Airlines' premium wine programs
Premium-class passengers boost airlines' bottom lines, so savvy carriers go the extra mile to keep these elite fliers happy. Good case in point: restaurant-quality wine programs put together by sommeliers who rank among the world's best. Any of these would have Bacchus angling for an upgrade at 40,000 feet.
Sommelier: Olivier Poussier
About the som: Has won numerous awards, selected wines for some of Europe's best restaurants, and contributed opinions to French wine publications and guides.
Premium sips: Blanck et Fils, Grand Cru, Riesling, 2010, Alsace, France; Château Smith Haut Lafitte, red Bordeaux blend, 2006, Pessac-Léognan, France
Something special: The airline has added specially designed stemless wine glasses, balanced to make them more stable during flight. The goblet portion of each gets narrower at the top to concentrate flavors and aromas.
Ultimate pairing: Château Smith Haut Lafitte with boneless rolled fillet of lamb. "The smoky, balsamic, bacon, and spice notes of this Bordeaux pair beautifully with the texture of this lamb shoulder meat," says Poussier.
Sommelier: Ken Chase
About the som: Winemaker and viticulturist Chase selected wines for Pope John Paul II's Canadian visits in 1984 and 1987. Has been a guest on various U.S. radio programs as a wine expert.
Premium sips: Delicato Family Vineyards, Merlot 181, 2008, Lodi, Calif.; Gloria Ferrer, Brut, Sonoma County, Calif.
Something special: On first-class international flights, attendants pass out silver trays topped by sheets of paper that show the available wines. Create your own wine flight by circling your choices.
Ultimate pairing: The Ferrer with a chicken or fish dish. "Acidity in sparkling wine pushes out flavors of fowl and fish," says Chase.
Sommelier: Markus Del Monego
About the som: Recipient of the Ruinart trophy in 1988 for being Germany's top som, Del Monego writes wine reviews and puts on seminars.
Premium sips: Chateau Olivier, Grand Cru Classe, blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot with a touch of cabernet franc, 2006, Bordeaux, France; Chateau Ste. Michelle, Indian Wells, merlot, 2007, Columbia Valley, Wash.; Weingut Kunstler, Kostheim Weiss Erd, Riesling, 2011, Rheingau, Germany
Something special: Del Monego selects wines with slightly higher amounts of sugar and alcohol. Those aspects of a wine diminish at cruising altitudes, so a little extra to begin with is a good thing.
Ultimate pairing: The Riesling with the smoked salmon appetizer. "You don't want a wine's acidity to dominate the fish taste. Riesling is not too strong
yet still has a full body," says Del Monego.
Sommeliers: Tom Carson, Vanya Cullen, Steve Pannell
About the soms: Carson's the winemaker for Yabby Lake Vineyard, an award-winning Australian winery. Cullen runs her family's Australian winery, Cullen Wines, and judges wine competitions Down Under. Besides heading up
SC Pannell wines, Pannell chaired last year's National Wine Show of Australia.
Premium sips: Moss Wood Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006, Margaret River, Wash.; Seppeltsfield Paramount Collection Rare Muscat, Barossa Valley, Australia; Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs, 2000, Champagne, France; Vasse Felix Heytesbury, chardonnay, 2010, Margaret River
Something special: Flight attendants wearing a small silver pin shaped like a bunch of grapes have been through the airline's wine training program and will adeptly help you evaluate and select various vintages.
Ultimate pairing: The Rare Muscat with the cheese course. The wine's bouquet of chocolate-covered raisins and spices with crème caramel flavors plays nicely off of cheese.
Sommeliers: Jeannie Cho Lee, Michael Hill Smith, Steven Spurrier
About the soms: Lee, a Master of Wine, oversees the wine program for Galaxy Macau's nearly 50 restaurants in Macau. Smith co-founded esteemed Australian winery Shaw + Smith and is the Australian regional chairman of the Decanter World Wine Awards. Spurrier, the author of several wine books, was recently inducted into the Wine Writers' Hall of Fame.
Premium sips: Dom Perignon, 2000, and Krug Grande Cuvee, both from the Champagne region of France. Dom, in various vintages, has been a hallmark tipple on Singapore flights for several decades.
Something special: Passengers in the 12 first-class suites can request champagne flights to conduct the kinds of comparisons more typically done in fine restaurants or wine bars.
Ultimate pairing: Champagne-popping begins with boarding, and many people stick with it through the caviar service. "This is a good move since the crisp, linear profile of champagne, with its fine mousse and subtle yet intense flavors, complements caviar very well," says Lee.
Sommelier: Doug Frost
About the som: The Master Sommelier and Master of Wine has written three critically acclaimed wine books and been singled out as a Master of Spirits by Wine Spectator.
Premium sips: Bodegas Martin Codax, Burgans, albarino, 2011, Rias Baixas, Spain; Chateau Greysac, blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot and cabernet franc, 2009, Bordeaux, France; Patz & Hall Joya, chardonnay, 2008, Sonoma, Calif.; Yamhill Valley Vineyards, Pinot Noir Estate, 2008, Willamette Valley, Ore.
Something special: Through the Regional Wine Program, flights arriving in wine-producing countries - say, Argentina or Germany - take off with bottles from those places supplementing the international wine list.
Ultimate pairing: Burgans albarino with seafood and lighter meat entrees, regardless of the sauce. "Its tartness and dryness combine to make these foods taste better, much like a squeeze of lemon or lime enhances flavors," says Frost.
VIRGIN ATLANTIC AIRWAYS
Sommeliers: Mark Pardoe, Robert Manners
About the soms: Both source and select wines for the venerable London-based wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd. After passing his Master of Wine test in 1989, Pardoe won the Madame Bollinger Award for excellence in tasting.
Premium sips: Berry's New Zealand Sauvignon, Seifried Estate, Nelson, New Zealand; Corliano, chianti riserva, sangiovese, 2009, Florence, Italy
Something special: In classic Virgin Atlantic fashion, the airline charges sommeliers with throwing curveballs by providing surprisingly tasty wines from unlikely places. Slovenia?
Ultimate pairing: The Corliano chianti with a beef dish. "Its tannins hold up well to meat," says Manners.