A recent movie titled Just 45 Minutes from Broadway actually took place miles from this world-famous setting. The Westin New York at Times Square, on the other hand, is barely 4.5 minutes from Broadway, just one block from the center of the city’s celebrated theater world, just steps from more than 40 theaters. In addition to offering its enviable location, the 13-year-old hotel, the first Westin in New York City, recently unveiled the $33 million renovation that provided its 873 guestrooms a fresh, new look — many with spectacular views of Manhattan — and accomplishing it all with energy-saving devices, recycled materials and other environmentally friendly practices. The renovation also included $1.6 million spent on the ninth floor’s 8,760 square feet of meeting and event space and the floor’s center, the stunning Atrium that soars seven stories high.
The Westin’s ninth floor is where Global Traveler held its 2015 Wines on the Wing International First Class and Business Class Airline Wine Competition. Wine professionals gathered to judge wines currently served on international first- and business-class flights throughout the world and, in a third category, wines served on first- and business-class flights that begin and end in North America. The judges tasted all wines blind; that is, they were served the wines in numbered glasses. They never saw a wine bottle; they never saw a label. Their scores were based strictly on the quality of the wine they found in the glass.
Global Traveler has held the wine competition every year since its inception, and every year the results are fascinating. This year, All Nippon Airways’ wines were voted best overall. ANA, in fact, scored highest in both International First Class and International Business Class, a rare feat. With its winning total scores, many of ANA’s individual wines ranked among the best in their categories. Krug Grande Cuvée, Non-Vintage, its first-class Champagne, for example, was judged the best in its class. Its Hartford Court Chardonnay 2012 tied with American Airlines, which submitted the same wine, for Best International First Class White Wine.
ANA chooses its wines through a blind tasting and includes among its tasters sommeliers, a Master of Wine, a Japanese chef and in-flight advisors. Their emphasis is finding both classic wines and new labels. “We hold blind tastings to select our wines and to make sure we have a diverse selection,” said Toshitaka Watanabe, senior vice president, CS & Products Services. “We have tried not to be confined to wine tradition only but to introduce new labels as well so that our customers will discover a new wine experience.” Winning this award, he added, is “our great honor.”
The airline uses 370,000 750-ml bottles and 317,000 quarter-sized bottles a year in first class and business class for a cost of about $4 million.
American Airlines finished only 0.75 points behind ANA for the top-scoring first class award. It also finished as one of the best in business class. Its Champagnes were among the top scorers in both classes, and its Kenefick Ranch Caitlin’s Select Cabernet Franc was voted the outstanding red wine in the International First Class category.
The airline reports travelers often say they love tasting onboard wines that are new to them, and they have Ken Chase to thank for the experience. “Our wine list is unique,” he said, “in that a majority of the wines are not widely distributed in the U.S. This creates a sense of adventure.” He makes his selections first by identifying upcoming trends, then, when tasting wines, ensuring the grape varieties selected fully express their fruit characteristics and that American’s wine list is balanced. He also insists wines present a dramatic character when tasted at ground level to ensure they will taste right at flight level.
American Airlines changes its onboard wines quarterly, with occasional additions between. It opens 1 million bottles a year in first- and business-class cabins.
British Airways’ wines scored well in both classes. Its Tiki Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014 from Marlborough, New Zealand, awarded the highest-scoring white in business class, was, overall, the highest-scoring white wine in the entire competition, an honor with which Christopher Cole, the airline’s food and beverage manager, was “especially pleased. Our customers enjoy our monthly changing wine selections, and we’re pleased the judging panel has applauded this selection. Global Traveler awards are highly prized by all of us at British Airways.”
British Airways’ in-house wine specialists work with a Master of Wine to select its wines. It offers route-specific wines and in a year opens 1.3 million full bottles of wine; 650,000 bottles of Champagne; and 10 million quarter bottles of wine.
Hainan Airlines’ Leventre-Dedieu, Non-Vintage was the highest-scoring Champagne in International Business Class. To choose its wines, the airline invites five sommeliers as well as other experienced tasters to a blind tasting of more than 40 kinds of wines. From the results of the tasting, it selects the top scorers to serve on board.
While Fiji Airways’ wine choices are generally global, its current wines hail from Australia, and they proved notable in the airline’s business-class entries. Its Tempus Two Blanc de Blancs 2013 placed first among Top Sparkling Wines International Business Class. Its Shaw + Smith Shiraz 2010 was the highest-scoring red in International Business Class, while its Tempus Two Cabernet Merlot 2012 also placed among the highest-scoring Red Wines International Business Class.
“We’re a boutique airline,” noted Carolyne Gregory, executive manager, product and service, Fiji Airways, “and we take pride in giving our customers the best. Wine is a particularly interesting component of service, given the varying tastes of our travelers.” To satisfy these many different taste buds, she continued, “we undertake an extensive wine review and sampling of wines from the best producers around the globe. Our current range is chosen from Australian vineyards. Our tasters range from wine experts to our customers. We change the choice of wines on board with every menu cycle.”
Wine professional Yair Haidu chooses the wines for EL AL Israel Airlines. All are Israeli wines, and evidently he has chosen well. EL AL scored among the Top Five International Business Class airlines. Its sparkling wine, Yarden Blanc de Blancs 2008, ranks among the Top Sparkling Wines International Business Class. Its Petit Castel 2013 was the second-highest-rated business-class red wine, with its Teperberg Reserve Merlot 2011 also finishing among the Top Red Wines International Business Class. “We have two wine menus per year,” he said, “each featuring eight Israeli wines plus a wine of the month. Altogether, over 20 Israeli wines are served each year.”
Delta Air Lines did well this year, not only with scoring among the best in International Business Class with its Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve, Non-Vintage Champagne but also earning the overall highest score in the North American Wines on the Wing category. Its Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2012 also ranked as Top North American White Wine. Virgin America claimed two North American awards, with its Le Grand Courtâge Brut, Grand Cuvée Blanc de Blancs rating as Top Sparkling Wine, and The Messenger Red Wine Number One taking Top Red Wine.
Of the airlines that took part in Global Traveler’s 2015 competition, 15 are members of three alliances: oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. The alliance whose members totaled the highest averaged score was oneworld. Those members are American Airlines, British Airways and LATAM Airlines Group.
When the French raise a glass of wine to toast, they say, “Santé.” When the Italians do, it’s “Salute.” It’s “Probst” for the Germans and “Vashe zdorovie” for the Russians. And at the end of Wines on the Wing 2015, to our judges, a “Thank you” in every language.
TOP THREE INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS WINES ON THE WING
1. All Nippon Airways
2. American Airlines
3. British Airways
TOP FIVE INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CLASS WINES ON THE WING
1. All Nippon Airways
2. British Airways
3. Fiji Airways
4. EL AL Israel Airlines
5. American Airlines
TOP THREE CHAMPAGNES INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS
1. Krug Grande Cuvée, NV (All Nippon Airways)
2. Gosset Grande Réserve Brut, NV (American Airlines)
3. Laurent-Perrier Grande Siècle, NV (British Airways)
TOP FIVE CHAMPAGNES INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CLASS
1. Leventre-Dedieu Champagne, NV (Hainan Airlines)
2. Boizel Grand Vintage 2004 (British Airways)
3. Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve, NV (Delta Air Lines)
4. Henriot Brut Souverain, NV (All Nippon Airways) Tie Paul Dangin & Fils Brut Prestige, NV (American Airlines)
5. Robert Champagne, NV (China Airlines)
TOP FIVE SPARKLING (NON-CHAMPAGNE) WINES INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CLASS
1. Tempus Two Blanc de Blancs 2013 (Fiji Airways)
2. Luis Pato Blanc de Blancs, NV (TAP Portugal)
3. Graham Beck Brut, NV (South African Airways)
4. Yarden Blanc de Blancs 2008 (EL AL Israel Airlines)
5. Franciacorta Cuvée Magnifica Brut, NV (Alitalia)
TOP THREE WHITE WINES INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS
1. Hartford Court Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, California Tie (All Nippon Airways) and (American Airlines)
2. Schloss Vollrads Riesling 2011, Germany (All Nippon Airways)
3. Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett Riesling 2009, Mosel, Germany (American Airlines)
TOP FIVE WHITE WINES INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CLASS
1. Tiki Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand (British Airways)
2. Gentil Hugel 2013, Alsace, France (All Nippon Airways)
3. Domaine Sylvain Bailly Sancerre 2014, France (Brussels Airlines)
4. Paco & Lola Albariño 2013, Spain (Brussels Airlines)
5. Quintay Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Grand Reserve, Chile (LATAM Airlines Group)
TOP THREE RED WINES INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS
1. Kenefick Ranch Caitlin’s Select Cabernet Franc 2007, Napa Valley, California (American Airlines)
2. Domaine Louis Latour Corton 2007, Burgundy, France (All Nippon Airways)
3. Ser Gioveto Toscana 2009, Italy (American Airlines)
TOP FIVE RED WINES INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CLASS
1. Shaw + Smith Shiraz 2010, Australia (Fiji Airways)
2. Petit Castel 2013 (EL AL Israel Airlines)
3. 14 Hands Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Washington State (All Nippon Airways) Tie Domaine des Sénéchaux Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2011, France (British Airways)
4. Jean Claude Mas 2012, Languedoc, France (American Airlines) Triple Tie Teperberg Reserve Merlot 2011, Israel (EL AL Israel Airlines) Tempus Two Cabernet Merlot 2012, Australia (Fiji Airways)
5. Diemersdal Merlot 2013, South Africa (South African Airways)
TOP NORTH AMERICAN FIRST CLASS/BUSINESS CLASS
Top North American Wines on the Wing
Delta Air Lines
Top North American Sparkling Wine
Le Grand Courtâge Brut, Grand Cuvée Blanc de Blancs, NV (Virgin America)
Top North American White Wine
Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley, California (Delta Air Lines)
Top North American Red Wine
The Messenger Red Wine Number One, California, Bordeaux blend (Virgin America)
Top Airline Alliance
Represented by American Airlines, British Airways and LATAM Airlines Group
To participate in Global Traveler’s competition, airlines throughout the world that have long-haul international first-class service and/or business-class service are invited to submit two white wines, two red wines and one Champagne or other sparkling wine currently on their wine lists, as well as the wine lists themselves. The same rules apply to our category of North American airlines that have first-class and/or business-class service. The airlines deliver their wines to our office. While many airlines send their wines to the United States through customs with no problem, some airlines claim customs regulations are too difficult and thus do not participate.
The wines were coded — that is, each given a number — and divided into flights, or categories, according to their type. For example, all California Chardonnay submitted were served together, as were all Australian Shiraz. Wines were presented to judges in code-marked glasses. Judges knew only the type of wine, its place of origin and, when appropriate (vintage Champagne, for example), the year. If judges determined a wine was flawed, a reserve bottle was poured. Professional assistants poured the wines, and GT staff monitored the tasting.
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. Individual wines with the highest scores and the airlines with the highest total scores won the Wines on the Wing awards.
Manos Angelakis is the senior wine and food writer for Luxury Web Magazine and 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, consultant and educator for the wine industry. A native of Chile, he studied winemaking there; in France, Spain and California; and worked in several wineries. For 20 years, he was wine master and co-owner of Brotherhood Winery, New York.
Sean Cassidy is the hotel manager of The Westin New York at Times Square. He has served on the Food and Beverage Association of America Board of Directors since 2007 and worked in hotel management since 1994.
John Fanning is general manager of The Lambs Club, New York. He has been general manager and/or wine director of other 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.
Fred Ferretti is the Asian food authority for Food Arts magazine and a wine and food writer whose articles appear in many national publications. Formerly a New York Times reporter, for many years he was also a columnist for Gourmet magazine.
Xavier Flouret is the owner of Cognac One LLC, a wine importer and New York wine wholesaler. He is curator of Xavier Flouret Wines, a worldwide selection of wine discoveries, and importer of Champagne A.R. Lenoble and Château de Malengin-Baron Edmond de Rothschild, among other wines.
David Frieser is president of Beekman Liquors, Inc., a 58-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.
Frank Johnson is chairman and CEO of Frank Johnson Selections, an international wine brokerage firm. In his 38 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 31 years, she has taught consumers and wine trade personnel. She is the author of 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 Long Island, N.Y. 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. In the wine trade for more than 40 years, he began his training in England. He also served as president of Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines.
Katherine Moore, FWS, is general manager of Union Square Wine & Spirits, a large retail shop in Manhattan.
Johannes Neckermann is an international wine consultant. A native of Germany, he has worked at Champagne Taittinger, as a sommelier and in wine retail and teaches wine at SUNY’s adult program. He produces a private-label Chardonnay at Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards, New York.
Roman Roth is winemaker/general manager of Wölffer Estate, a winery on Long Island, N.Y., that he helped create in 1992. He studied winemaking in his native Germany and previously worked in wineries in Australia and California.
William Short is regional manager, New York for Dreyfus, Ashby & Co. At 32 years, he is the longest-tenured salesman in the fine-wine importing company’s history. Before joining the wine business, he taught for 10 years.
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 a number of restaurants in New York and created the Brooklyn wine shop Red, White and Bubbly.
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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In April 2021, I was skimming Facebook when an ad for a blind-folded dining experience popped up on my newsfeed. The event was hosted through a company called Fever that offers fun, interactive events in major cities and virtually for people to enjoy. Intrigued, I clicked the link to learn more. The description made the event sound exciting and mysterious. When I give someone a present for their birthday, the holidays or a wedding, I like to give the gift of an experience that the recipient can learn something from. My boyfriend’s 30th birthday was in June, when the event was to be hosted, so I thought this would be a great surprise for him.
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