Features

Cellars in the Sky 2006 results

1 Mar 2007 by business traveller
Welcome to the results of Cellars in the Sky 2006, our awards for the best vintages served by airlines in Business and First Class. We have been running the awards since 1985 and were pleased to receive a record number of entries this year, with 35 airlines involved in the competition. Felicity Cousins talks to the experts about how they chose some of the winning wines. To decide the winners five judges, including a team from Wine and Spirits magazine, conducted the blind tasting sessions at the Hyatt Regency Churchill on Portman Square, and over two days they whittled the entries down to the winning selection. (For the full methodology see page 44.) The winners and runners up were announced at the Business Travel Show, London’s Earls Court on February 13, with the awards presented by wine expert Charles Metcalfe. Visitors to the Business Traveller stand at the show had the chance to take part in tasting sessions of the winning wines.

HOW AIRLINES BUY WINES

Every airline buys its wine in a different way, but there are common factors. Airlines (or the passengers they fly) get through a lot of wine. Air New Zealand calculates that it serves the equivalent of 10 Boeing 747s full of wine a year, which adds up to 4.92 million glasses of wine or 820,000 bottles; British Airways (BA) serves half a million cases of wine and 65,000 cases of champagne across all its cabins every year, while Lufthansa gets through 1.79 million bottles of red, 1.09 million bottles of white and 517,000 bottles of champagne, and Korean Air serves 60,000 cases (720,000 bottles). Qantas purchases some 1.5 million bottles of wine for its First and Business Class services, and serves 300-400 types of wine per year. Also constant is the need to ensure a consistent offering and supply. On long-haul routes, an airline obviously has to make sure it has supplies at both ends of the route to allow restocking for the return journey, and airlines take into account the routes too – for example, JAL changes its choices depending on the destination. But airlines also have different timelines for wine. BA changes its wine every couple of months and Korean Air every six to 12 months, whereas young airline Jet Airways (which won Best Newcomer) has kept its wine selection the same, and will change it as it expands onto new routes. Jet Airways UK general manager Emmanuel Menu says: “When we started two years ago, Indian wines weren’t well known, but we are considering them as our expansion continues internationally with new hubs in Asia, Canada and America.”

THE SELECTION PROCESS

Each airline has a different method, but most tastings are done blind. BA won a special award for consistency of wine across all cellars. Peter Nixson, BA’s wine and beverage manager, says: “Each time we purchase we will look to cover a 12-month period. We usually start with around 70-100 wines and then have a short list of about six. “It is only when we get down to that point that we start looking at the labels and the price and whether we think a particular label gives more cachet than the other. It is quality-driven.” Lufthansa also selects its wine by blind tastings, with the team trying up to 50 wines each time. Uwe Hauke, head of in-flight service, says: “We don’t choose by its colour or its name. It is important to have a fair competition so we serve wines no one else knows.” Qantas selects its wine quarterly, with a blind tasting of around 100 wines. Peter Nixon, wine and beverage programme manager for Qantas (not to be confused with Peter Nixson of BA), also has the job of introducing “cutting-edge wines” which he feels will add to the variety and quality of the selection. At the same time, a winning wine may stay on the books. Singapore Airlines selects its wines twice a year but food and beverage manager Hermann Freidanck says: “We won Best First Class White so we will try and get more of the same for next year if the same vintage comes in.” Air New Zealand (ANZ) won Best Business Class Wine Cellar and Most Original Business Class Wine list. Jim Harre, one of ANZ’s three wine consultants and retired in-flight service director, says: “We are a small country and as such we write to every winery asking them to submit wine twice a year for a tasting.” The airline only serves New Zealand wines (with the exception of Business Class, where French champagne, Spanish sherry and Portuguese port are served). The tasting is done blind and the tasters are looking for how a wine might behave in an airline environment. But airlines also act on instinct – for example, JAL announced last month that it will be introducing Aruga Branca Clareza 2005, from the Japanese Koshu grape, during 2007 in Business Class and two others from local varieties in first. This was decided after positive feedback from a trial period last year.

THE IMPORTANCE OF WINE

Jet Airways’ Emmanuel Menu explains the importance of serving quality wine on board. “We can’t offer the best product in the seat and IFE, and the best service and staff, and then serve bad wine,” he says. “It is part of the whole flying experience.” Peter Nixson of BA agrees: “When you buy your ticket, food and drink is maybe the sixth thing you consider, but once you are standing at the aircraft door it is probably the second thing on your mind. Particularly when you have frequent flyers – if all the elements are the same as the other airlines it is about ensuring that the ambience of the flight is correct.”

A CELLAR IN THE SKY

But what makes a high-quality airline wine? One of the aspects the airline tasters think about when choosing their wine is what it will taste like at 36,000ft. Different conditions alter a wine’s flavour and the pressurised cabin, acceleration and low air humidity on an aircraft can accelerate this process. But as Tim Atkin, one of the judges, points out: “It is you that is affected as much as the wine.” Uwe Hauke of Lufthansa explains how the in-flight conditions can affect the wine. “The plane’s acceleration means that the body has to work harder and taste is affected, so sugar and carbohydrates taste less strong and tannins and acids are intensified. Cabin pressure and low air humidity (9 percent as opposed to 65 to 85 percent on the ground) also weaken the sense of smell. So these two points lead to our wine selection: the wine must have an intensive aroma, mature acidity, rounded tannins and above all, a full body.” So if you have a wine with a very high tannin content, the stringency of the tannin is more pronounced, whereas higher acidity will make your mouth feel juicy and will seem quite refreshing. Jim Harre of ANZ says: “A classic example is ‘volatile acidity’, particularly in Pinot Noir and dessert wines. In small amounts this can be attractive, but as soon as you get over a threshold then it actually comes to the detriment of the wine.” ANZ won Best Business Class Red with Escarpment Martinborough Pinot Noir 2004. Tim Atkin described it as “a lovely, fragrant New Zealand Pinot Noir with lots of soft, fragrant, supple and juicy fruit. Just the sort of thing I’d like to drink in the air”. While flying may affect wine over time, Peter Nixson doesn’t believe the effect is immediate. “I am a firm believer that the best wine at ground level is going to be the best at 36,000 feet,” he says. “It is true that dehydration and depressurisation of the cabin affect you but it doesn’t happen straight away. It only starts to affect you after about three or four hours and you do most eating and drinking in the first couple of hours.” Whatever the rights and wrongs of the arguments, most business travellers will agree that the commitment of airlines to the quality of their wines is one of the bonuses of frequent flying. And at Business Traveller we are pleased to be able to recognise that dedication through the latest round of our annual awards.

The TASTERS

CM = Charles Metcalfe, co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge DS = Derek Smedley MW, co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge TA = Tim Atkin MW, wine columnist for The Observer and co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge PM = Peter McCombie MW, restaurant wine consultant

THE METHODOLOGY

An airline with both Business and First Class products could enter an example each from its lists of sparkling, red and white, as well as a fortified/sweet for both of the classes (eight wines in total). For each wine type entered, we needed four bottles. This was partly to insure against corked or oxidised examples, and partly because if a wine was successful in the first day’s tastings, it went through to the next round, and a new example was needed. Any wines unused at the end of the competition were sold, with the proceeds going to charity. We asked airlines to enter wines that were widely available on their network. In addition we asked for wine menus, and also food menus to see how the wines suited the foods being served. Each airline could also enter a “wild card” — an example from its wine list of which it was particularly proud, and which it thought was representative of the flair exhibited in its list. This year the wild card was given a separate award, in addition to the judges taking it into account for the airlines’ overall entry. The scoring is marked out of 80.

BUSINESS CLASS

BEST WHITE

1. Korean Air Pierre Sparr Gewurztraminer Mambourg 2002, France SCORE 71.5 JUDGES' VERDICT: Lovely lychee and rose-petal nose. Classic. Slightly off-dry palate and a lovely, fragrant and balanced wine. (CM) 2. Qantas Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2004, Australia SCORE 70 3. (Joint) Thai Airways Saint Aubin Premier Cru Les Charmias Michel Picard 2003, France SCORE 68 Japan Airlines Wurzburg Abtsleite Riesling 2005 Kabinett, Germany SCORE 68 4. Icelandair Clay Station Viognier 2005, California SCORE 67.5 5. (Joint) British Airways Finca Las Moras Reserva Chardonnay 2004, Argentina SCORE 67 Cathay Pacific Framingham Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2005, New Zealand SCORE 67

BEST RED

1. Air New Zealand Escarpment Martinborough Pinot Noir 2004, New Zealand SCORE 72.5 JUDGES' VERDICT: A lovely fragrant New Zealand Pinot Noir. Lots of soft, supple, juicy fruit. Just the sort of thing to drink in the air. (TA) 2. Gulf Air Domaine Tournon Mount Benson Shiraz 2003, M Chapoutier, Australia SCORE 72 3. Iberia Baron de Ley Gran Reserva 1996, Spain SCORE 70 4. Lan Santa Helena 2003, Chile SCORE 68 5. Singapore Airlines Chateau Marquis de Terme 1998, France SCORE 67.5

BEST SPARKLING

1. Qantas Charles Heidseck Mis En Cave 2001, France SCORE 70 JUDGES' VERDICT: Slightly sweet praline flavours and quite rich with some breadth. Good concentration and length. (PM) 2. Air France Bollinger NV, France SCORE 68 3. (Joint) KLM / Korean Air / Japan Airlines Piper Heidsieck NV, France SCORE 66 4. Emirates Perrier Jouet Grand Brut NV, France SCORE 65 5. (Joint) Lan Henriot NV, France SCORE 64.5 Jet Airways Dom Perignon 1998, France SCORE 64.5

BEST FORTIFIED OR SWEET

1. Lufthansa Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage 2000, Portugal SCORE 71.5 JUDGES' VERDICT: Sweet and inviting plummy flavours. The palate is plummy and ripe with hints of almonds and firm tannins. Good acidity. Bright fruit and firm, slightly spirity. (CM) 2. (Joint) Qantas Cookoothama Botrytis Semillon 2005, Australia SCORE 67.5 Singapore Airlines Dow Late Bottled Port 2001, Portugal SCORE 67.5 3. (Joint) Finnair Chateau Guiraud 1er Cru 2000, France SCORE 66.5 Korean Air Tio Pepe Sherry NV, Spain SCORE 66.5 Emirates Warres Port LBV 2000, Portugal SCORE 66.5 4. (Joint) Gulf Air De Bortoli Noble One 2003, Australia SCORE 66 American Airlines Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port 1998, Portugal SCORE 66 5. British Airways Warres LBV Port 1995, Portugal SCORE 65.5

BEST BUSINESS CARD WILD CARD

1. Finnair Niepoort 20 years Tawny SCORE 74 JUDGES' VERDICT: Rich fruit-cake character with a nutty edge. Lovely silky and smooth palate with layers of spice, dried fruit, nuts and ginger. Very, very good. (PM) 2. United Airlines Selbach Oster Riesling 2004, Germany SCORE 69 3. Air New Zealand Cottage Block Marlborough Noble Riesling 2002, New Zealand SCORE 68 4. British Airways Domaine du Pere Pape Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2004, France SCORE 62.5 5. Icelandair D’Arenberg Shiraz McLaren Vale 2003, Australia SCORE 57

FIRST CLASS

BEST WHITE

1. Singapore Airlines Urziger Wurzgaten Riesling Spatlese 2004, Germany SCORE 74 JUDGES' VERDICT: Sweet fruit, great ripeness and real elegance. This wine has a great freshness. (DS) 2. American Airlines Sileni Sauvignon Blanc 2005, New Zealand SCORE 69.5 3. El Al Blanc du Castel Jerusalem Haute Judée, Israel SCORE 65 4. United Airlines Schlumberger Pinot Gris 2002, France SCORE 64.5 5. Lufthansa Kiedrich Gräfenberg 2004, Germany SCORE 63

BEST RED

1. (Joint) Japan Airlines / Qatar Château Pichon Longueville Baron 1998, France SCORE 72 JUDGES' VERDICT: Soft and aromatic. Lots of flavour and fruit. Serious, fleshy and complex, this will age. (TA) 2. Korean Air Chateau Lascombes 1999, France SCORE 67.5 3. Qantas Clonakilla Canberra Shiraz-Viognier 2005, Australia SCORE 67 4. South African Airways Anura Syrah-Mourvedre Reserve 2003, South Africa SCORE 66 5. Emirates Chateau Palmer 1997, France SCORE 65.5

BEST SPARKLING

1. Asiana Airlines Taittinger Comte de Champagne 1996, France SCORE 73 JUDGES' VERDICT: Flowery fragrance, with some good fruit balance and length with ripeness at the back. Fresh. (DS) 2. Lufthansa Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1997, France SCORE 68 3. (Joint) Japan Airlines / Lan Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1995, France SCORE 67 4. (Joint) British Airways Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires1995, France SCORE 66 United Airlines Pommery Grand Cru 1995, France SCORE 66 5. American Airlines Piper-Heidsieck NV, France SCORE 65.5

BEST FORTIFIED OR SWEET

1. British Airways Warre’s 1988 Colheita, Portugal SCORE 73 JUDGES' VERDICT:  Savoury, with fig flavours. A creamy palate and figgy, mature and gentle. A really perfect port for drinking in the air. (CM) 2. American Airlines Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port 1998, Portugal SCORE 71 3. Lufthansa Riesling Beerenauslese Schweicher Annaberg 2005, Germany SCORE 69 4. (Joint) Gulf Air De Bortoli Noble One 2003, Australia SCORE 65.5 Asiana Airlines Blandy’s 10-year-old Malmsey Madeira, Portugal SCORE 65.5 5. (Joint) Singapore Airlines Graham 20-year-old Tawny Port, Portugal SCORE 64.5 Lan Graham’s Port 2000, Portugal SCORE 64.5

BEST FIRST CLASS WILD CARD

1. (Joint) British Airways St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 2002, Australia SCORE 71.5 JUDGES' VERDICT: Ripe on the nose and a good depth of fruit. Has some complexity. A lovely balance and ripeness. (DS) American Airlines Lustau La Plaza Vieja Amontillado, Spain SCORE 71.5 JUDGES' VERDICT: Subtle nutty flavours that are complex, and some forest aromas too. A lovely, stylish wine that’s intense in flavour. Long finish and very good. (PM) 2. Qatar Airways Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir 2004, New Zealand SCORE 65.5 3. (Joint) Japan Airlines Vina Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve, Chile SCORE 63.5 Qantas Katnook Estate Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 SCORE 63.5 4. United Airlines Selbach-Oster Riesling 2004, Germany SCORE 61.5 5. Cathay Pacific Chateau Lynch Bages 2001, France SCORE 61

OVERALL AWARDS

BEST BUSINESS CLASS CELLAR

Winner Air New Zealand Runners up Qantas Thai Airways Jet Airways / Air France Korean Air

BEST FIRST CLASS CELLAR

Winner American Airlines Runners up British Airways Singapore Airlines United Airlines Lufthansa

MOST ORIGINAL BUSINESS CLASS WINE LIST

Winner Air New Zealand Runners up SN Brussels Finnair

MOST ORIGINAL FIRST CLASS WINE LIST

Winner Qantas Runners up Qatar Airways Asiana Airlines

CONSISTENCY OF WINES ACROSS BUSINESS AND FIRST CLASS

Winner British Airways Runners Up Qantas Thai Airways Singapore Airlines Korean Air

SPECIAL AWARD 2006

Winner Taittinger

BEST NEWCOMER

Winner Jet Airways

BEST AIRLINE ALLIANCE

1. Oneworld 2. Star Alliance 3. Sky Team

THE ENTRANTS

Air Canada, Air France, Air New Zealand, American Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Bmi, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, CSA Czech Airlines, Delta, El Al, Emirates, Finnair, Gulf Air, Iberia, Icelandair, Japan Airlines, Jet Airways, KLM, Korean Air, Lan, Lufthansa, Malev, Maxjet, Qantas, Qatar Airways, SAS, Singapore Airlines, SN Brussels, South African Airways, Swiss International Airlines, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic.
Loading comments...

Search Flight

See a whole year of Reward Seat Availability on one page at SeatSpy.com

Business Traveller February 2024 edition
Business Traveller February 2024 edition
Be up-to-date
Magazine Subscription
To see our latest subscription offers for Business Traveller editions worldwide, click on the Subscribe & Save link below
Polls