Thursday, August 15, 2013

Q & A with Andrea Robinson Delta’s Master Sommelier

This story was first published on Forbes Travel Guide.

While travelers often visit cities in search of good wine, now you can sample many regional selections before your plane has landed in your desired destination. Although the high altitude creates challenges, airlines are getting more creative with their in-flight offerings by working with star chefs to create dishes that pair with wines selected by sommeliers for optimum enjoyment at 30,000 feet.

Delta is one such carrier that’s upping its game. It’s enlisted the help of Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson, one of only 18 women in the world to hold that title in addition to three James Beard Awards. I talked to Robinson about her work with Delta’s Winemaker Series and what makes a great in-flight wine program.

What are the challenges that face the wine experience at 30,000 feet?
Your senses are dulled at altitude, making it difficult to appreciate the complex scents and flavors wine has to offer. In addition, the lower atmospheric pressure — versus tasting on land — means all of those flavor molecules are jetting past your sensory receptors so fast, you miss a lot.

Given the conditions, what types of wines do best at high altitude? Are blends favored over single varieties?
That’s the art — choosing wines with enough expression and presence on the palate to overcome those conditions, without seeming out of balance. I find both varietals and blends perform well — the trick is in choosing the right ones. Pinot noir is surprisingly successful; given its subtlety, I might have thought otherwise. Rioja Gran Reserva is another big-hit red. Argentinian Torrontés and sauvignon blanc are well-suited whites. You have to be careful with lots of new oak and lots of tannin.

What trends do you see emerging for in-flight programs?
Featuring specific wines as opposed to making it an after-thought, even in economy, seems to be on the rise. I think in-flight is following on-the-ground trends in that customers are more and more open to trying wines they haven’t heard of, as well as up-and-comer grapes and regions.

You consult for Delta on its wine program. What does that entail?
I work closely with our chefs, Michelle Bernstein and Michael Chiarello, and with the leaders in in-flight service choosing the wines for Business Elite, international economy and our wines for purchase in economy. Delta’s Winemaker Series launched last fall and features ultra-premium California white and red wines from iconic labels, up-and-comers and authentic family wineries with a story. For example, we featured Merry Edwards’ sauvignon blanc and Heidi Barrett’s La Sirena syrah this past spring and over Mother’s Day — two women-made wines from two of California’s most prominent wine women.

What would be your ideal in-flight food-and-wine pairing?
Spanish Manchego cheese and Rioja Gran Reserva, or French champagne and aged Gouda.

Photos Courtesy of Delta Airlines Inc.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Top Five In-Flight Wine Programs

This story was first published on Forbes Travel Guide

There are plenty of perks that come with a business class seat, but one of the trendiest may just be a world-class wine list. Now, you can swirl, sniff and sip fine wines hand selected by sommeliers for maximum enjoyment at 30,000 feet. Sit back and relax with these five carriers that offer top in-flight wine programs featuring exceptional wines from their home country and around the world.

Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson taste tests every wine selected for Delta’s Winemaker Series at altitude to ensure the flavor and experience is as good in-flight as it is on the ground. Wines served in Business Elite include ultra-premium California labels such as Joseph Drouhin Saint-Veran and El Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva, which are paired with star chef Michael Chiarello’s seasonal menu of dishes like pancetta-wrapped beef tenderloin.

Air New Zealand
Awarded the 2012 Cellar in the Sky award for Best-Presented Business Class Wine List, Air New Zealand provides an in-flight wine guide to Business Class passengers that details the country’s wine regions and wineries, along with profiles of the airline’s wine consultants. Pairings showcase the unique flavors of New Zealand (local lamb, beef or salmon) paired with wines such as Grasshopper Rock 2010 Pinot Noir and Cloudy Bay 2004 Chardonnay. Post meal, passengers can hit the sweet spot with a glass of Forrest Botrytised 2011 Riesling (each month features a different roster with select wines on each flight).

Finnair has a long history of earning accolades for their Business Class wine selections. The most recent prize, from the annual Cellars in the Sky awards, went to the airline’s port wine selection, Niepoort Colheita (1998, Douro, Portugal). While Finnair focuses on delivering the finest wine and food parings, they also aim to select wines that can be enjoyed for their own merits. Standouts include Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut Non-Vintage Champagne, San Polo Brunello di Montalcino 2005, and Gerard Bertrand Reserve Especiale Chardonnay from the legendary soils of the Languedoc in the South of France.

Air Canada 
Air Canada believes in supporting the Canadian wine industry and features Canadian wines as part of their onboard wine program. In 2012, more than 70,000 bottles were purchased from Canadian wineries. Fly Air Canada now in its Executive Class and you’ll have the chance to sip a Riesling produced by Henry of Pelham from the Niagara region.

In a special partnership with the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society, Canadian airline Westjet’s new regional carrier, Encore, is highlighting wines of the Okanagan Valley. This summer passengers will be offered wines exclusive to the Okanagan region, including Gray Monk Estate, Perseus Winery, and Blasted Church Vineyards on July flights and Road 13 Vineyards, See Ya Later Ranch, and Inniskillin Okanagan Estate Winery, on August flights.


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