Wine Review: American Business Class Beijing To Dallas

OMAAT commenter Andrew M. is a frequent traveler and points/miles enthusiast as well as a knowledgeable wine expert, who weighed in on the great English sparkling wine debate a couple months ago. Because wine takes on a totally different flavor and complexity at 35,000 feet as opposed to sea level, Andrew M. has offered to share his insights as to maximizing your enjoyment of wine in flight; he’s also reviewed wine on a few different first class and business class legs for comparison. Enjoy this series, and thanks, Andrew M.!

Introduction And Selecting Wine On Airplanes
Wine Review: American Business Class Beijing To Dallas
Wine Review: American First Class Dallas To Madrid
Wine Review: Cathay Pacific First Class Frankfurt To Hong Kong
Conclusion And Bottom Line


Note from Andrew M.: Apologies for the picture quality – I only had my cell phone and I didn’t want to annoy the crew too much by taking multiple shots of the wine and slowing down meal service for others.

American Business Class Wine

American 88, PEK-DFW

First up is my flight in the old American Airlines business class product on the (in)famous WAS-PEK mistake fare.

Apologies in advance that I did not capture a picture of American’s wine list here — I accidentally deleted it! However, the wine list read as follows:

Champagne Dangin
Silverado Vineyards Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Edna Valley Vineyard Paragon Chardonnay 2012
Victor Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Phebus Malbec Gran Reserva

Wine list general commentary

A very Napa Valley heavy wine list, which isn’t necessarily an issue. However, the quality range in Napa is very large and the style of wine you might receive from a Napa producer is hard to predict. These are all fairly young wines which again isn’t a bad thing (I’m not sure aged wines would do all that well in the air), but my suspicion is that American is more concerned with cost savings in putting together this list than finding value for the money winners.

One annoying thing that American does is that the labeling of their wines on the wine list omits several important details about the wine. Things such as vintages (or, if no vintage, that it is NV), for instance, are left out entirely.

Champagne Dangin

Champagne Dangin
Champagne Dangin

Cost: ~$30

Tasting Notes: Strong citrus notes, honey and pear on the finish. Not any yeast or toast to speak of. Citrus and acidity overpower the finish.

My Rating (0-5 scale): 2.5

Silverado Vineyards Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Silverado Sauvignon Blanc
Silverado Sauvignon Blanc

Cost: ~$18

Tasting Notes: Citrus and gooseberry dominate the nose. Hints of pear and pineapple flavor but not much fruit expression in the body. Spicy finish with a hint of oak staves.

My Rating: 2.0

Edna Valley Vineyard Paragon Chardonnay 2012

Edna Valley Chardonnay
Edna Valley Chardonnay

Cost: ~$10

Tasting Notes: A little bit of minerally lime on the nose. Peach and lime but modest amounts. Drinkable but the flavor comes across as very dull.

My Rating: 2.5

Victor Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Victor Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
Victor Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Cost: ~$15

Tasting Notes:  Strong spicy plus and blackcurrant nose. Very vegetal and an unpleasant candied creaminess on the finish. Not much tannins.

My Rating: 1.5

Phebus Malbec Gran Reserva

Phebus Malbec
Phebus Malbec

Cost: ~$20

Tasting Notes:  Spicy nose but only a slight plum aspect. A lot of acidity, tannins and spice but no fruit expression.

My Rating: 2.0

Verdict

My guess is that these wines were chosen not for how well they drink in the air but instead based on what kind of discount American could get on the wines. Not very enjoyable to drink.

Stay tuned for further installments in Andrew M.’s series as he reviews the wine in American’s international First Class, as well as Cathay Pacific in First Class — and he takes on Ben’s beloved Krug.

Comments

  1. This is fabulous! So enjoyable to read and incredibly informative. I can’t wait for the next few installments. This also demonstrates to me how unrefined my palate is. Never would I identify “minerally lime” or “gooseberry.”

  2. I believe on international flights, AA serves a separate, pre-departure “Champagne” that is inferior to what they serve in the air (presumably for tax reasons?). I experienced this in F last year to/from Europe. Is that still the case?

  3. As a true wine connoisseur, I sometimes laugh when people complain about the quality of wines on airlines–especially in premium classes. Most people have no idea that “better” wines that aren’t properly stored aren’t remotely better than “lesser” wines that cost much less. And wines that cost more aren’t necessarily “better” by any stretch of the imagination. Since airlines cannot properly store wines (reds around 60 F and whites around 48-50 F, in most cases), and since most people have no clue as to what constitutes a good wine–even if not especially in premium classes where people feign wine knowledge more often than actually knowing much)–it seems that this whole consideration is superfluous. Except for travel writers/bloggers who need to fill up some space, of course. It’s wine on an airplane, people…just like it’s food on an airplane. It’s decent at best, even with the best airplane food and the “best” wines. Most people ignorantly seem to think that a wine from Napa or Bordeaux or Burgundy is somehow inherently better than a wine from Oregon or Mendoza or Australia or South Africa or New Zealand–but they’re just ignorant. There are great and good and subpar wines from all of these regions.

  4. @Andrew – so glad that someone in the travel blogosphere is finally getting past the ridiculous Krug-vs-Dom debate and into the really fun stuff. Can’t wait to see what you thought of Chase’s Choice in first in the next installment (more misses than hits in my experience). One small typo to point out – on the Silverado Vineyards SB, you’ve got it listed twice as a 2010, but the label shot shows 2012. As you probably know, those were two very different growing years in California with 2010 being cold and low yielding and 2012 being much warmer and in many cases too heavily cropped. Looking forward to the rest of the series and I hope @Lucky and the crew will keep having you on to get into more details about first/business wine lists.

  5. Agree with Caleb; atrociously cheap “champagne” served in F prior to take-off. I nearly spat the cheap sparkling wine out and im no expert… it was awful. The purser then mentions the in-flight champagne is “vastly” superior. Ha. Way to save millions at the expense of your presumably most valuable flyers. NEVER will I fly AA First. I really need to get familiar with Cathay’s program

  6. @Caleb & tri n: Maybe they serve the J Champagne to both F and J while on the ground?

  7. So the effective altitude ranges from ~4,900 ft in an A380 to as much as ~9,000 in some 747’s with all other planes falling in this range. Basically, it’s like drinking wine in Denver…and it does not matter if the plane is at 20,000 or 40,000 feet. Is there any science behind this wine at altitude theory, or is it possible wine served on planes is never stored properly and thus never tastes as good?

  8. @Chris @Brian You guys are very correct – I had it wrong in my notes and was working off that. Good catch.

    @Bill – stay tuned for the next installments. The problem isn’t the cheapness of the wine on AA C. It’s that AA probably chose the cheapest stuff it could find regardless of how it fit on an airplane.

    @JDL – http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150112-why-in-flight-food-tastes-weird

    In essence, it’s not only the drop in pressure (which does have an effect), it’s also the very dry cabin environment that dries out our nasal passages and most of what we think of as taste is actually smell.

  9. Andrew, is there any way you could take this to the next level and actually meet or talk with the AA folks in this area? At the Megado 2012, AA was really touting their new investment into this area. They were spending beaucoup bucks on staffing, top-notch well-known advisers, research into the altitude issues, etc.

    If they’re falling flat, I’m sure many of us would like to know why. It doesn’t seem like a “post-mortem” from their perspective, but perhaps some type of release or one-on-one sharing would help.

    Thanks.

  10. You’ve left out two important factors: serving temperature and glassware.

    I prefer red wine, and I prefer the food that goes with that. But the red wine is always served far too cold. So cold that it does not warm up even if you leave it for a reasonable time. White wine is the only choice on American.

    American serves its wine in water tumblers (except the predeparture sparkling, which is served in plastic). They used to be the actual water tumblers, now they use functionally identical stemless glasses.

    The quality of the wines varies, but the these factors are constant.

    The overall experience is like drinking Ripple out of the toothmug (while sitting on a park bench if you are stuck with the slanting seats).

  11. @Bill
    Why don’t you tell us what you really think? you can now step down from your pretentious podium and wave good bye.

    @andrew
    I don’t fly AA but great review.

    Maybe somebody would do this for UA

  12. Nice effort to summarize the vino selection of that particular flight. My advice to AA would be to concentrate on the strengths of the American breweries from different regions. From refined ciders to nuanced flavored ales and lagers, the average flyer would be able to enjoy this better in high altitude. Wine needs to be paired with proper food seasoned to bring the flavors out.

  13. This is very helpful – since it can be hard in practice to do a “tasting” or switch wines mid service, so having some reviews in advance is helpful. I’d also like to see the same put together for UA, where wine quality varies.

  14. SO here is my verdict and I fly AA Biz to Brazil and Asia constantly…DRINK THE FRENCH CHAMPAGNE..its the only one that doesn’t totally suck! PS I live in the Napa Valley and my family makes wine…that list is atrocious!!!

  15. A couple of the points above are just dead, flat wrong.

    First, wine storage doesn’t matter at all — at least in the short term. Serving temperature also isn’t that critical though I have to admit that red at least shouldn’t be warm and white should be at least somewhat chilled.

    Second, I truly don’t believe that you can even compare some red “fruit bomb” with a really good, aged Bordeaux. They’re just different drinks, as different from each other as apple from orange juice. (Sure they’re both “juice” but that’s about it.) The really good Bordeaux is great everywhere, including on a plane. That’s assuming, obviously, that you’re drinking it with some reasonably heavy-hitting meat dish or at least a full flavored cheese. Conversely, some of those fruit bombs taste practically chapetalized and can be simply undrinkable. Not just bad; I mean completely not drinkable. Yeah, California Merlot, I’m calling your name. (How could a mere Merlot ever be a fruit bomb anyway???)

    I do agree with everyone who points out the somewhat tenuous (at best) connection between price and quality. I’ve come across some real finds from South America over the years. Ditto with South African Chablis and Pacific Northwest Riesling. Some supposedly great Bordeaux can also be disappointing though sometimes it’s at least partly due to being too young.

    But let’s do come to the point here: has anyone ever found anything drinkable chosen by Ken Chase?

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