One Merlot At A Time: Conclusion And Bottom Line

Filed Under: Travel

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

At the end of the day, drink what you like.

My reviews in the previous days are just my personal taste preferences and I respect that everyone likes different things (variety is the spice of life, etc.). If you love Krug (as some people around here do) then don’t let anything I’ve written stop you from enjoying as much of it as you can reasonably consume on a Cathay flight. 😉

However, I think my experience on these flights and other scientific research suggests that wine does taste significantly different in the air. The kinds of wines that win awards on the ground do not necessarily taste that great in the air.

Combined with the many different ways our own subtle inherent biases play out when drinking wine, one can have a dramatically different experience drinking the same wine on an airplane than they would drinking it on the ground.


Still, having said that, for the average wine drinker, by making a few smart choices in your wine selection you can increase the odds you’ll like what you’re drinking in the air. A little bit of knowledge and strategy can hopefully beat the brand name syndrome and produce some surprising (and pleasurable) experiences.

In particular, in my experience in the previous posts, higher alcohol hot climate wines seem to hold up the best on airplanes. However, as my review of American business class wines showed, finding these types of wines is more of a necessary but not sufficient case to finding great wines on planes – there are still plenty of crap hot and heavy wines that still underperform whether on the ground or up in the air.

Instead, my best advice for the average wine drinker would be to seek out hot and spicy wines that already seem liked they’d be winners on the ground and something you’d like to drink anyway (Cathay Pacific’s first class Rhône Valley wines, for example). Then, enjoy their full flavor while you watch the miles go by. As American first class wines showed to me at least that for equivalent or even cheaper amount of money than the competition spends, careful wine selection can beat picking wines by their Wine Spectator score in the air.


Moreover, it’s at least interesting that in one aspect of international first class soft product an American carrier can hold its own against one of the best international first class products out there (although they hilariously fail to compete in many other ways). My kudos to American for some very good choices in first class.

Bottom Line

To distill this four part word dump into bullet points, I would say:

  1. Drink what you like
  1. Recognize that things taste different in the air than on the ground
  1. Be open to new tasting experiences in the air and try to at least be aware of the subtle biases that we all bring to tasting new wines
  1. Enjoy!

No matter what your drink of choice is onboard, from Diet Coke with lime to Baileys and coffee to vintage Bordeaux, safe travels and salud!

  1. I would prefer that this blog contain trip reports written by Lucky. This wine stuff is boring. Zzzzz.

  2. Thought this wine installment was a huge plus for the blog. Absolutely loved it. Well done and quite interesting.

  3. Thank you for putting a spotlight on the different experience on the ground and in the air. Also, for drawing attention to some (or plenty?) of buffoonery surrounding some labels, and wine experience in general. Enjoyed your review.

  4. I’ve enjoyed this series, so thank you! However, it should probably be noted that drinking on airplanes (or, overdrinking!) can lead to not-so-fun consequences. So everyone should keep themselves well-hydrated and try not to set a record for most bottles consumed per mile flown :)))

  5. Thank you for these posts about wine; I have really enjoyed them as a fellow wine lover, working on developing my palate!

    I am now able to identify plonk on the ground and in the air, after lots of practice of course. 🙂

    While it’s fun to shop for wine on your own, getting to choose it from a collection curated by someone else is an adventure in itself and one that I enjoy during my flights.


  6. The final question is do the airlines know that the wine tastes different in the air and do they take that into consideration? My gut says no since some are barely drinkable but that could be by design to limit the consumption.

  7. @Ray I suspect, for US airlines in C, it has more to do with the kinds of wines they can get cheaply rather than any specific taste requirements.

  8. @bobtrial, @Marija, @Adam, @Maxine: glad you guys enjoyed it!

    @Ivan Y: Definitely good to be a bit careful about drinking in the air. I try to drink one glass of water for every glass of wine so I ended up feeling like the stay puff marshmallow man on a few of these trip reviews. But, I felt okay after landing due to the hydration.

  9. Thanks, Andrew, great series.
    And kudos to Ben… must be hard to restrain from censoring heretic concepts

  10. Good series, thank you Andrew.

    Lucky, keep it up with all of the guest contributors and extra trip reports.

    They are all appreciated.

  11. I also try to follow the “1 cup of water for every glass of wine” rule, but unless you are up front, it can be very difficult to get that 2nd cup of water. So irritating. I’ve taken to ordering the water with the wine (and still only get it half the time).

  12. Any research done while inebriated and in the air deserves a round of applause. Especially when trolls be trolling about your demystification of wine ratings.

    Thanks for calling attention to attitude change and its influence on our palates and wine profiles. Great job Andrew M!

  13. Hello,

    What about this new “world record” for largestest champagne tasting from Eurostar? All passenger on board (including eco) sampled 3 champagnes selected by Michelin starred chef Raymond Blanc and Arnaud Goubet, sommelier from Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

    What to forward this idea to the beloved MEB3 (Middel East Big 3) carriers?

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