Business Traveller Cellars in the Sky Awards 2011
Which airlines came out on top in our annual wine awards? Rose Dykins reports on a corking competition.
The best wines have won. Our expert judging panel spent two days sipping, swilling and spitting out about 250 vintages from 32 airlines, and the Business Traveller Cellars in the Sky awards have been presented to the carriers that served the best onboard wine last year.
Charles Metcalfe, head of the judging panel, handed out the trophies at a drinks reception on February 6 at the newly renovated Grosvenor hotel in London’s Victoria (guoman.com) – our thanks to Guoman for providing the perfect venue for the evening. The event was well attended by representatives from the airlines, and several of the judges were there to talk attendees through their choices. Business Traveller then hosted special tastings of the winning wines at the Business Travel Show in Earls Court, held on February 7-8.
The judges were: Charles Metcalfe, TV wine presenter and co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge; Sam Harrop, Master of Wine and winemaking consultant; Peter McCombie, Master of Wine and accredited tutor for the Wine and Spirit Education Trust; John Worontschak, leading winemaker and wine business development consultant; and Tim Atkin, Master of Wine and award-winning wine columnist.
HOW THE WINNERS WERE CHOSEN
Airlines can enter the awards providing they serve wine in business or first class on mid- or long-haul routes. Each was allowed to enter two reds, two whites, a sparkling and a fortified or dessert wine from both their business and first class cellars. Airlines could enter as many categories as they liked, but to be eligible for the Cellar awards they had to enter at least one red, white and sparkling wine.
The tastings took place on November 17 and 18 at London’s Radisson Blu Portman hotel (radissonblu.co.uk). Every vintage was blind-tasted so no one was influenced by the labels. Both days ran seamlessly, so our thanks to the staff and judges for their hard work.
The panel scored the wines out of 100, with award-winning ones scoring between 91 and 98, second- and third-placed wines scoring between 88 and 93 (depending on the category) and anything under 75 deemed undrinkable. To calculate the First and Business Class Cellar awards, we took the average mark of an airline’s red, white and sparkling wines. For the Consistency of Wines award, we took all scores into account. For the Most Improved categories, we compared the ratings with the 2010 results.
WHAT THE JUDGES THOUGHT
As the critics sampled the wines, were they considering what they would taste like at 30,000 feet? “It’s a secondary thought,” Harrop says. “We’re looking for the best overall, but we’re aware of the issues and, inevitably, if a wine’s tannins are a bit dry, it’s not going to be the best in the air.”
Other qualities that are far less desirable during a flight are “white[s] high in alcohol or with really lean acids,” Metcalfe says. “On a plane, you want to be soothed by something pleasant,” he adds.
The judges reported that certain categories were slightly disappointing this year, perhaps a result of the continuing economic problems faced by the aviation sector. Atkin says: “Where people have really cut back is with the sparkling wines in business class – the business class reds were quite poor, too. There are exceptions but I think, in general, wine is bearing the brunt of the cost-cutting.”
Still, the judges were impressed with the first class entries, particularly the sparkling ones. “There were a lot of good wines in this category,” Metcalfe says. “And the reds and whites in first class were so much more encouraging than those in business.”
One issue discussed during the tastings was the compromise airlines must reach between selecting wines with well-known labels, or lesser-known wines that may be better suited to in-flight conditions.
McCombie says: “The problem is the dichotomy between what passengers think they should have because they’re paying for business or first, and what actually tastes better. If punters were prepared to give new wines a go, ones that taste better in the air, they’d really enjoy them – but they’d feel they were being short-changed on paper.”
This is where presentation comes in – an area the judges feel airlines could make more of. Menus are a great way to introduce passengers to a wine they may not be familiar with. Harrop says: “Sure, have the safe ones; the top Bordeaux for those who see value in the label. But there’s a huge opportunity for buyers to showcase lesser-known organic wines or up-and-coming producers.”
Atkin agrees: “Wouldn’t it be a selling point for wine lists to say that the wines have been tasted in the air? I’d also like to see some adventurous choices – for someone to find a wine from an exciting region such as Greece, Elqui in Chile, Sicily or Daou in California, and for it to be exclusive to them.”
HOW AIRLINES CHOOSE THEIR WINES
Blind-tasting is generally the starting point for most carriers before they consider other factors. “The flight route is key to the customer tasting profile,” says a spokesperson for Taiwan-based Eva Airways. “Wines with too much residual sugar or minimal acidity will often be less appreciated on our long-haul flights owing to a more diversified tasting profile – most Asian customers appreciate wines with soft tannins and higher residual sugar.”
Fiona Morrison, a Master of Wine and consultant for Brussels Airlines, says the carrier’s wine is not just chosen by Masters: “Three or four times a year we do blind tastings of 80-100 wines with onboard staff. Their votes are important – they know their passengers.”
She also believes variety is important: “We always have two very classic wines – usually a red Bordeaux and a white Burgundy – then two others, something a bit more adventurous. We also try to include a Belgian wine at least every other month. We’re trying to do the classics while helping people to discover new wines.”
AIRLINES THAT ENTERED
The 32 airlines that took part in Cellars in the Sky 2011 were: Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Air France, Air New Zealand, Alitalia, All Nippon Airways, American Airlines, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Emirates, Eva Airways, Finnair, Gulf Air, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Jetstar, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, LAN, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, TAM, US Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Our sincere thanks to all of the participants
For the full list of winners and shortlisted carriers click here.
ADD A COMMENT »