Cellars in the Sky 2007 report

1 Mar 2008 by business traveller

The official results of Business Traveller's annual airline wine awards have been announced. Felicity Cousins reports.

Welcome to the results of Cellars in the Sky 2007, our awards for the best wines served by the airlines in First and Business Class. This year, 26 airlines entered the competition, and over the course of two days in November, we held blind tasting sessions at the Radisson SAS Portman Hotel in London. There were four judges: Charles Metcalfe, wine expert, author and co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge; Tim Atkin, Master of Wine (MW), wine columnist for The Observer, author and co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge; Joanna Simon, author and wine columnist for The Sunday Times; and Anthony Rose, wine columnist for The Independent. The winners and runners up were announced in London at the Business Travel Show on February 5, with Charles Metcalfe presenting the awards and the trophies to the winners. After the ceremony, and over the course of the Business Travel Show, we held tastings of the winning wines at the Business Traveller stand. ONBOARD CONSUMPTION The onboard wine offering will never be the reason to fly with a specific airline. Pricing, schedules and company travel policy will undoubtedly come first, but once onboardit is an integral part of the flying experience, and as such, airlines take it very seriously. Claude Déchelette, research and development for Air France customer inflight experience, says: “It’s very important, more important than inflight entertainment, and there are even higher expectations for us because we are known for our traditional wine.” Ingo Buelow, head of onboard service for Lufthansa, says: “It is difficult to show but wine selection is absolutely essential as it has to be in harmony with the product we offer onboard.” While it may be hard to prove the importance of wine, it’s much easier to demonstrate its popularity with passengers. Over the course of a year, Lufthansa served around 1.8 million bottles of red, 1.1 million bottles of white, 500,000 bottles of champagne and 80,000 bottles of fortified wine. Air France First and Business Class passengers got through 800,000 bottles, with an extra 200,000 bottles of wine served in Economy (champagne is free for all passengers with Air France), while Qatar’s First Class passengers alone get through 100 cases of wine a month. With such high turnovers, airlines change their menus every two to three months, to vary the offerings for frequent travellers and also because often the wines they offer are in short supply. Erwan Robert, area manager of inflight product for Qatar Airways, says: “We are talking about wine which is difficult to get on the market. Sometimes only 150,000 bottles are made of that particular wine worldwide, and we may only be able to get 6,000 bottles. Of course, it means that passengers are getting the best of the best each time, but not for very long – it’s a rolling process. Our wine lists change every three to four months.” Qatar is looking to increase its selection in First Class. Lufthansa keeps the same wine onboard for three to six months, depending on the volume of the vineyards, and American Airlines, which won the award for Best Business Class Wine Cellar, has 15 different menus, and won’t buy a wine if the vineyard has less than 160 cases available. HOW AIRLINES BUY THEIR WINES To make sure the airlines can get hold of the wines they want, they often forge very strong partnerships with particular producers. Air France has a very close relationship with wine producer Gérard Bertrand, and sommelier Olivier Poussier was so impressed with the producers’ Cigalus Red 2002 he bought it and stored it until 2007 to ensure it was at its peak when served onboard. Domaine de Cigalus 2005, Languedoc-Roussillon won this year’s Best Business White Wine and Bertrand himself attended to pick up the award. Planning ahead for each wine is a key factor. Qatar usually has one onboard, one in back-up and one booked with the producer, while Lufthansa purchases its reds up to six years in advance, while it buys its whites and champagnes, which have a shorter shelf life, six to 18 months beforehand. Most airlines choose their wines from blind tastings so as not to compromise price or quality. Lufthansa sends out 35 tenders across the world’s vineyards and every year has 10 to 12 blind tastings, testing more than 1,000 bottles of wine. The airline’s Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1997, which won in this year’s Best First Class Sparkling was also the winner of the airline’s blind tasting. Ingo Buelow says: “When we choose our wines, it is through a blind tasting, so it’s not about the price of the wines, nor the name.” Qatar holds its blind tastings four times a year. Erwan Robert says: “All the wine samples are sent to Europe for a blind tasting and a small wine committee chooses the wines. We don’t know the pricing of the product or what it is until we get them back to Doha.” Onboard wines are chosen according to how they will perform in the air as taste and smell is affected by the air pressure when flying (young vintages perform better). This year, the judges were so impressed by Air New Zealand’s wine list – a booklet with maps and detailed information about the wine served – they granted it a special award for the Most Informative Wine List. It’s a tough game, and Cellars in the Sky brings recognition to those airlines which have excelled in their onboard choices. As Bertrand says: “We were very pleased to win the competition. It shows the south of France can compete with wine everywhere and the challenge is very open because the wine in the competition has come from all over the world.” HOW WE ORGANISE THE EVENT The process started in the summer of 2007 when entry forms and rules were sent out to 62 airlines. Once we received the wines (nearly 1,000 bottles), we labelled them, sorted them into classes, and boxed them according to which category they were entering. The wines were then stored at the Radisson SAS Portman Hotel. In preparation for the blind tastings, they were then divided into groups or “flights”, wrapped in bags to hide the labels, and set out ready for the blind tastings. From start to finish, the whole process takes around eight months, so a big thank you to all those who have helped and taken part in the competition. AIRLINES WHO DID NOT ENTER... Air Astana, Air Canada, Aer Lingus, Air Namibia, Air China, Air India, Alitalia, ANA, Austrian Airlines, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, China Eastern, Continental Airlines, CSA Czech Airlines, Delta, Eos, Etihad Airways, Icelandair, LAN, MAS, Malev, Middle East Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Oasis Hong Kong, Olympic Airlines, Royal Jordanian, SAS, SriLankan Airlines, TAP Air Portugal, Thai Airways International, Turkish Airlines, US Airways and Virgin Atlantic. WHAT THE JUDGES SAID The judges felt that, in contrast to last year, the quality of the wines entered for the 2007 competition was more uneven, so while there were some real high points and wines of interest, there were also some very low points. Harsh comments were made, most notably: “If this was poured for me on an aircraft, I’d throw it away” (TA). Charles Metcalfe also noted: “Some of the wines taste quite old, which might be because they have been badly stored, or around the world quite a few times.” The judges thought that the chardonnays had been particularly badly bought, partly because premium flyers expect there to be a white burgundy onboard, but it can be difficult to get good wines from this region in sufficient volumes. This balancing of the expectations of passengers with the actual quality of famous regions was also reflected in the red wines. The judges felt that merlot-based wines worked better in the sky, or better still, a pinot noir or shiraz, but again, passengers expected to see good clarets on offer, even if these wines don’t work particularly well at 35,000ft since they are too tannic. In general, the judges felt the lists were too French-focused, too traditional and too conservative: “Buying what they think people on expenses will want to drink”, was the closing, rather acerbic comment.




1. AIR FRANCE Gerard Bertrand Domaine de Cigalus 2005, Languedoc-Roussillon, France SCORE: 18.13 Judges’ verdict: CM: Oaky but not overwhelming. Palate rich, bready, creamy. A lovely balance. Nicely oaked with a good length. TA: Toasty, attractive chardonnay with good acidity and a nice use of oak. A lovely toasty, modern, rich, classy, white burgundy. 2. EVA AIR Christoffel Erben Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Spatlese 2003, Mosel, Germany SCORE: 17.13 3. (JOINT) AIR NEW ZEALAND Fromm La Strada Riesling 2005, Marlborough, New Zealand SCORE: 16.88 3. (JOINT) KOREAN AIR Montana Marlborough Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2006, Marlborough, New Zealand SCORE: 16.88 4. EL AL Tishbi Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2006, Carmel Mountains, Israel SCORE: 16.75 5. KLM Ermita Veracruz Verdejo 2006, Ruedo, Spain SCORE: 16.63


  1. AIR NEW ZEALAND Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005, Wairarapa, New Zealand Score: 17.63 Judges’ verdict:
Vanilla oak and cherry pinot on the nose, a hint of green tomato – a slightly tomatoey pinot noir – quite juicy. TA: Attractive, wild strawberry fruit, well balanced and complex, just the thing I’d like to drink in the air.

2. AIR FRANCE Gerard Bertrand Domaine de Cigalus 2002, Languedoc-Roussillon, France SCORE: 17.38

3. TAM BRAZILIAN AIRLINES Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Reserve 2004, Australia SCORE: 17.13 4. SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS Longridge Pinotage 2004, Stellenbosch, South Africa SCORE: 16.88

5. EVA AIR Chateau Beaumont Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux 2003, France
SCORE: 16.75



Charles Heidsieck, MEC 2003 NV, France SCORE: 17.88 Judges’ verdict: JS: Gently biscuity, fresh nose. Honeyed fruit on the palate, biscuity length. Nicely developed with fine acidity. CM: Pleasant toasty, creamy. Palate – lovely balance of fresh citrus flavour and creamy toasty maturity. Very good for business. 2. LUFTHANSA
Duval-Leroy Fleur de Champagne Brut NV, Champagne, France SCORE: 17.13


3. (JOINT) UNITED Pol Roger NV, France
SCORE: 16.75

4. EMIRATES Taittinger Brut Reserve, France SCORE: 16.38 5. (JOINT) BRITISH AIRWAYS / KLM / ASIANA AIRLINES Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve, MEC 2004 NV, France SCORE: 16.375


La Plaza Vieja, Medium Golden, Emilio Lustau, Spain SCORE: 17.13 Judges’ verdict:
AR: Orangey golden colour, rich nutty caramel nose, burnt almond, a rich sherry, lovely full quality and classic. 2. (JOINT) QATAR AIRWAYS Taylor’s 20-Year-Old Tawny Port SCORE: 16.88 2. (JOINT) SINGAPORE AIRLINES Dow’s Late Bottled Port 2001 SCORE: 16.88 3. LUFTHANSA Niepoort Late Bottled Vintage 2003, Portugal SCORE: 16.62 4. (JOINT) GULF AIR Noble One 2004, De Bortoli SCORE: 16.25 4. (JOINT) EMIRATES Warre’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2001, Portugal SCORE: 16.25 4. (JOINT) KOREAN AIR Inniskillin Vidal Icewine 2004, Canada SCORE: 16.25 5. BRITISH AIRWAYS Warre’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 1999, Portugal SCORE: 16.13  



1. EL AL Blanc du Castel, Jerusalem Haut Judee, Chardonnay C 2005, Castel Winery, Israel SCORE: 18.13 Judges’ verdict: CM: Very toasty, but lovely. Poised, intense. Lovely balance, really harmonious, with freshness and a real complexity. TA: Attractive, subtle, excellent use of oak and very fine subtle flavours. Very good length. An excellent white burgundy. 2. (JOINT) EMIRATES Cesconi Olivar 2006, Pressano, Dolomiti, Italy SCORE: 17.5 2. (JOINT) QANTAS
Hardys Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2005, Australia SCORE: 17.5 3. BRITISH AIRWAYS Sancerre Edmond 2003, Alphonse Mellot, Loire Valley, France SCORE: 17.25

4. (JOINT) QATAR AIRWAYS Jules Taylor Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2005, Marlborough, New Zealand

4. (JOINT) AMERICAN AIRLINES Wairau River Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006, New Zealand

4. (JOINT) QANTAS Penfolds Reserve Bin 05A Chardonnay 2005, Australia SCORE: 17 5. (JOINT) LUTHANSA Kiedrich Grafenberg 2005, Rheingau, Germany SCORE: 16.88 5. (JOINT) ASIANA AIRLINES Maison Champy Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2004, Burgundy, France SCORE: 16.88 5. (JOINT) JAPAN AIRLINES Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2004 SCORE: 16.88  


1. QATAR AIRWAYS Knappstein Shiraz 2001, Clare Valley, Australia SCORE: 17.5 Judges’ verdict: CM: Dark, smoky, rich. Dense rich Aussie shiraz but tannins are smooth and ripe, fruit is black with a hint of mint. A very impressive wine. TA: Good acidity, some mint and cassis, sweet coffee or vanilla oak. Soft slightly sweet finish. 2. LUFTHANSA Sartori Amarone Corte Bra 2003, Valpolicella, Italy SCORE: 17.38 3. (JOINT) ASIANA AIRLINES Mortier Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 2004, France SCORE: 17.25
3. QANTAS Lusatia Park ‘Phi’ Pinot Noir, 2005 Yarra Valley, Australia SCORE: 17.25 4. SINGAPORE AIRLINES Castello di Brolio Chianti 2001, Tuscany, Italy SCORE: 16.88 5. (JOINT) EL AL Golan Heights Merlot Yarden 2002, Israel SCORE: 16.75 5. (JOINT) ASIANA AIRLINES Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte 2004, Bordeaux, France SCORE: 16.75


1. LUFTHANSA Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1997, France SCORE: 18.63 Judges’ verdict: TA: Mature, toasty nutty nose, complex, developed, toasty, refined, a truly lovely glass of fizz. JS: Open full perfumy nose with toasted maturity. Stylish and long, Tight floral citrus fruit, well integrated acid. 2. (JOINT) QANTAS / BRITISH AIRWAYS Charles Heidsieck Blancs des Millenaires, 1995, France
SCORE: 18.5
3. (JOINT) UNITED AIRLINES Pommery Grand Cru 1998, France SCORE: 17.5 3. (JOINT) SINGAPORE AIRLINES / EMIRATES Dom Perignon 1999, France SCORE: 17.5 4. (JOINT) TAM BRAZILIAN AIRLINES Drappier La Grande Sendree Vintage 2000, Aube, France SCORE: 17 4. (JOINT) AIR FRANCE Henriot Cuvee des Enchanteleurs 1995, France SCORE: 17 5. AMERICAN AIRLINES Pommery Brut, NV, France SCORE: 16.5


1. QATAR AIRWAYS Domaine Weinbach Clos Capucins Gewurztraminer, France SCORE: 18.5 Judges’ verdict: CM: Lovely aromatic, rose petal. TA: Candied fruits, citrus, not too sweet, fragrant, elegant, flavours with rose petal characters. 2. QANTAS Morris Old Premium Liqueur Muscat NV, Australia SCORE: 18 3. JAPAN AIRLINES Graham’s Tawny Port 30-Year-Old, Portugal SCORE: 17.5 4. ASIANA AIRLINES Port Sandeman 20-Year-Old Tawny Porto, Portugal SCORE: 17.37 5. (JOINT) GULF AIR Noble One 2004, De Bortoli, Australia SCORE: 16.75 5. (JOINT (LUFTHANSA) Westhofener Bergkloster 2006, Germany SCORE: 16.75



Winner: American Airlines Runners Up: Air France, Air New Zealand


Winner: Qantas Runners Up: Lufthansa, Asiana Airlines


Winner: Qantas Runners Up: Qatar Airways, British Airways, Lufthansa, Asiana Airlines


Winner: Air New Zealand Runner up: Qatar Airways
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