How leading sommeliers are raising the (wine) bar at 30,000 feet.


Like food, wine loses a lot of its charms after takeoff. Pressurized, low-humidity cabin air dulls our olfactory sense, robbing us of our ability to assess taste, aroma, and balance. And logistical concerns such as safety and storage space make it impossible for airlines to replicate the environment of an enoteca. (Take stemware, or the lack thereof, for example.)

Despite these difficulties, however, a few enterprising carriers are trying. The latest is Delta, which enlisted Andrea Robinson, author and dean of wine studies at New York’s French Culinary Institute, to reinvent its wine program. She one-upped the competition by conducting an in-flight tasting to determine the wines most suited for high altitudes. The prevalence of New World vintages—think Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand—on Delta’s new wine list reflects both current trends and the advantage of robust wines in flight. (California labels dominate as well, thanks to the ripe, fruity quality of Napa Valley grapes.) In another innovation, Robinson’s Local Flavor series, in which she shares thoughts on food and wine, has helped integrate wine into Delta’s in-flight entertainment.

On Air France, which recruited the celebrated Olivier Poussier (named best sommelier in the world by the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale in 2000) to design its menu—French wines are still the only options. Lufthansa has gone global with labels from Greece and China. “The idea is to encourage a more adventurous approach,” Lufthansa master of wine Markus Del Monego explains. He has also been studying the effects of plane velocity and flight stress on the palate—research that should help to bring the taste of in-flight wine down to earth.