~In the late 1970s, United Airlines had a domestic flight program called “Unlimited Wine Flights.” You paid a dollar for the first 375 ml bottle of wine and then you could drink as many more of them as you could handle, for free.
~Luckily, I used to fly a lot to the West Coast in those days, and so I always flew United.
~Luckier still, the wine was fairly decent, Inglenook or Beringer; it was in the days just before the two wine companies went, well, suffice to say that they went.
~What I would give for those days of unlimited wine flights, those days when airlines seemed to have wanted our business, those times when flying was an adventure rather than a necessary shoeless cattle call, and without toothpaste too!
~These days, to go along with the peanuts that you might or might not get on a plane, you are usually stuck with some of the worst wines in the universe. I’ve come to avoiding even asking for wine, but the airlines have even subverted that effort by serving what tastes like surplus ginger ale.
I have been told things are different if one flies in what used to be called “First Class” but is now called the more politically correct “Business Class,” first class having the taint of the caste to it. I have yet to fly in that lofty class, forgive the pun, so I can’t say for sure. But I have tried some of the wines offered in Business Class, and I can say that judging by the wines I’ve encountered, it doesn’t seem to be any better in the front of the cabin.
~Over the past few years, I have been called upon to serve as a wine judge for a business traveler oriented magazine. The wines are submitted for judging by various airlines; we judge them semi-blind, and then the magazine prints the results of what we determine are the best.
~I say that we judge the wines semi-blind because we are given the name of either the varietal or region for each wine. We get to judge them within their class. In my view, a truly blind tasting would require that we are told nothing about the wines other than that they are grouped by class. I should point out that I am in a minority with that view—wouldn’t you know…
~This year’s judging took place just a few days ago in New York City.
~First, let me say that when I judge wine I apply my technical training to the task. I try hard not to let my wine preferences influence how I judge what is before me. In other words, I first look for the technical things rather than the hedonistic things about a wine–the technical gets scoring preference.
Not all, but many of the judges—writers, retailers, and sundry wine professionals—do not have winemaking training and so their view of the technical stuff often differs from people with my view.
That’s why I often find myself explaining to some of the judges, as I was explaining the other day, things like “that sauerkraut smell could mean a bad malolactic event took place,” or “that rubber smell could indicate reduction,” and so on.
At the recent judging of the airline submitted wines, I had many occasions to say such things.
~There were five or six panels of judges. The panel I was assigned to judged some of the worst wines I had ever been asked to evaluate, from that sauerkraut smell to vinaigrette, and almost every conceivable technical flaw in-between.
~I was told that all the wines we judged are served in Business Class. I wish I had also been told the name of the airlines so that I would not only avoid Business Class but those airlines.
~The experience made me feel that airline wine buyers ought to be arrested for grand larceny and maybe even attempted murder.
~Our panel comprised seven judges. We judged 23 separate wines within six classes. We generally agreed that the wines were mostly horrid. We also generally agreed that the best of the 23 was a white blended wine from Turkey; it had a slight whiff of petroleum common to Riesling, and its fruit/acid balance was solid, but its body was slightly thin. I scored the wine 15 out of 20 points.
The 20-point scoring system is tight. In this case, the maximum points for appearance is 2, for aroma is 6, and for overall impression is 12.
My score for the Turkish wine was 2, 5, and 8.
~This Turkish delight came as a wonderful surprise, beating the 22 other wines that came from big-gun countries like France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Chile, and so on.
~Unfortunately, we are not told the names of the wines and so I’ll have to wait until the results are printed to find out if I can find that Turkish wine anywhere in New York State.
~For now, I’ll stick to my guns and drink no wine served on airplanes, which I suppose is just as well since when there is any, the food stinks too. Why do we pay them for the privilege to put up with that kind of treatment?
~Oh, right: there are no tunnels under the oceans and there are no ships that can get us across in a few hours.
~Talk about a captive market!
May, 2007. All Rights Reserved.