Cathay Pacific makes a fine art out of choosing its wines

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 May, 2013, 5:40am

Picking a wine for an airline isn't as easy as you'd think. It's not just a matter of taste and quality, but also about how the wine travels.

"It's like in CSI [ Crime Scene Investigation], when they want to separate the different parts of something, they shake it up. That happens to wine when it's in the air because of the plane's vibrations," said Roy Moorfield, a Melbourne-based consultant for Cathay Pacific at a wine tasting event organised by the airline yesterday.

The cabin's dryness also affects how the wine tastes, as dry noses make for less sensitive taste buds. So, says Moorfield and his fellow consultants, what you need is a wine with soft tannins, balanced acidity and a stronger fruit flavour, and one that tastes good even after being shaken up. Bitter flavours and tannins tend to be enhanced on a flight.

Wine consumption on Cathay flights has risen in the past decade, says Clara Yip, the airline's catering manager for wine, beverage and catering supplies. Last year, Cathay went through 1.5 million bottles of tipple, compared with less than a million bottles 10 years ago, she said. To keep up with the demand, Moorfield, Yip and other consultants get together about six times a year to sample wines, going through up to 10,000 glasses of alcohol a year on their job. Wine selections on flights can be changed up to three times a year.

"For economy class white, we need something fresh," said Yip. "It can be older, depending on what class it's being served in. One promotional wine we're doing is from 2004." All wines are put through a blind taste test so that labels will not play a part in the selection.

The airline carries more than 100 varieties of wines on its routes. The current selection comprises picks from France, Italy, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Asked whether the incidents of drunk and disorderly conduct had risen with more wine consumed on flights, Yip said she was not aware if there was any increase, but that staff were instructed to cease serving alcohol and offer other beverages intoxicated passengers.

Last year, Japanese businessman Kumagai Shinobu was charged for behaving in a disorderly manner on an inbound Cathay flight from Japan.