The Westin New York Grand Central Hotel takes care of its guests from top to bottom. At the top, on its roof, 384 feet above mid-Manhattan, it cultivates a 1,344-square-foot organic vegetable garden whose mesclun greens, arugula, heirloom tomatoes, basil, thyme and other herbs and vegetables become part of the hotel restaurant’s seasonal menus.
At the bottom, its 3,000-square-foot WestinWORKOUT fitness studio offers guests free, 24-hour access to treadmills, bicycles, elliptical cross trainers and free weights — and rental of New Balance workout outfits for $5. And leaving from the hotel twice a week is a three-mile run, guided by the hotel’s food and beverage director, Cristian Vasquez, a dedicated runner.
The Westin clearly offers well-being and good living. And the good living theme continues with its dedication to wine, so it was only fitting The Westin served as the setting for Global Traveler’s Wines on the Wing 2014 International First Class and Business Class Airline Wine Competition. It was here in May that 24 professionals sniffed, swirled and sipped 126 wines submitted by 29 airlines. As always, the results were intriguing.
Garnering the highest score among First Class entries was Asiana Airlines, whose Charles Heidsieck Millésimé 2000 ranked among the Top Five First Class Champagnes and Aaldering Sauvignon Blanc 2013 finished on the Top Five First Class White Wines list.
Asiana reached this award-winning status by stressing, among other factors, “the highest quality cuisine and wines,” said Hyun Mee Han, Asiana’s executive vice president, cabin and airport services. “We search out wines that can satisfy the palates of our ethnically diverse passengers. Asiana also has several cabin crew members who are trained as sommeliers.”
In all, the airline serves more than 140,000 bottles of wine a year in first and business classes at a cost of over $2 million.
For an unprecedented third year in a row, Brussels Airlines earned the highest score among Business Class entries. In International Business Class White Wines, the airline came in first with Domaine Thomas Le Chant du Merle Sancerre 2012. The International Business Class top red wine — Château d’Aurilhac 2006 — was also from Brussels Airlines. “We are extremely honored to receive this award for the third year in a row,” said Anne Tricot, vice president, customer experience. “Every day we aim to offer our guests culinary highlights accompanied by the best wines, such as our winning Sancerre and Château d’Aurilhac … and the most personal quality service. These awards reinforce our determination to make travel a pleasure.”
For its International Business Class, Brussels Airlines opens more than 35,000 bottles of wine each year — bottles, it reports, that are “mature and ready to drink, tasteful wines, the best wines.”
British Airways finished in several top scoring categories. It was one of the Top Five Airlines in International First Class. Its Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle was the highest-scoring First Class Champagne. And equally, its Domaine d’Ardhuy Corton-Charlemagne 2009 earned the highest score of all First Class White Wines with comments from the judges such as “concentrated, flavorful, complex” (David Frieser) and “creamy texture, well-balanced” (Carl Etcheverry).
“We are delighted our first-class wines have been recognized again by Global Traveler,” Lynn McClelland, head of catering, said. “The awards are a testament to the emphasis we place on quality in our selection.” In fact, British Airways goes to the extent of buying some of its wines that require aging — red Bordeaux — for one to 10 years before serving. In all, its first-class passengers consume 200,000 bottles of wine each year.
TAM also spread its winning wines throughout the competition. It made both the Top Five International First Class Airlines and the Top Five International Business Class Airlines lists. In Champagne, its Business Class entry, Drappier Carte d’Or, came in first, prompting judge David Gross to call it “lovely, rich with good length,” while its First Class entry, Drappier Grande Sendrée 2005, finished among the Top Five. Its Bürklin-Wolf Riesling 2009 finished among the Top Five First Class White Wines, and its Château Bel-Air-Ouÿ 2010 made the Top Five Business Class Red Wines.
Little wonder Fernanda Toro, director of travel experience, LATAM Airlines Group, considers it “… a great honor to receive this important award. We carefully select our wines, seeking balanced products from various countries that complement our menu. This recognition reminds us that we are on the right path to providing excellent service.” Last year, TAM served 108,000 bottles in its international first and business classes.
All Nippon Airways, too, made an impact in several wine categories. It placed among the Top Five International First Class winning airlines. Its First Class Champagne entry, Krug Grand Cuvée, was among the Top Five. Its Château Mont-Pérat 2011 finished among the Top Five White Wines in International First Class, and its Château Lagrange 2008 finished in the Top Red Wines — also First Class. It serves 28,000 bottles of wines in first class and 230,000 bottles in business class, plus 270,000 187ml bottles.
And the airline is justly proud. “As the only 5-star airline in Japan, we have prepared a wide selection of wines produced by top-caliber wineries from around the world to complement our dishes,” said Toshitaka Watanabe, senior vice president, CS & Products Services. “It is our great honor to receive the awards again. Our wine selection also includes new labels from South Africa and Japan. Our aim is to make ANA the best original cellar in the skies.”
American Airlines saw success throughout the competition. In the Top First Class categories, it finished as one of the Top Five Airlines, the Top Five Champagnes (Gosset Grande Réserve) and the Top Five White Wines (S.A. Prüm Wehlener Riesling 2009). And it almost swept the entire North American winning categories. That is why Hector Adler, vice president, flight service, said, “We are honored. We work hard to offer the best wines in our premium cabins to enhance your travel experience, whether your flight is two hours or 12 hours.”
Etihad Airways was yet another airline whose wines scored well in several categories, winning a place among the Top Five International Business Class Airlines; the Top First Class Champagnes, with Billecart-Salmon 1999; Top Business Class Champagnes, with Lanson Black Label; Top Reds in First Class, with Château Dauzac 2008, and in Business Class, with George Wyndham Shiraz 2004.
In the Sparkling Wine division, EL AL Israel Airlines captured both First and Business top honors with Yarden Blanc de Blancs 2007 and Gamla Brut, respectively, an honor Danny Saadon, vice president, EL AL North and Central America, credited to Israel’s winemaking. “The country has seen an astonishing wine renaissance in the last decade, and we are proud of these impressive accomplishments. As the national airline, we are honored.” EL AL serves approximately 1,500 bottles of Yarden and 7,000 bottles of Gamla a year.
Jet Airways did especially well with its red wines. Its International First Class entry, Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2009, was the top winner in that category, and a clear favorite of the judges. Joseph DeLissio praised its “good flavor, complexity and final grit.” To Philip di Belardino, it was “a great example of Brunello.” The airline’s Chateau St. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 was one of the Top Five Red Wines in Business Class. For both classes, the airline reports, it opens 78,000 bottles a year at a cost of close to $1 million. When possible, Jet Airways makes an effort to serve a red wine and a white wine made in the country of each flight’s destination.
Airlines that offer first- or business-class service within the continent may take part in our North American category. This year the North American airline with the overall highest score was American Airlines. American’s first-class sparkling wine entry, Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Caneros Brut, was also top in its category, as were its first-class white wine, Black Birch Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2010 and its business-class The Climber Sauvignon Blanc 2011. Among red wines, American Airlines’ Cline Syrah 2010 was first among First Class submissions, while Delta Air Lines’ Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 came in first in the dual category of First Class/Business Class.
How are these award-winning wines chosen? Asiana has three sommeliers who blind taste approximately 300 wines, from which they select about 20. Brussels Airlines has a committee of six which conducts three sets of blind tastings: French, non-French and special wines. ANA begins tastings each May, narrowing 2,000 wines down to 250 and blind tasting those to further cull the group to what it will serve on board the following year. TAM works with the recommendations of its consultant, sommelier Arthur Azevedo. Jet Airways’ wines are chosen through blind tastings with a committee. Yair Haidu and other wine specialists select the wines for EL AL. British Airways’ wines are selected by the Bibendum Wine Co.
Twenty two of the airlines competing in the 2014 competition are members of three alliances: oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. Of the three, the one whose members totaled the highest score was Star Alliance. Those members are ANA, Asiana, Brussels Airlines, South African Airways and TAP Air Portugal.
Another successful Wines on the Wing judging, and a good reason to raise a toast — with a glass of wine, of course.
To participate in Global Traveler’s competition, airlines throughout the world offering long-haul international business- and 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 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 scores won the Wines on the Wing awards.
Melissa Sutherland Amado is the import specialist for Italy, Austria and Hungary at the Eastern U.S. division of Winebow, Inc.
Manos Angelakis, senior wine and food writer for Luxury Web Magazine, authors 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, 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 coowner of Brotherhood Winery, New York State.
Rory Callahan is president of Wine & Food Associates, a market development firm whose wine clients have included New Zealand, Spain, South Africa and Chile. He also co-founded the International Wine Center. He attended the University of California-Davis School of Viticulture and has made wine commercially.
Matthew Conway is general manager of Restaurant Marc Forgione in New York, where he previously worked as the sommelier. Earlier, he was sommelier for Gray Kunz at Café Gray. He trained at Taillevent in Paris and is a graduate of the American Sommelier Association.
Joseph DeLissio has been wine director of The River Café in Brooklyn for the past 34 years and wrote The River Café Wine Primer. He is also a consultant and frequent lecturer on wine.
Philip di Belardino has been in the wine business since 1973, the past 15 years with Banfi Vintners, where he’s been vice president of fine wines. He is currently with Banfi’s new luxury fine wine division, Cru Artisan. He was inducted in the Italian Government’s Wine Hall of Fame in 2011.
Michael Doctor is wine director at Pasanella & Son Vintners, a Manhattan wine shop. Previously, he was general manager and beverage director at Il Ristorante Rosi and beverage director at SD26 and at Accademia di Vino, all restaurants in New York City.
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.
Carl Etcheverry is the sommelier at the Union League of Philadelphia where he also hosts private wine functions in its Cellar 62. Before 2010, he was at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort as manager of a 26,000-bottle wine cellar and sommelier at the 5-star Lautrec.
John Fanning has been the general manager and/or wine director of leading Italian restaurants in New York: SD26, Accademia di Vino, Il Trulli, Beppe, Felidia, Coco Pazzo, Le Madri and Palio; and in Rome: Bramante and San Michelle. He owns a restaurant consulting company, Italfan Inc.
Xavier Flouret is the founder and CEO of Cognac One, a wine importing company based in New York. He created the Xavier Flouret label, a worldwide selection of wines, and imports Champagne Lenoble, Château de Malengin and Cave de Tain, among other wines.
David Frieser is president of Beekman Liquors, Inc., a 57-year-old wine shop in Manhattan, and a frequent wine lecturer for clients. He has been professionally involved in wine for more than 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. He also publishes SlitelyChilled.com, the online magazine also geared to the African-American wine consumer.
David Gross works with Massanois 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.
Frank Johnson is chairman and CEO of Frank Johnson Selections, an international wine brokerage firm. In his 37 years in wine, he has worked in various aspects of the business. He is also the author and editor of several wine publications.
Harriet Lembeck is president of the Wine and Spirits Program where, for 30 years, she has taught consumers and wine trade personnel. She penned the sixth and seventh editions of Grossman’s Guide to Wine, Beer and Spirits and writes for Beverage Dynamics magazine.
Gilles Martin is the winemaker and director of operations at Sparkling Pointe winery on New York’s Long Island. French-born, he studied winemaking at Montpelier and worked at Roederer Estate and Delas Frères.
David Milligan is president of David Milligan Selections, which represents fine 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.
Katherine Moore is general manager of Union Square Wine & Spirits, a large retail shop in Manhattan.
Arno Schmidt has been the executive chef at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, The Plaza and other famous hotels, where he organized numerous wine and food events. A native of Austria, he has worked in hospitality since 1946.
Robert Shack owns both HB Wine Merchants/R. Shack Selections of New York and 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 40-year-old New York Wine Tasting School; and wine consultant to restaurants and private clubs.
Cristian Vasquez is food and beverage director of The Westin New York Grand Central. Earlier, he held the same position at the Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, N.M. A graduate of Johnson & Wales University, he has worked in hotel restaurant management since 1995.
TOP FIVE INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS WINES ON THE WING
- Asiana Airlines
- All Nippon Airways
- British Airways
- American Airlines
TOP FIVE INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CLASS WINES ON THE WING
- Brussels Airlines
- Etihad Airways
- LAN Airlines
- American Airlines
TOP FIVE CHAMPAGNES INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS
- Laurent-Perrier Grande Siècle NV — British Airways
- Krug Grand Cuvée Brut, NV — All Nippon Airways
- Charles Heidsieck Millésimé 2000 — Asiana Airlines
- Drappier Grande Sendrée 2005 — TAM
- Tie: Gosset Grande Réserve Brut, NV — American Airlines
Billecart-Salmon Brut 1999 — Etihad Airways
TOP FIVE CHAMPAGNES INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CLASS
- Drappier Carte d’Or, NV — TAM
- G.H. Mumm Brut, NV — Hainan Airlines
- Lanson Black Label Brut, NV — Etihad Airways
- Jacquart Brut Mosaïque, NV — Delta Air Lines
- Laurent-Perrier Brut, NV — Brussels Airlines
TOP FIVE SPARKLING WINES INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS AND BUSINESS CLASS
- Yarden Blanc de Blancs 2007 — EL AL Israel Airlines, International First Class
- Gamla Brut, NV — EL AL Israel Airlines, I nternational Business Class
- Antique Sparkling Cuvée, NV — China Airlines, International Business Class
- Luis Pato Blanc de Blancs, NV — TAP Air Portugal, International Business Class
- Villiera Brut Natural C hardonnay 2009 — South African Airways, International Business Class
TOP FIVE WHITE WINES INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS
- Domaine d’Ardhuy Corton-Charlemagne 2009, Grand Cru — British Airways
- Tie: Aaldering Sauvignon Blanc 2013, South Africa — Asiana Airlines
Dr. Bürklin-Wolf Riesling 2009, Pfalz — TAM
- S.A. Prüm Wehlener Riesling 2009, Mosel — American Airlines
- Fantesca Estate & Winery Chardonnay 2009, California — American Airlines
- Château Mont-Pérat 2011, Bordeaux — All Nippon Airways
TOP FIVE WHITE WINES INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CLASS
- Domaine Thomas Le Chant du Merle Sancerre 2012 — Brussels Airlines
- Cono Sur 20 Barrels Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Chile — LAN Airlines
- Kaapzicht Cuvée Anna White 2013, South Africa — airberlin
- San Medín Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Chile — Hainan Airlines
- Les Belles Collines Pinot Gris 2009, California — China Airlines
TOP FIVE RED WINES INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS
- Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2009, Italy — Jet Airways
- Château Dauzac 2008, Bordeaux — Etihad Airways
- Château Haut Brisson 2010, Bordeaux — China Airlines
- St. Hallett Shiraz 2009, Australia — China Airlines
- Château Lagrange 2008, Bordeaux — All Nippon Airways
TOP FIVE RED WINES INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CLASS
- Château D’Aurilhac 2006, Bordeaux — Brussels Airlines
- George Wyndham Shiraz 2004, Australia — Etihad Airways
- Chateau St. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Washington — Jet Airways
- Château Bel-Air-Ouÿ 2010, Bordeaux — TAM
- Dona Maria 2011, Alentejo, Portugal — TAP Air Portugal
TOP NORTH AMERICAN AIRLINE FIRST CLASS/BUSINESS CLASS TOP NORTH AMERICAN WINES ON THE WING
TOP NORTH AMERICAN SPARKLING WINE
Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Caneros Brut, NV — American Airlines, First Class
TOP NORTH AMERICAN WHITE WINE
Black Birch Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2010 — American Airlines, First Class
The Climber Sauvignon Blanc 2011 — American Airlines, Business Class
TOP NORTH AMERICAN RED WINE
Cline Syrah 2010 — American Airlines, First Class
Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 — Delta Air Lines, First Class/Business Class
TOP AIRLINE ALLIANCE
Star Alliance Represented by All Nippon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Brussels Airlines, South African Airways and TAP Air Portugal
After the professional wine tasting, Global Traveler opened the venue to friends and clients of the magazine. Guests perused the open wines and were allowed an up-close glimpse at the set-up and blind tasting behind our annual Wines on the Wing airline wine survey.
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Since 1970, Goway Travel has been committed to providing customized travel experiences for world travelers. Few things are better evidence of this commitment than being awarded the 2019 Trazees award for Favorite Tour Operator. Goway Travel heartily thanks the readers of Trazee Travel for this honor and for their confidence in Goway’s work in creating travel memories that’ll last a lifetime.
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