Why Food and Wine Taste Different on Airplanes
If you've ever ordered a glass of wine while flying (and who hasn't, really?) you've probably noticed that at 30,000 feet, things taste somewhat... different. And there's a perfectly good explanation for it.
When flying at cruising altitude, cabin pressure and low humidity combine to dull certain flavors and heighten others. It's akin to eating a delicious meal with a giant fan blowing on you, explains Andrea Robinson, a Master Sommelier who selects wines for Delta. Drinkers will still get the basic salty, sweet, bitter, and sour tastes, but the more subtle flavors that people sense from smelling, like strawberry and cherry, are decidedly difficult to pick out.
"We try and use wines that have a fair amount of fruit because that's the flavor that's going to be the most diminished," says Jon Bonné, a wine writer who chooses wines for JetBlue's Mint cabin.
After picking the brains of several airline sommeliers, we gathered a list of tips to make sure that no matter where you're flying, you'll get a glass of wine you like.
Don't forget to hydrate.
Another major factor working against your palate: lack of humidity in that recycled air. Fliers are often dehydrated, and anything very tannic further dries out the palate—which will feel like sucking on a tea bag, Bonné explains. Ken Chase, American Airline's wine expert, recommends drinking three glasses of water for every glass of wine.
Go for Pinot Noir, Rioja, or Malbec.
Delta's Robinson favors Rioja from Spain because the airline is able to source bottles that have had time to properly age, giving the wine a suede-like texture.
Pinot Noir is another good option, Chase says, because the grape's thin skin means fewer tannins for a silky, smooth wine. Malbec, known for its jammy fruit notes, is another solid choice.
Jeannie Cho Lee with Singapore Airlines suggests sticking with varietals where the fruit will shine through and warns against young wines aged in new oak. "These wines will leave your mouth parched, the tannins will be exaggerated, and the finish is often astringent," she says.
A wine flight is served United's Polaris business and first class
Beware of Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay
Though it might be refreshing on the ground, Italian Pinot Grigio can seem like lemony water in the air, Robinson says.
And while Chablis is fine, Bonné cautions that an oaked Chardonnay—which would taste mildly buttery on the ground—might read as movie-theater popcorn at cruising altitude.
Choose Champagne over prosecco
Look for Champagne or sparklers that are made in the traditional méthode champenoise, which results in tiny bubbles that are well-integrated into the wine and thought to diffuse more slowly under lower cabin pressure compared to many proseccos.
Let the wine rest
Galley space is cramped, making it difficult to store bottles at their ideal temperatures, and since sommeliers advise staff to err on the side of serving the wine cold, be sure to give your red a minute to warm up.
Fly competitive routes
You'll find the best wines on routes like New York to Paris or London Heathrow because airlines are trying to attract and keep customers willing to shell out for premium tickets. These routes tend to serve bigger-ticket wines and champagnes, Robinson says. On Air France, for example, the wines—like Champagne Krug Grande Cuvée—are selected by Paolo Basso, a Swiss/Italian sommelier who was named the best sommelier in the world in 2013.
Consider a gulf carrier
Earlier this year, it was reported that Emirates airline had spent upwards of $500 million to create the world's most high-end wine cellar in the sky. Emirates flyers can choose between a glass of Dom Pérignon, a Premier Grand Cru Classé from Château Figeac, or a highly prized Sauternes from Château d'Yquem. On Eithad, another top gulf carrier, travelers have been able to indulge in vintage Bollinger Champagne La Grande Année.
Do a tasting
United recently unveiled a new program on its Polaris business and first-class cabins that allows customers to craft their own wine flights. In Delta's premium cabins, many flight attendants have undergone special wine education, and are encouraged to offer curious customers tastes of various bottles. Since JetBlue's list includes wines from boutique producers or regions which guests might not be familiar, like the Finger Lakes in New York, they also encourage Mint customers to try before committing.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.