Alcohol on Flights – Why wine never tastes the same once you’ve flown it


A CHEEKY glass of wine might be the thing you enjoy most on a flight.

But the thing is, wine doesn’t travel well at all — flying may be wine’s worst enemy.

And that makes Roy Moorfield’s job very challenging.

Mr Moorfield is an international wine consultant with Cathay Pacific, and works to develop wines that are served mid-flight.

He told news.com.au there were two things about flying that worked against wine, whether it was that in-flight glass of plonk your enjoyed with your dinner, or the souvenir bottle you brought home in your suitcase.

The vibrations of the plane, and the pressurised cabin, could both seriously alter the flavour.

Mr Moorfield said when he started working with Cathay Pacific as its Australian wine consultant, he realised pretty quickly there was no point sampling wines before flying them as they tasted so different once they’d been in the air.

“When we started out, we used to do a pre-tasting of wine in Australia and we’d cut the samples down from about 600 to 200 and fly them to Hong Kong and taste them up there,” he told news.com.au.

“What we discovered was the wines we thought were the most suitable in Australia turned out to be among the least suitable when we tried them again in Hong Kong. And we thought, what’s going on here?

 “We realised the cabin atmosphere is about 40 per cent more dry in a good airline — it can be much more dry in other airlines — and we realised that affects the way you taste.

“It dries out the follicles in your nose, that goes to your olfactory gland, and that’s where you get the sense of smell — and what you smell affects what you taste.

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“Your nose isn’t as good as it could be, it’s not smelling as well as it could be, and that affects the wine. It dulls it somewhat.”

The cabin also emphasised bitterness of wine as well, Mr Moorfield said, so the challenge was to select a wine with a really overt aroma, a good fruit aroma and a good balance.

Cathay Pacific very carefully selects the wine that will be served on its flights.

Cathay Pacific very carefully selects the wine that will be served on its flights.Source:Supplied

“Now we fly all the samples into Hong Kong, and we taste them up there. And then we can say, this wine has the right balance and it should fly quite well,” he said.

As well as the conditions inside the cabin, Mr Moorfield said the micro-vibrations of the aircraft stressed wine and changed its flavour — or more specifically, disrupted the careful balance of acidity, tannins and fruit.

“You don’t feel the vibrations in your seats because your seats are made to be comfortable, but when the planes vibrate they shake up the wine,” he said.

“And the wine has flavour molecules, and those flavour molecules are either very tight, and withstand it, or it pulls them apart slightly, and the wine becomes quite dull.

“So you have the effect of the fruits being reduced, and that exposes the acidity and the tannin. So we have to find wines that have a better balance and can fly with those nice tight flavour molecules.

“We fly them and then taste them, and if they’d gotten through those rigours we can select them to fly.”

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Mr Moorfield said some varietals fared better than others — and if you’ve ever noticed how often you’re offered chardonnay on a flight, this was why.

“Pinot noir is very difficult, it’s very difficult to find one that flies well because it’s very fragile. We do find ones that work but we really have to hunt for them,” he said.

“Shiraz works very consistently because it’s got a lot of flavour and the tannins are slightly softer.

“The new modern style of cabernet sauvignon they’re making in Europe, which is more like the Australian version, has softer tannins and quite success too. Merlot is quite successful.

“Sauvignon blanc works, and chardonnay is probably the most consistently performing white. Rose works very well as well.”

The bad news is that souvenir bottle of vino you brought home from your holiday is unlikely to taste anything like it did when you sampled it at the cellar door.

Mr Moorfield said the wine could recover, so as soon as you get home, should put it aside and let it settle for about six months before opening it.

And as for the wine you’re served on a plane, Mr Moorfield said there were a couple of things you could do — or not do — to make the drinking experience more enjoyable.

First off, don’t be annoyed if your red is served cold.

“Red wines are loaded on the plane with the [refrigerated] white wines,” he said.

“If you get a red wine and pour it in the glass and it’s too cold, leave it for a few minutes because the plane atmosphere, and with the temperature, it will warm up quite quickly. It’s what the French call ‘chambré’ — letting it come to room temperature.”

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Mr Moorfield’s second tip was don’t bother swilling your wine — on a plane, there was no point.

“Swilling has got a bit out of control in restaurants too, I’ve noticed,” he said.

“All you need to do is give it a little spin, if you want to, which helps to release the flavour and aromatics.

“But in a plane because the air is being exchanged so quickly, at least, it is on a good airline, you just need to let it sit there and it’s done the job for you.

“Over-swilling fatigues the wine — it tastes flat.”

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