During a flight, it’s not just the plane that reaches a higher elevation – our palates do, too. To meet in-flight expectations, each wine is specifically tasted to keep factors like altitude, aridity, and air pressure into account. And according to Debra, robust flavours always come out on top.
When it comes to in-flight wines, “we must always favour fuller-flavoured wines,” Debra says. “Many classic wines are too dry and austere for in-air pleasure, and we must sadly pass them by. We seek wines with generosity, supported by silky or velvety palates and long, flavourful finishes, so that passengers can enjoy them to the fullest extent.”
To get the most out of every sip, Debra recommends Chateau Branaire-Ducru St. Julien Bordeaux (France, 2008) – a vintage that “delivers luscious dark fruit and multi-dimensional flavours with finely etched tannins,” gushes Debra. “Produced in the cooler 2008 season, look for restrained elegance and balance.”
Meanwhile, white wine lovers looking for a robust pour should consider trying the Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis 1er Cru “Montée de Tonnerre” 2018, a highly sought-after Chablis among diehard wine enthusiasts. “This crisp white pairs well with a variety of foods, including seafood, poultry, and light pasta dishes, but is also delicious on its own as an aperitif,” Debra shares.
Millions of passengers fly with Cathay each year – and many of them love to enjoy a glass (or two) of wine while they’re making their way to their destination. Cathay’s wine supply has to keep up with this high demand.
“Most passengers would be surprised to realise the volume of wines required for an airline,” Debra tells us. “When it comes to fine wines – bottles that wine enthusiasts collect and enjoy – wineries do not have a large supply, so each year we battle to source even small quantities for our passengers.”
To meet travellers’ high expectations, Cathay cultivates long-standing, positive relationships with suppliers around the world. “In many cases, we are already the winery or champagne house’s largest customer,” says Debra.
Some of the world’s finest wines were created through international collaborations between creative wineries and winemakers.
You can get a taste of the fruits of teamwork with the Eroica Riesling (Columbia Valley, USA, 2017) from Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr Loosen. “This award-winning Riesling is a collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle, one of the oldest and most respected wineries in Washington State, and Dr. Loosen, a renowned winery from Germany's Mosel region,” Debra explains. “Expect a juicy peach, nectarine and citrusy palate accented with jasmine flourishes.”
Prefer a nice red? Try Quinta do Crasto’s Roquette & Cazes (Douro, Portugal, 2015) – the result of a joint venture between the Roquette family and the prominent Cazes family of Chateau Lynch-Bages, Bordeaux. Of this collaborative creation, Debra shares: “Situated on the right bank of the Douro River, between Régua and Pinhão, Quinta do Crasto has a privileged location in the Duoro Valley’s Cima Corgo. The estate is owned by the Roquette family and produces exceptional Douro and Porto wines, as its grapes are sourced from some of the oldest and most historic vines in the region.”
When it comes to crafting a final wine selection, panelists also have to consider the source.
Each Cathay destination, like each wine on the list, offers something unique. To whisk passengers away on a memorable journey, panelists select destination-specific wines that evoke a sense of adventure, in addition to familiar classics that offer a hint of home and nostalgia.
“We strive our utmost to provide passengers with the classic wines they love while providing a companion selection of wines in keeping with the route’s destination, such as Californian wines for flights landing in San Francisco, Australian wines for Sydney and Italian wines for Milan,” Debra elaborates.
Just as seasoned travellers long to venture off the beaten path when they explore the world, the Cathay wine panel also looks for hidden gems when it comes to wine. “We are eager to introduce wines from lesser-known regions and trendy styles, such as wines from Austrian or Georgia or eye-catching winemakers,” Debra says.
One of Debra’s favourite “secret treasures” is the 2016 Bründlmayer Riesling Qualitätswein from the Kamptal, one of Austria’s flagship wine-producing regions. “Weingut Bründlmayer is a highly esteemed winery in the Kamptal, known for its commitment to traditional winemaking methods and its focus on showcasing the unique terroir of the region,” she adds.
Debra also recommends a 2018 Riesling produced by Fritz Haag – “a renowned winery located in the Mosel Valley of Germany,” she explains. “The winery is known for its high-quality Riesling wines, which express the unique character of the Mosel region's steep slopes, slate soils, and cool climate.”
So, how exactly do wine experts go about choosing the ideal in-flight wines, anyway? According to Debra, it’s a hands-on – and delicious – process.
“To better understand the magic in the air, our team once tasted a selection of wines eight times within various stages of a flight day,” Debra says. “We began tasting just after dawn in the airport lounge, followed by tastings on board before take-off, in-air and upon landing in Osaka. A few hours later, the exercise was repeated in reverse, starting in the Osaka lounge and finishing at the Pier in Kai Tak, close to midnight.”
Although it was a long day, Debra and her team were thrilled to test the wines from the passengers’ perspective. It was a chance to embody travellers’ experiences and explore how their tastebuds might react in a wide variety of on-ground and in-flight settings.
Still, the tasting process isn’t all subjective. “Along the way,” explains Debra, “the cabin pressure, airflow and temperature were all measured with special instruments to understand the variables and their impact.”
As it turns out, selecting the world’s greatest in-flight wines is a science as well as an art.