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2012 Wines On The Wing Airline Wine Competition

Aug 1, 2012
2012 / August 2012

SD26 is San Domenico reborn. A bright, modern, festive restaurant with soaring ceilings and edgy artwork, SD26 is the sparkling, 3-year-old descendent on Manhattan’s East 26th Street of the sedate, 20-year-old San Domenico on Central Park South. But while the name, location and décor changed, owner Tony May and his daughter, Marisa, made certain its cuisine did not. Italian-born Mr. May has always taken pride in his restaurant’s authentic Italian cuisine; and the pastas, game, meats, seafood and cheeses of San Domenico made the move to SD26.

What is new is the way diners can order wine. SD26 was one of the first restaurants to place an iPad on each table. With it, diners can flip through the restaurant’s list of 550 wines. Most are Italian, many in considerable vintage depth, while the rest are French and American wines.

It was in this setting, in SD26’s private rooms on the balcony above the dining room, that Global Traveler held its 2012 Wines on the Wing airline wine competition.

There, on an afternoon in May, 28 wine specialists sipped and sampled 134 wines submitted by 29 airlines. When the scores were tallied, the airline whose wines garnered the most points in the International First Class category was British Airways.

“A testament to our increased investment in our wines,” Lynn McClelland, head of catering for British Airways, said. “We think we have some great wines on board, and it is fantastic to see the judges agree.”

A panel blind-tasted more than a thousand wines from New and Old World wine countries and selected those great winning wines. Among those that won a place on GT’s Top Five lists are Laurent-Perrier Grande Siècle Champagne and a Chassagne-Montrachet and Sancerre among whites,while a South African Pinot Noir, Newton Johnson, and Château Gruaud Larose took first and second place, respectively, among reds. British Airways also did well in the International Business Class category, with its Châteauneuf-du-Pape the highest-rated red wine. Rarely is any wine served on board for more than three months.

The airline with the highest-scoring wines in International Business was Brussels Airlines, with four of its five wines finishing in the Top Five categories: Laurent-Perrier Champagne, Les Vieux Murs Pouilly-Fuissé, Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni and Château de Rochemorin. Brussels Airlines launched direct service connecting New York (JFK) and Brussels (BRU) in June.

“Our wine selection is as important as the meals we serve,” said Philip Mortier, sommelier and manager, inflight products, for Brussels Airlines. “We consider many factors when we choose our onboard wine cellar — for instance, that we lose 20 to 30 percent of our sense of taste when flying. In consequence, we go for full-bodied wines with good depth of flavor and freshness. We have passengers of different nationalities, each with a different understanding of a tasty wine. That’s why we have both classic French and wines from less-known regions.”

Updating its wine selection twice a year, Brussels Airlines begins with a panel of three headed by Fiona Morrison, MW. It decides what the airline’s wine needs are, and its provider, Le Palais du Vin, then selects wines that fit those needs. The panel samples them in a blind tasting to make the final choice.

The airline’s two most prestigious wines on long-haul flights are changed every six months, and two other wines change every quarter. In all, Brussels Airlines pours about 25,000 bottles of Champagne, 25,000 bottles of still wine and 500,000 small bottles of wine each year.

South African Airways finished a close second in the International Business Class Top Five airlines, while its Driehoek Sauvignon Blanc was the highest-scoring white wine and its Anura Merlot was the second-highestscoring red wine in International Business Class.

“We did it,” Todd Neuman, executive vice president, North America, pointed out, by “supporting the South African wine industry and serving only its wines. The fact that our submissions have consistently rated so highly with Global Traveler’s panel of experts is testament to the high quality of South Africa’s wines.”

The onboard wines are selected each year by a panel of 12 who blind-taste more than 1,000 South African wines over three days. From the results of the tasting, 24 red and 24 white wines are selected for business class. “Our wine list offers two reds and two whites that are changed monthly,” Neuman added.

South African Airways spends approximately $1.3 million on its international business-class wines annually.

American Airlines made an impressive showing, clinching a place among the Top Five airlines in both International First and Business classes, as well as having its Gosset Grande Réserve Champagne, Meursault and Beringer Alluvium on the Top Five First Class lists. Add to that its Champagne Moutard and Keenan Chardonnay on the Top Five lists among entries in Business Class.

“We are honored,” Alice Liu, American’s managing director, onboard products, said. “Our award-winning wine program is a tangible opportunity for our customers to experience American’s focus on enhancing travel.”

The man responsible for American’s decisive showing is Ken Chase, who designs more than 25 lists for the airline’s international and domestic flights, choosing wines from throughout the world and changing lists monthly. At any given time, there are more than 60 wines in service.

Asiana Airlines’ Pol Roger 1999 was the highestscoring Champagne among International First Class entries, garnering such comments from the judges as “rich,” “fine-balanced acidity” and “clean finish.” Asiana also submitted the highest-rated white wine in the International First Class category, Clos des Poruzots Meursault, a wine the judges described as having good depth; a silky palate; and a long, complex finish.

“We are constantly striving to provide the highestquality wine and cuisine,” said Tae Keun Han, Asiana’s executive vice president of cabin and airport service. “Asiana’s wines are chosen by a panel of three sommeliers who blind-taste at least 300 wines. One of the crucial factors in the final decision is how the wine complements our food.”

Asiana spends $170,000 a year on 5,500 bottles of wine in its international first class.

TAM finished among the Top Five highest-scoring airlines in both International First and Business Class categories. To add to the double honor, both its Champagne entries made the Top Five lists — Drappier Grande Sendrée in First Class and Drappier Carte d’Or in Business Class. And its Château Bel-Air-Ouÿ placed in the Top Five Red Wines, International Business Class.

“We face a big challenge every year in choosing great wines. Our focus is on wines from the most important wine-producing regions, wines that respect their place of origin and reflect time-honored production,” Manoela Amaro, TAM’s marketing director, said. This is done with a committee headed by sommelier Arthur Azevedo. Selections are changed yearly.

Swiss International Air Lines emerged from the competition as one of the Top Five airlines in International First Class, and its Vinattieri Bianco del Ticino finished in that category’s Top Five White Wines. “The culinary experience on SWISS is an important element of our customer satisfaction,” said Sarah Klatt-Walsh, director of the airline’s in-flight products and services. She was particularly pleased with the fine showing of its white wine. “A great example of authentic, unique Swiss wine from a renowned vintner in the canton of Ticino.”

Wine consultant Chandra Kurt, with a panel of other wine experts, chooses SWISS’ wines in a blind tasting. Onboard choices are changed every three months on international flights.

Aside from Champagne, SWISS opens 55,000 bottles of still wines in international first class and 190,000 bottles in international business class each year.

The fine showing of United Airlines’ wines put the airline on the coveted Top Five International First Class list. It also put its Bouchard Santenay on the Top Five Red Wines First Class list, an achievement that pleased Sandra Pineau-Boddison, United vice president of food services. “We try to enhance the onboard dining experience by offering a variety of high-quality wines and Champagne,” she said.

Those wine and Champagne choices begin with Doug Frost, MW, who works with an internal committee to select the wines. Among the considerations are menus, taste at altitude and customer perception. United changes its onboard wines three times a year.

Hainan Airlines serves G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Champagne on both international business- and first-class flights, and in both categories it scored well, finishing first in Business Class and fourth in First Class.

“We invite an international panel as well as representatives of our customer base to an annual tasting,” said Tony Guo, Hainan Airlines. “The tasting selection takes into account the diversity of our routes and geographic regions. We also consider the influence of the dry cabin air and pressurization and other environmental factors unique to air travel.”

In all, 14 of this year’s competing airlines are members of three alliances — oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. When scores were added and averaged, the alliance with the highest score was oneworld, represented in Wines on the Wing by airberlin, American Airlines, British Airways and Finnair.

The North America category includes airlines offering first- or business-class service between two points in North America (defined in the survey as the United States, Mexico and Canada). For the third year in a row, American Airlines was the overall winner. Also for the third year, its Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut won as the top sparkling wine. United’s Canyon Road Chardonnay was judged the top white wine, and American’s 181 Merlot was the best red wine.

Top Five International First Class Wines On The Wing

  1. British Airways
  2. American Airlines
  3. United Airlines
  4. Swiss International Air Lines
  5. TAM

Top Five International Business Class Wines On The Wing

  1. Brussels Airlines
  2. South African Airways
  3. American Airlines
  4. TAM
  5. British Airways

Top Five Champagnes International First Class

  1. Pol Roger 1999 — Asiana Airlines
  2. Gosset Grande Réserve, NV — American Airlines
  3. Drappier Grande Sendrée 2004 — TAM
  4. G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge, NV — Hainan Airlines
  5. Laurent-Perrier Grande Siècle, NV — British Airways

Top Five Champagnes International Business Class

  1. G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge, NV — Hainan Airlines
  2. Jacquart Mosaïque, NV — Air Tahiti Nui
  3. Laurent-Perrier, NV — Brussels Airlines
  4. Moutard 2004 — American Airlines
  5. Drappier Carte d’Or, NV — TAM

Top Five White Wines International First Class

  1. Roux Clos des Poruzots Meursault 2009, Burgundy, France — Asiana Airlines
  2. Clos de la Baronne Meursault 2009, Château Labouré-Roi, Burgundy, France — American Airlines
  3. Chassagne-Montrachet 2009, Pierre André, Burgundy, France — British Airways
  4. Domaine de la Chezatte Sancerre 2010, France — British Airways
  5. Vinattieri Bianco del Ticino 2010 — Swiss International Air Lines

Top Five White Wines International Business Class

  1. Driehoek Sauvignon Blanc 2011, South Africa — South African Airways
  2. Villa Huesgen Riesling 2010, Mosel, Germany — Asiana Airlines
  3. Les Vieux Murs Pouilly-Fuissé 2009, Burgundy, France — Brussels Airlines
  4. Louis Jadot Mâcon-Villages 2009, Burgundy, France — Air Tahiti Nui
  5. Keenan Chardonnay 2009, California — American Airlines

Top Five Red Wines International First Class

  1. Newton Johnson Family Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, South Africa — British Airways
  2. Château Gruaud Larose 2001 — British Airways
  3. Bouchard Père et Fils Santenay 2009 — United Airlines
  4. Yatir Merlot-Shiraz-Cabernet 2008, Israel — EL AL Israel Airlines
  5. TIE Aquamarine Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Israel — EL AL Israel Airlines Beringer Alluvium 2007 — American Airlines

Top Five Red Wines International Business Class

  1. Domaine Font de Michelle Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2009 — British Airways
  2. Anura Merlot 2009, South Africa — South African Airways
  3. Château Bel-Air-Ouÿ 2008, Bordeaux, France — TAM
  4. Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni 2009, Tuscany, Italy — Brussels Airlines
  5. Château de Rochemorin 2006, Bordeaux, France — Brussels Airlines

Top North American First Class/Business Class

Top North American Wines On The Wing

American Airlines

Top North American Sparkling Wine

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut, NV, California
— American Airlines

Top North American White Wine

Canyon Road Chardonnay 2010, California
— United Airlines

Top North American Red Wine

181 Merlot 2008, California — American Airlines

Top Airline Aliance

oneworld, represented by airberlin, American Airlines, British Airways and Finnair

Judging Process

To participate in Global Traveler’s competition, airlines throughout the world offering long-haul international businessand first-class service were invited to submit two white wines, two red wines and one Champagne or other sparkling wine currently on their business- or first-class wine lists, as well as the wine lists themselves. The same rules apply to the North American category for airlines with business- or first-class service.

The wines were coded by number and divided into flights, or categories, according to their type — for example, all South African Sauvignon Blanc were served together, as were all Bordeaux from St.-Émilion — and poured into coded glasses. Judges knew 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 poured. The tasting was monitored by GT’s staff and five professional assistants.

Each wine was judged on a modified Davis 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 total score won the Wines on the Wing awards.

Judges’ Bios

Melissa Sutherland Amado is director of marketing at 67 Wine & Spirits, a wine shop in Manhattan. She is also the brand strategist at New York Wine Salon.

Manos Angelakis is the senior wine and food writer for Luxury Web Magazine and the author of the semi-monthly Oenophile Blog. As a writer, critic and experienced judge, he travels extensively throughout the world’s wine regions.

Cesar Baeza is an enologist, marketing consultant and educator for the wine industry. A native of Chile, he studied winemaking there and in France, Spain and California and worked in many wineries. For 20 years, he was wine master and co-owner of Brotherhood Winery, New York State.

Molly Choi is executive vice president of sales and marketing at Cape Classics, a leading South African wine import company. There she is responsible for the marketing of more than 20 wine estates. She has been with Cape Classics for 15 years.

Jim Clarke is wine director of Armani Ristorante in Manhattan, where about 75 percent of his 450-wine selection is Italian. He also writes for a number of publications and is a frequent speaker about wine and beer. He was formerly wine director of Megu, a Japanese restaurant.

Philip di Belardino is director of fine wine development at Banfi Vintners and Excelsior Wines, a frequent wine lecturer at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration and the Culinary Institute of America, and an entertaining speaker at wine dinners. He has been in the wine business since 1973.

Michael Doctor is the wine director of SD26. Previously, he was wine director at Accademia di Vino.

Lisa Donneson is proprietor of Bouké and Bouquet wines, produced on Long Island, N.Y. She is a graduate of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and a member of the Institute of Wines & Spirits and Long Island Wine Council.

John Fanning is partner/general manager of SD26, working with Tony May, with whom he began his career 25 years ago. He has been general manager and/or wine director at Accademia di Vino, Il Trulli, Beppe, Felidia, Coco Pazzo, Le Madri and Palio, New York; and Bramante and San Michele in Rome.

David Frieser is president of Beekman Liquors, Inc., a 54-year-old wine shop in Manhattan, and a frequent wine lecturer for clients. He has been professionally involved in wine for 30 years.

Curtis Green 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.

David Gross works with Sherbrooke Cellars, a wholesaler of small, high-quality, family-owned wineries. He has been in the wine trade for more than 20 years as a restaurant wine specialist with Southern Wine & Spirits and, earlier, as a caterer.

Karen King is sales manager at Winebow, the importing firm. She was wine director at Union Square Café and beverage director at Gramercy Tavern and The Modern in New York and has taught wine at The French Culinary Institute.

Peter Martin heads Peter Martin Associates, a wine consultancy to individual collectors, private clubs and educational institutions. He has 20 years’ experience in the retail, wholesale and import aspects of the wine trade.

Edward McCarthy is a wine writer, wine consultant, Certified Wine Educator, contributing editor of Beverage Media, frequent guest speaker and author of several books on wine. One, Wine for Dummies, written with Mary Ewing-Mulligan, has sold more than 1 million copies.

John McClement 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; Eccolo in California; and Elephant & Castle in Ireland.

David Milligan is president of David Milligan Selections, which represents fine French producers. Mr. Milligan, who began his wine training in England more than 40 years ago, also served as president of Seagram Chateau & Estate wines.

Katherine Moore is general manager of Union Square Wines & Spirits, a large retail shop in Manhattan.

Roman Roth is the winemaker/technical director of Wölffer Estate, a premium winery on Long Island, N.Y., he helped create in 1992. He studied winemaking in his native Germany and previously worked in wineries in Australia and California. He is also the proprietor of his own label, The Grapes of Roth.

Charles Scicolone is the wine and food editor of i-italy.org, an Italian-American Web magazine; author of the wine blog charlesscicolone.wordpress.com; consultant for the wine importer Grapes on the Go; a wine educator; and co-chair of the Wine Media Group.

Alie Shaper is owner-winemaker of Brooklyn Oenology, established in 2006 as the first modern winery in New York City. She produces her wines from New York-grown grapes and features Brooklyn artists on her labels. Her winery tasting room opened in Brooklyn in 2010.

Robert Shack is owner of HB Wine Merchants/R. Shack Selections and of Clos Robert Winery in Sonoma, Calif. Earlier, he was vice president and manager of the Premiere Wine Merchants Division of Rémy Martin Amerique for 20 years.

John Sheldon is wine representative for Artisan and Pas Mal, two fine wine importers and distributors; founder and director of the 39-year-old New York Wine Tasting School; and wine consultant to restaurants and private clubs.

Darrin Siegfried is owner of Il Gallo Giallo Wine Bar in New Paltz, N.Y., and president of the Sommelier Society of America. He has managed restaurants in New York and created the Brooklyn wine shop Red, White and Bubbly.

Gary Walther collects wine and is a writer for consumer luxury lifestyle magazines. He was editor in chief of Departures magazine for 10 years, followed by similar editorial positions at ForbesLife and Luxury SpaFinder.

Eric White, store manager of The Winery, a Manhattan wine shop, has worked in the wine industry for more than 20 years. For the last nine years, he has concentrated on wine consulting and tasting.

Eric Woods is co-owner of Harlem Vintage, the first boutique wine shop in New York’s Harlem neighborhood that specializes in artisan wines from around the world.

Michael Yurch is president of Sherry- Lehmann, the prestigious wine shop in Manhattan, and frequently speaks about wine on radio and television. Before joining the firm in 1985, he was a wine columnist for the Westchester Rockland newspaper group.


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FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.


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