 2008 Wines on the Wing Award. With every one of its five Spanish wine entries finishing on the Top 10 lists, Iberia set a standard never before reached in Global Traveler’s competition. For starters, its Veigadares 2006 and Nora 2006 — Albariños from Rías Baixas — placed second and fifth among the Top 10 White Wines, while Ramón Bilbao Rioja 2005 placed third and Casa de las Especias Crianza 2004 from Yecla tied for fifth place among the Top 10 Red Wines. To complete the sweep, Castillo Perelada Brut Reserve Cava NV tied for sixth place in the Top 10 Champagne/Sparkling Wine category.
To find such award-winning wines, Iberia looks to the Todo Vino Tasting Committee, wine specialists led by sommelier Custodio L. Zamarra. From the 5,000 Spanish wines the committee tastes each year, it selects the best and publishes the list in its annual La Guía Todo Vino. The committee also tests its choices in the air. Several times a year, it conducts tasting sessions during long-haul flights, the better to understand how a wine reacts at an altitude of 35,000 feet. Its findings: Airborne conditions favor smooth, richly flavored wines with good aromatic intensity and polished tannins. It is from this publication and the results of the in-the-air tastings that Iberia chooses its wines, purchasing about 250,000 bottles annually at a cost of approximately $2.63 million.
It is money well spent, considering Iberia’s showing in this year’s Global Traveler competition. “We are very proud to receive this important recognition,” said José María Alvarado, manager of Iberia USA and Canada. “We believe our wine selection is a key element in the quality and overall experience aboard our Business Plus class.” And by using Spanish wines exclusively, he added, “our wine selections reflect the culture and spirit of Spain.”
As the second highest scoring airline, Finnair finished only one half of one point behind Iberia. Its Champagne entry, Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut Millésime 2000, was not only the highest scorer among the sparkling wines, it was also the highest scorer overall. The judges’ praise reflects the high scores. “Creamy, nutty, lovely finish,” wrote Louisa Hargrave. Will Helburn called it “toasty, citrus, delicate honey and mineral concentrations.” “Superb,” added W. R. Tish.
Finnair also took first place among white wines with its Jaffelin Rully Blanc 2006. Darrin Siegfried particularly liked its “good Burgundian typicity,” while Molly Choi was impressed with its “structure, good acidity, judicious oak and balance.” The airline also tied for fifth place in the Top 10 Red Wines with its Toar 2003, from Masi, Verona , Italy.
Attaining such prominence is no accident, nor is it inexpensive. Before making his wine selections, Magnus Hannukainen of Finnair Catering considers who will be drinking the wines. “Because of our passenger mix, I choose wines that will appeal not only to Finns but also to people from all over Europe, from Asia, from other parts of the world. I taste the wines blind, looking for those that are not only well-made but express their origin and their grape through their bouquet and palate — wines that are clean and classy. And finally, I consider the foods we are serving.
I try to make the perfect match between food and wine.” In its search for the finest, Finnair often purchases wines “en primeur” — new wines still in barrel — and then waits, often for years, until those wines have matured and been bottled.
In all, Finnair opens 40,000 bottles of still wine and 15,000 bottles of Champagne in its long-haul business class each year. And it is willing to spend up to $36 a bottle to be certain it has the best.
“We want to ensure that we arality wine now and in the fue serving interesting and quture,” Finnair CEO Jukka Hienonen said. “Good wines are an excellent way to stand out in today’s service competition.”
Third place among all airlines went to Qatar Airways, tying for second place among sparkling wines and receiving many kudos from the judges for its Champagne, Laurent- Perrier Brut Millésime 1997. John Fanning liked its “toasty, mineral notes.” Charles Scicolone also complimented its “good flinty, mineral flavors,” and Mariko Kobayashi enjoyed its long finish. Qatar’s Château d’Assault 2003 and Tassinaia Castello del Terricio 2002 also did well, finishing fourth and seventh among the Top 10 Red Wines. Qatar’s white wine, Chateau de Chassagne-Montrachet, finished tenth among the Top 10 White Wines.
To choose its selection, Qatar Airways’ wine committee meets twice a year to taste samples sent by a Canada-based wine consultant. After tasting the samples blind, the committee narrows them down to a short list. It then makes its final selection considering not only taste but other aspects such as price. For its on-board service, Qatar trains its crew on how to serve wine and how to pair wine with food — and takes service one step further, pouring its wines in restaurant wine glasses, the better to appreciate the bouquet.
Of the 56 red wines in this year’s competition, the highest scorer was Jacques et François Lurton’s El Albar Toro 2005 from Spain, submitted by TAM. Harriet Lembeck found it “rich and ripe.” Xavier Flouret called it “extremely elegant.”
A close second among Top 10 Red Wines was Alitalia’s Quota 29 2005, Salento, Puglia, Italy. Eric White particularly enjoyed it for its “good balance between acidity and alcohol and its nice complexity.” It was also a favorite of Charles Scicolone, who liked its good fruit flavors.
Delta Air Lines
Melissa Sutherland Amado
is the wine consultant and event producer for Vino Vino, a New York wine shop.
is winemaster and co-owner of Brotherhood Winery, New York State. A native of Chile, he studied winemaking there and in France, Spain and California, and worked at several California wineries before moving to New York.
is senior vice president of Cape Classics, a South African wine import company where she is responsible for the marketing of more than 20 wine estates. She has been with Cape Classics for 11 years.
is wine director at Chanterelle, a French restaurant in New York. He has been a master sommelier for the past 18 years.
is the wine director of The River Café in Brooklyn, a post he has held for 30 years. He is also a consultant, a frequent lecturer on wine and the author of The River Café Wine Primer.
is chef-owner and wine director of Cendrillon, a Filipino-pan Asian restaurant in New York; and co-author of Memories of Philippine Kitchens. He often conducts events pairing wine with Asian foods.
is general manager of Accademia di Vino in New Yor k. He has been general manager and/or wine director at I Truilli, Beppe, Felidia, Coco Pazzo, Le Madri and Palio in New York and Bramante and San Michele in Rome, Italy.
is a wine and food writer whose articles appear in many national publications. Formerly a reporter for The New York Times, he was also a columnist for Gourmet and a writer and correspondent for NBC-TV.
is owner of Selections Pas Mal, a wine importing and distributing company whose portfolio includes fine and rare wines from Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Rhône Valley and Languedoc.
is the founder and CEO of Cognac One, LL C, a wine importing company based in New York that imports Ayala Champagne and a wine selection under the Xavier Flouret label.
is consulting winemaker and regional marketing representative for Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars and Chateau Frank Winery. A graduate winemaker, she has worked at S. Anderson, Schramsberg, Navarro and Domaine Mumm.
is president of Beekman Liquors, Inc., a 49-year-old wine shop in Manhattan, and a frequent wine lecturer for clients. He has been professionally involved in wine for 27 years.
is account director at Cornerstone Communications, New York, specialists in wine, spirits and food. She teaches wine for the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and is a candidate for master of wine.
is president and founder of TenFolks Enterprises, a wine education and marketing company created to broaden interest in wine among African-Americans through tastings, seminars and other events.
is restaurant wine specialist for Southern Wine & Spirits, in the southern Hudson Valley of New York State. Earlier, he worked as a caterer. In all, he has been in the wine trade for more than 20 years.
is director of the Stony Brook University Center for Wine, Food and Culture and wine columnist for Hamptons, Long Island newspapers. She was co-founder of Long Island’s first commercial winery, Hargrave Vineyard, in 1973 and is the author of The Vineyard: A Memoir.
has been a wine retailer with Neil Rosenthal, New York for 28 years, principally as a manager. Before becoming a retailer, he worked with wine importing companies, Julius Wile and Sidney Frank.
is wine director of Esca Restaurant. She has served as sommelier for the Japanese ambassador to the United Nations and has worked in retail at Italian Wine Merchants, Sherry Lehmann and winesby.com.
is president of the Wine and Spirits Program for the past 27 years where she teaches both wine trade personnel and consumers. For the past 15 years, she was also wine director of the New School University Culinary Arts Program.
is winemaker/general manager of Sparkling Pointe winery and wine consultant for Sherwood House Vineyards, both on Long Island. French-born, he studied winemaking at Montpellier and has worked at Roederer Estate and Delas Frères.
is with the on-premise wine division of Southern Wine & Spirits of New York. He is also a wine consultant and a frequent lecturer at the Culinary Institute of America, Epcot Wine Festival and at private tastings.
is wine and spirits director of All Weather Management, a restaurant group that includes Keens Chop House, NoHo Star, Temple Bar and Elephant & Castle, New York; Eccolo, California; and Elephant & Castle, Ireland.
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.
is general manager of Union Square Wines & Spirits, a large retail shop in Manhattan.
Robin Kelley O’Connor
has been trade liaison for the Bordeaux Wine Bureau since 1989, conducting more than 1800 wine seminars in the United States, Canada and Mexico and originating the Bordeaux Wine School USA. He is also wine columnist for The Trenton Times.
is the metro New York manager for Champagne Ayala/Xavier Flouret Wine Selections. Previously, he was sales manager of Washington Selections, the fine wine division of Fedway Associates.
is a wine consultant, writer and educator. He is the wine and food contributor to i-italy.com, an Italian/American Web magazine and wine consultant to two companies that conduct tours in Italy.
is newly retired after 28 years with Dreyfus Ashby, a wine importing firm in New York, where he was executive vice president. He remains active in the wine industry and in various trade organizations.
is wine representative of Artisan and Pas Mal, two fine-wine importers and distributors; founder and director of the 35-year-old New York Wine Tasting School; and consultant to restaurants and private clubs.
is a fourth-generation wine grower and négociant. He is a leading authority on German and Bordeaux wines, a frequent lecturer and author of two wine books.
is owner of Red, White & Bubbly, a wine shop, and wine director of Cucina, a restaurant, both in Brooklyn. Previously, he was sommelier at Claude Troisgros’ CT restaurant and manager of several New York restaurants.
W. R. Tish
is 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. Previously, he was editor of Wine Enthusiast.
is sales manager of Food & Wine Associates where his focus is the wines of South Africa. He was previously cellar master of Chelsea Wine Storage, a professional storage facility for premier restaurants and collectors.
is president of Sherry-Lehmann in Manhattan. Before joining the retail wine firm in 1985, he was managing director of The Wine Cart in New York for four years; earlier, he worked for The Wine Imports of America Corp.
is wine director at Alto Restaurant in Manhattan. Prior to moving to Alto, he spent four years as a sommelier at Veritas, also in New York.
Eva Wassemiller Zorad
is manager and wine buyer for September Wines & Spirits, an artisan wine boutique in lower Manhattan.
To participate in the Global Traveler competition, airlines throughout the world with international business class flights were invited to submit 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 wine lists themselves. The wines were coded, divided into flights, or categories, according to their type — for example, Burgundy reds or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc — and served in coded glasses. Judges were told only the type of wine, its place of origin and, when appropriate, the vintage. If judges felt a wine was flawed, a reserve bottle was served. The tasting was monitored by GT’s staff and professional aides.
Each wine was judged on a 20-point scale. The judges’ individual scores for each 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.
TOP 10 OVERALL
1. Iberia Airlines
3. Qatar Airways
4. EVA Air
5. American Airlines
8. Austrian Airlines
10. Etihad Airways
TOP 10 CHAMPAGNES AND OTHER SPARKLING WINES
1. Joseph Perrier Champagne Cuvée Royale Brut Millésime 2000 Finnair
2. Jacquart Champagne Mosäiq ue, Brut, NV Luftansa Tie Laurent-Perrier Champagne Brut Millésime 1997 Qatar Airways
3. Sansibar Prosecco Brut, NV, Italy Air Berlin
4. Piper-Heidsieck Champagne Brut, NV Korean Air
5. Jean Milan Champagne Blanc de Blancs Millénaire, NV Etihad Airways
6. Charles Lafi tte Champagne Cuvée Speciale Brut, NV ANA
TIE Castillo Perelada Brut Reserva Cava, NV, Spain Iberia Airlines
7. Piper-Heidsieck Champagne Brut, NV Japan Airlines
8. Charles Heidsieck Champagne Brut Réserve, “mis en cave en 2003,” NV Qantas
9. Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Champagne Brut, Blue Top, NV EVA Air
10. Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Réserve Particulière Brut, NV Brussels Airlines
TOP 10 WHITE WINES
1. Jaffelin Rully Blanc 2006, Côte Chalonnaise, France Finnair
2. Veigadares Rías Baixas 2006, Spain Iberia Airlines
3. Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Riesling Spätlese 2003, Mosel, Germany EVA Air
4. William Hill Estate Chardonnay 2005, Napa Valley, California American Airlines
5. Nora Rías Baixas 2006, Spain Iberia Airlines
6. Beringer Chardonny 2005, Napa Valley, California US Airways
7. Piano Mallese Tenute Rapitalà 2006, Sicily, Italy Alitalia
8. Vincent Sauvestre Chablis 2005, France Malaysia Airlines
9. Hilltop Chardonnay 2006, Hungary Malév
10. Château de Chassagne-Montrachet 2003, France Qatar Airways
TOP 10 RED WINES
1. Jacques et François Lurton El Albar Toro 2005, Spain TAM
2. Quota 29 2005, Salento, Puglia, Italy Alitalia
3. Ramón Bilbao Rioja 2005, Spain Iberia Airlines
4. Château d’Assault 2003, St. Emilion, France Qatar Airways
5. Toar 2003, Masi, Verona, Italy Finnair
TIE Casa de las Especias Crianza 2004, Yecla, Spain Iberia Airlines
6. Alto Cabernet Sauvi gnon 2005, Stellenbosch, South Africa South African Airways
7. Tassinaia 2002, Castello del Terriccio, Tuscany, Italy Qatar Airways
8. Mazzei 1435, Castello di Fonterutoli 2005, Tuscany, Italy Air Berlin
9. Weninger Veratina Cuvée 2003, Mittelburgenland, Austria Austrian Airlines
10. Folie à Deux Cabernet Sauvi gnon 2004, Napa Valley, California EVA Air
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