Does wine taste different on an airplane? – ask Decanter


Amid news of team GB sipping Champagne on their British Airways flight home from the Rio Olympics, we ask wine expert Andy Sparrow whether wine tastes any different in the air.

Image: Champagne on airplane, British Airways

Stephen Bridge, Leamington Spa asks: Does wine really taste different on airplanes? If it does, most of the wine served, at least in economy class, suggests that airlines aren’t taking this into account.

Andy Sparrow replies: Wine appears to change character when consumed in a pressurised aircraft cabins. Most airliners are pressurised from 6,000- 8,000 feet.

Of course the wine doesn’t change, but rather the consumer does.

There are a number of different influences that exist in a pressurised environment that don’t exist on the ground.

The key influence is humidity. The dryness of cabin air affects nasal passages and makes it more difficult to appreciate the smell and taste of fine wine.

Other influences range from stress, background noise, vibration, time change, biorhythms and so on. The longer the flight, the greater the effect.

A well-balanced wine at ground level will remain so at altitude, but fruit and sweetness tend to be suppressed and unripe tannins/harsh acidity exaggerated.

Ripe, fruity New World wines work well, and technological advances – micro-oxygenation, better understanding of physiological ripeness and tannin management – have all made life easier for the airline wine buyer.

While there may be a perfect airline wine, passengers want to see recognisable brands and labels, all of which will demonstrate different flavour profiles and match different food styles.

In addition there is an expectation that wines, such as top Bordeaux and white Burgundy, will be served in the premium cabins.

So the not inconsiderable task of an airline wine buyer is to find a wine that meets expectations, and then make sure that it tastes great at 35,000 feet.

Andy Sparrow is head of travel retail at Bibendum, which supplies British Airways with wine for First Class passengers.

Translated by Sylvia Wu / 吴嘉溦

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