THE PIERRE HOTEL OPENED IN 1930, a handsome, light-shaded building on the corner of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue and East 61st Street with sweeping views of Central Park. Eighty-eight years later, it remains one of the city’s most elegant and luxurious hotels. With its reputation for excellent care and distinguished service, it attracted such guests over the years as Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent and Paul Newman. And it has been the hotel of choice for scenes in several movies and television programs. Today, managed by Taj Hotels, this landmark hotel remains an oasis in the city, offering not only white glove service to guests but also dynamic food and beverage service, from cocktails to afternoon tea to French-American fare in its Perrine restaurant.
With its strong emphasis on high-quality service, fine food and wine and with its handsome space, the blue and white Wedgewood Room, The Pierre offered the ideal setting for Global Traveler’s 15th annual Wines on the Wing Airline Wine Competition. To find the outstanding wines served on first-class and business-class international airline flights and, in a smaller category, wines served on first-class and business-class flights beginning and ending in North America, Global Traveler invited 23 judges, all wine professionals, to taste wines submitted by the airlines.
The judges were served the wines blind, in numbered glasses and told only the general varietal they were tasting — Chenin Blanc or California Cabernet Sauvignon, for example. Seated in The Pierre’s Wedgewood Room, they swirled, sniffed, sipped and savored each wine. And then they wrote their impressions.
When their decisions were later evaluated, the airline whose wines added up to the highest score among first-class international service, winning Best International First-Class Wines on the Wing, was All Nippon Airways.
A great honor, said Yutaka Ito, executive vice president, customer service and products services: “We have prepared a wide selection of fine wines from around the world to meet our customers’ needs and to complement our dishes.
“And we are not confined by wine tradition. We are working to introduce new labels,” Mr. Ito added, “to give people a new wine experience. Our aim is to make ANA the best cellar in the skies.”
And how are these wines chosen? By a committee of about 30 people led by esteemed chef/sommelier Olivier Poussier. In total, the public flying ANA enjoys approximately 50,000 bottles in first class and about 800,000 bottles in business class each year.
Among airlines’ international business-class service, Delta Air Lines was the top scorer, awarded Best International Business-Class Wines on the Wing — an achievement touted by Lisa Bauer, vice president of onboard services. “We are proud to be the winner in this category. Our selection features a mix of recognizable brands and surprising selections from small, artisanal wineries. We take a seasonal approach, with a rotating wine menu to pair with our inflight meals.”
Delta opens about 3 million bottles of wine each year, sourced from wineries in 15 countries across five continents chosen by Master Sommelier Andrea Robison, who tastes the wines both on the ground and in the air. She also teaches flight attendants about wine through the airline’s Sky Sommelier program.
British Airways came in a close second among the top first-class airlines and was one of the top scorers in international business class. Its individual wines won a place among top first-class sparkling wines and white wines, as well as among international business-class top white wines, an accomplishment that pleased Colin Talbot, head of catering. “British Airways works with wineries worldwide to ensure our customers can experience the best in fine wines on board. Particular attention is paid to meet the standard required in a wine destined to be enjoyed at 36,000 feet. Constant tasting high in the sky as well as on the ground allows BA to ensure the perfect wine is paired with the perfect dish.” The airline serves 350,000 bottles of wine in first class each year and 1.3 million bottles in business class.
American Airlines did well overall, placing third among the top international first-class airlines. It also scored well in first-class sparklers, top white wines and red wines and as first among the Top Five Champagnes International Business Class. Overall, between first and business class, it opens approximately 1.2 million bottles of wine a year. To choose those wines, Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey and Intervine review about a thousand wines every year.
And for the third consecutive year, American Airlines came in first among North American entries to win Best North American First Class/Business Class Wines on the Wing. It was followed by Delta in second place and United in third.
All Nippon Airways submitted Krug Brut 2004, best of the Top Five Champagnes International First Class. In the Top Five Champagnes International Business Class, American Airlines’ Lanson Black Label Brut Champagne was the winner.
The highest scorer in Top Five White Wines International First Class was Yatir Winery’s Viognier 2015, an Israeli wine submitted by EL AL Israel Airlines. Aeroflot won first place in Top Five White Wines Business Class with La Capra Chenin Blanc 2016 from South Africa. And American Airlines placed as Best North American White Wine with Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Vinzelles 2015.
American Airlines had the highest-scoring wine among the Top Five International First-Class Red Wines with Valduero Reserva 2012 from Ribera del Duero, Spain. In the Top Five International Business-Class Red Wines, United Airlines’ Les Gravières du Roy Sauvion 2016 placed first. And the top-scoring red among North American entries was California’s Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2014, Napa Valley, entered by American Airlines.
Of the airlines taking part in this year’s competition, 17 are members of airline alliances. The alliance whose member airlines scored the highest average this year is oneworld, represented by American Airlines, British Airways and LATAM.
Aristophanes has been quoted as saying, “Bring me a beaker of wine so that I may say something clever.” No beakers at our competition, but we did bring our judges many glasses of wine. And in return, in their appraisals of those wines, they said many things clever. Wine does that.
HOW WE JUDGE
To participate in Global Traveler’s competition, airlines throughout the world offering 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 wines are coded and divided into flights, or categories, according to their type. For example, all New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc submitted are served together, as are all California Cabernet Sauvignon. Wines are presented to judges in code-marked glasses. Judges are told only the type of wine and, when appropriate (vintage Champagne, for example), the year. If judges feel a wine is flawed, a reserve bottle is poured. Professional assistants pour the wines, and GT staff monitor the tasting.
Each wine is judged on a modified Davis 20-point scale. The judges’ individual scores for each wine are added and averaged, and the averaged scores of an airline’s submissions are totaled. Individual wines with the highest scores and the airlines with the highest total scores win Wines on the Wing awards.
CESAR BAEZA is an oenologist and a consultant for the wine industry. A native of Chile, he studied winemaking there and in France, Spain and California and worked at several wineries. For 20 years he was wine master and co-owner of Brotherhood Winery in New York.
BETH COTENOFF, DWS is a senior vice president at R/West and has 20 years’ experience in wine and spirits. She worked in Paris and with Sopexa/Food & Wines from France. She earned the WSET diploma in Wine & Spirits and is a certified wine instructor.
CARL ETCHEVERRY is a certified sommelier and the wine director of the Union League of Philadelphia. He built the Cellars Collection at the League, which won the USA Best City Club award three consecutive times. He is often a guest speaker at wine seminars and events.
FRED FERRETTI is a wine and food writer whose articles appear in many national publications. Formerly a New York Times reporter, he was also for many years a columnist for Gourmet magazine.
XAVIER FLOURET is owner of Cognac One, LLC., a national wine importer and New York wine wholesaler. The company focuses on sustainable and organic privately owned wine estates throughout the world that specialize in the best expressions of terroir and wine appellations.
DAVID FRIESER is the fine-wine purchaser at Park Avenue Liquor Shop in Manhattan. He is a frequent wine lecturer and has been professionally involved with wine for more than 30 years.
CURTIS GREEN is president and founder of TenFolk Enterprises, a wine education and marketing company created to broaden interest in wine among African Americans. He is also publisher of SlitelyChilled.com, the online magazine geared to the African-American wine drinker.
FRANK JOHNSON is chairman and CEO of Frank Johnson Selections, an international wine brokerage firm. In his 40 years in wine, he has worked in various aspects of the business. He is also the author and editor of several wine publications.
KAREN KING is director of on-premise development at Winebow, the wine-importing firm. She has been wine director at Union Square Café and beverage director at Gramercy Tavern and The Modern, all in New York, and taught wine at The French Culinary Institute.
HARRIET LEMBECK is president of the Wine and Spirits Program where, for 34 years, she has taught consumers and wine trade personnel. She is the author of the 6th and 7th editions of Grossman’s Guide to Wine, Beer and Spirits and is a contributor to Beverage Dynamics magazine.
ALICE LOUBATON is head of her own company, Loubaton Imports LLC., specializing in wines from small family estates in France. American-born, she worked in Paris for 10 years and, upon returning to New York, worked for 33 years with French wines and food at Sopexa.
MICHAEL MANUPPELLI is chef sommelier of The River Café in Brooklyn. He is a certified sommelier through the American Sommelier Association.
GILLES MARTIN is the winemaker and director of operations at Sparkling Pointe Winery on Long Island, N.Y., and a consultant to many other Long Island wineries. French-born, he studied winemaking at Montpelier and has worked at Roederer Estate and Delas Frères.
DAVID MILLIGAN is president of David Milligan Selections, representing fine French producers. He has been in the wine trade for more than 30 years, beginning with 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.
JABULANI NTSHANGASE is an internationally renowned expert on South African wines and is one of three owners of Highberry, a winery in South Africa, where he is in charge of sales and marketing in Africa and the United States.
ROMAN ROTH is the winemaker and part-owner of Wölffer Estate on New York’s Long Island. He has established a winery of his own, The Grapes of Roth, also on Long Island. Roman was born in Germany, where he received his degrees in oenology and viticulture.
JUDY RUNDEL has been on the staff of Heights Chateau, a wine shop in Brooklyn Heights, for more than 20 years, where she takes part in wine buying decisions, coordinates the Wine of the Month Club and writes content for the shop’s website. She also conducts wine tastings and classes.
ADAM SEGER, CCP, is corporate sommelier for iPic Entertainment as well as iPic’s executive bartender. A graduate of the Cornell Hotel School, he takes a chef’s approach to his work, earning acclaim for pioneering the garden-to-glass cocktail approach.
DARRIN SIEGFRIED is president emeritus of the Sommelier Society of America and trained more than 1,800 wine captains in the past 25 years.
WILLIAM SHORT is regional manager, New York, for Dreyfus Ashby & Co., a fine-wine importing company. At 35 years, he is the longest-tenured salesman in the company’s history. Before joining the wine field, he taught school for 10 years.
TIM SOMERS worked in wine and spirits for 30 years and has been involved in startup wineries in California, North Carolina and China. He is currently vice president of commercial capabilities at Pernod Ricard and is a Certified Specialist of Wine: Society of Wine Educators.
PAMELA WITTMANN is the principal of Millisime, Ltd., her 16-year-old public relations and marketing firm specializing in helping foreign wineries enter the U.S. market. She has degrees in oenology and in business and has worked in wineries and wine sales.
TOP INTERNATIONAL FIRST-CLASS WINES ON THE WING
1. All Nippon Airways
2. British Airways
3. American Airlines
4. United Airlines
TOP INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS-CLASS WINES ON THE WING
1. Delta Air Lines
2. United Airlines
3. All Nippon Airways
4. Brussels Airlines
5. British Airways
TOP CHAMPAGNES AND SPARKLING WINES INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS
1. Krug Brut Champagne 2004 (All Nippon Airways)
2. Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, Grande Cuvée Champagne, NV (American Airlines)
3. Carmel Valley Brut Reserve 2013, Cornwall, England (British Airways)
TOP FIVE CHAMPAGNES INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CLASS
1. Lanson Black Label Brut, NV (American Airlines)
2. Lanson Père et Fils Brut, NV (Aeroflot)
3. Duval-Leroy Brut Réserve, NV (All Nippon Airways)
4. Alfred Gratien Brut, NV (United Airlines)
5. Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée Brut, NV (Brussels Airlines)
TOP FIVE WHITE WINES INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS
1. Yatir Winery Viognier 2015, Israel (EL AL Israel Airlines)
2. Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet, Les Combettes 2012 (British Airways)
3. Nielson by Byron Chardonnay 2015, California (All Nippon Airways)
4. Louis Latour Chassagne-Montrachet 2014, France (American Airlines)
5. Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc 2016, New Zealand (British Airways)
TOP FIVE WHITE WINES INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CLASS
1. La Capra Chenin Blanc 2016, South Africa (Aeroflot)
2. Oldenburg Vineyards Chardonnay 2016, South Africa (British Airways)
3. Waimea Pinot Gris 2016, New Zealand (British Airways)
4. Calera Chardonnay 2015, California (Delta Air Lines)
5. Domaine Thibault Pouilly-Fumé 2016, André Dezat et Fils, France (Brussels Airlines)
TOP FIVE RED WINES INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS
1. Valduero Reserva 2012, Ribera del Duero, Spain (American Airlines)
2. Chassagne-Montrachet 2015, Morgeot, Louis Latour, Burgundy, France (All Nippon Airways)
3. Château Lynch-Moussas 2009, Bordeaux, France (British Airways) and Château Larose-Trintaudon 2015, Bordeaux, France (United Airlines)
4. Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir 2015, Oregon (United Airlines)
5. Shoresh 2016, Israel (EL AL Israel Airlines)
TOP FIVE RED WINES INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CLASS
1. Les Gravières du Roy Sauvion 2016, France (United Airlines)
2. Le Comte de Malartic 2014, Bordeaux, France (Brussels Airlines)
3. Il Rosso dei Vespa Primitivo 2016, Italy (Alitalia)
4. Bocelli Sangiovese Rosso 2016, Italy (Alitala)
5. Lavau-Roasteau 2015, Rhône Valley, France (American Airlines)
BEST NORTH AMERICAN FIRST CLASS/BUSINESS CLASS WINES ON THE WING
1. American Airlines
2. Delta Air Lines
3. United Airlines
4. JetBlue Airways
BEST NORTH AMERICAN CHAMPAGNE/SPARKLING WINE
1. Raventós de Nit Brut 2015, Spain (JetBlue Airways)
2. Ca’ di Rajo, Italy (Delta Air Lines) and Ca’ di Rajo, Italy (United Airlines)
3. Lanson Black Label Brut, France (American Airlines)
BEST NORTH AMERICAN RED WINE
1. Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Reserve Selection, Napa Valley, Calif. (American Airlines)
2. Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2015, Dundee Hills, Ore. (American Airlines)
3. Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Alexander Valley, Calif. (Delta Air Lines)
4. Château Villotte 2016, Bordeaux, France (United Airlines) 5. Clos de Nit 2016, Spain (United Airlines)
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