Strong flavours are needed in wines served up in the air
Our taste-buds are less sensitive at higher altitudes, so both food and drinks may seem to lack flavour up in the air. This is why only strong, characterful wines make it onto inflight menus.
Wines are often described as harmonious, lively or agile, but only those with a strong taste tend to be served on airlines.
“Timid-tasting wines do not make it on our list,” says Sari-Anna Mäki-Koivisto, in charge of inflight sales and drinks at Finnair. “We tend to choose reds with higher tannic acids and acidic whites for our inflight menus. Turbulence can lessen the bubbliness in wines, so sparkling wine and champagne should be especially fizzy.”
The reason for our diminished sense of taste on an airplane is the lower air pressure. The dryness of the air in the cabin affects passengers’ ability to sense the nuances of taste and smell in wines.
Stress, noise, bumpiness and jet lag can also have an effect. The longer the flight, the stronger the effects. The wine’s taste does not change – just our ability to sense it. The same goes for food.
“I myself have noticed that even though I usually eat very healthily, I tend to choose saltier and sweeter products and fizzier drinks when I’m flying,” Mäki-Koivisto says.
Wine tastings – on the ground
Though the taste of wines may be diminished by 15% in the air, inflight wines are usually chosen in tastings held at ground level. Finnair’s wines are currently chosen by a jury of ten to 20 people. Wines served in Finnair lounges are chosen in the same session.
One important factor is that the wines complement the inflight meals. As the tasting is held once a year, in November, the food menus for the coming year may not yet be finished. But the jury will already know what the main ingredients in the dishes are.
For Finnair, which has a growing number of Asian passengers, there’s the added complication of regions’ different tastes. So a range has to be on board each flight. “Asians usually prefer sweeter dessert wines and may drink them already with the main course,” Mäki-Koivisto says.
In Finnair business class and lounges, the wine list usually changes twice a year. At the moment, it serves a Sangiovese-based red produced by a vineyard belonging to singer-songwriter Sting.