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Business class airline wine: Keep that airsickness bag handy

on 24/02/11 at 5:51 pm

Booze News

Dan Berger is a professional wine writer who flies so often that he usually drinks for free at 36,000 feet. His beverage of choice? Heineken.

The problem with wine on most U.S. airlines, Berger said, is that it is bad, terrible, pitiful. And any frequent business traveler knows the importance of a fine beverage while passing hour after hour in the skies, especially after a few grueling days of work.

“No self-respecting wine lover would drink anything on there,” said Berger, of Santa Rosa, Calif., who writes the weekly Vintage Experiences newsletter. “The airline industry for 40 or more years has been overwhelmingly cheap with wine. If it’s barely passable, they’ll take it.”

In its annual Cellars in the Sky competition — an appraisal of wines served in business- and first-classes worldwide — Business Traveller magazine recently awarded American Airlines first place in the “Business Class White” category. But every other top honor went to a non-U.S. airline. Qantas and Air New Zealand led the way, which didn’t surprise Berger.

“Those airlines consider the quality of their wine a point of pride,” he said.

Here, less so. There are two central problems, Berger said. U.S. airlines tend to serve wine from quarter-size bottles that might sit for months. Removing oxygen from those kinds of vessels is difficult, leading to quicker spoilage.

Even more essential, he said, is what’s in the bottle. Wineries tend to save their least palatable product for those little bottles. Hence, it’s cheap. Airlines commonly buy those bottles for about 50 cents each, then sell them for $6.

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