· Spirits in the Skies
Along with a glass of Piper-Heidsieck champagne, Premier Business passengers are handed a Wine Guide when settling into their seats. The one we snagged covered the airline’s wines from August 2010 to January 2011.
· And the Judges Are…
Next, we are introduced to the mysterious wine consultants who choose the wines:
Jim Harrée, Kate Radburnd and John Belsham are Air NZ's current consultants, all of whom hold places of prominence in the New Zealand wine industry. Harrée actually began as an Air New Zealand flight attendants, which he did for 30 years; he's also the creator of the Air New Zealand Wine Club and the Flight Attendant Wine Education Programme.
The consultants sift through over 800 wines during days of blind tasting to select the best for general excellence as well as the added criterion of suitability for enjoyment in the air, and that they reflect the quintessential New Zealand characteristics of purity of fruit, vibrant expression, and elegance.
· Our In-Flight Flights
The wine guide we received contained entries for 12 white wines and 8 reds, and 2 dessert wines, along with tasting notes on each of them, and in the back, a brief synopsis and photos of each winery represented. On each of our flights, the airline served about three whites, two reds, and one of the dessert wines, so flying from LAX to London Heathrow then back again, we were treated to a total of seven different wines since there was one overlap.
On the outbound flight, we started with the three whites, including a classic 2009 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from Hunters Wines that was crisp to the point of tartness with citrus and tropical fruits. Just the thing to get our palate buzzing. Then we went ahead and had a sip of Clifford Bay Estate 2007 Riesling, also from Marlborough. This wine was a pale golden color and had the usual hints of apricot and peach, along with fresh lime. Perfect for an aperitif. For our smoked salmon appetizer, however, we went with the more full-bodied Lake Chalice 2008 Chardonnay from Marlborough’s Wairau Valley because of its creamy richness and nutty oak flavors that still didn’t overwhelm its notes of nectarine.
On our return flight we tried two different whites. A Coppers Creek Swamp Reserve Chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay that was a greenish-yellow color, and whose taste was an explosion of grapefruit and lemon flavors tempered by more graceful oak. They also poured us a Rockburn 2009 Pinot Gris from Central Otago that was floral and full of juicy pear, though also light and acidic enough to be very food friendly.
On both our flights, we had red meat for a main course, so went for the red wines as well. Outbound we tried Framingham 2008 Pinot Noir from Marlborough, which was great for a meat dish thanks to plum overtones, and earthy underlying flavors of mushroom and oak. Then we moved on to the purplish 2007 Syrah from Hawke’s Bay’s Matariki Wines, with its signature peppery bouquet and chocolaty-blackberry notes, along with a dash of allspice.
For the return trip, we had a cinnamony taste of the Gibbston Valley 2008 Pinot Noir from Central Otago, which had a healthy burst of spicy alcohol to before settling on the famous Craggy Range Bordeaux blend from Hawke’s Bay, which was much more reserved on the palate, like a French-style wine, with its flavors of blackberry and chalky minerality that paired perfectly with a rich beef dish.
For dessert, we just had just a sip (we swear!) of the Forrest 2007 Botrytised Riesling, which was a delightful mix of honey, citrus and spice. By the time we finished, you can tell we were certainly ready for a snooze.
· Wine Loungin'
The airline’s investment in the wine program even extends to the service in the airline’s branded Koru Lounges. During a recent sojourn in their LAX lounge, we noticed that, in addition to stocking a full bar of New Zealand wines, the lounge was highlighting two wines for the month by placing bottles of them along with glasses at various stations strategically placed throughout the lounge. The two in particular during our visit were wines from Culley: a 2008 Pinot Noir from the Marlborough appellation, and a Cabernet-Malbec blend from Waiheke Island.
Just in the general lounge selection of vino were included some other interesting names from the island nation including a Maude 2008 Pinot Gris, 2007 Chardonnay from Muddy Water in Waipara, Cable Bay Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, and Alpha Domus 2007 “Pilot” Chardonnay—a fairly broad representation of New Zealand’s well known and vastly expanding repertoire of middle- to high-end white varietals, and a cross-section of the various regions that produce them from the largest and most well known down to newer, up-and-coming appellations.
Not only that, but if you do manage to make it through a tasting of the entire selection during a visit (or over the course of a couple trips, if you’re more moderate), then you won’t have long to wait until the airline brings in an entirely new menu of wines since they change up their cellar between four and five times a year.
· Kiwi Conclusion
It’s a small nation, both in terms of size and population, with a wine industry that is burgeoning but still young, so New Zealand doesn’t yet have the depth or breadth of wines of other countries. That said, it produces an astonishing variety of vinos for its size, and Air New Zealand does a fantastic job at promoting the industry and its many talented winemakers. Our one quibble is that the crew wasn’t able to tell us much about what they were pouring, or to suggest pairings, but since we had the airline’s in-flight wine guide, we still felt like we were in good hands.
[All photos: Eric Rosen for Jaunted]