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Wine Tip of the Week: Wine in the Sky

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from author John Hailman’s book ‘The Search for Good Wine’ which will be available for purchase October 2014 from the University of Mississippi Press. This particular chapter was written on April 14, 1992.

The other night I ran across Wine Talk, the out-of-print 193 book which collects the wine columns of Frank Prial, the New York Times wine columnist. One oldie I enjoyed was about wine on airplanes. The price per bottle was then $1.00, and Prial was complaining both about the price and the quality of the wines. The price has now quadrupled for a bottle of cheap plonk, but nothing much else has changed. There are, however, bright spots, and here are some tips for wine-trippers.
skywine1Now, as in 1973, American Airlines is far and away the best domestic airline for wines. Some carriers do well in first class, and most do pretty well on international flights. Why do they assume foreigners appreciate and deserve better wine than we do? Possibly because we complain less about the quality of both food and wine than others do, especially the French.
One recent exception to this rule is a flight from London to Tunis on Gibraltar Airways, one of those small “Thatcherite” lines created by the former British Prime Minister’s policy for privatizing everything. Gibraltar gave excellent service – except for the wine. I can’t recall all the selections, they were few, but the lease bad thing on the “list” was Siglo, a cheapo Spanish white. This one should have been throw away several years ago.
Personally I have always enjoyed the thoughtful service on Delta, and the wines on their international flights have been good, if not inspired. Bu domestically, on several recent flights, they have been totally out of red or white, whichever one I wanted. One stewardess, when asked what wines they had, answered “Red and White”. When I asked what reds or whites, she frowned and dismissed my question with “domestic”. I had a beer.
Back on the positive side, American now offers in coach, the class I ride in, chardonnays and cabernets from Wente Bros., a good sometimes overlooked winery of California’s Livermore Valley. Don’t be afraid of the screw tops. They are their good stuff. The screw tops are just a quick convenient way of packaging for the sky-high conditions. What an arm-ache a stewardess would have if she had to pull all those tiny corks.
Airline executives complain that many wineries don’t want their wines served on airplanes because airline wines have gotten such a bad reputation that wineries don’t want to be associated with them. Come on fellas; it’s not that bad. United now has what it calls “connoisseur” class, advertising several Bordeaux, burgundies, and fine U.S. wines on its international business class flights.
If you travel abroad this summer, one idea is to fly Air France just for the wines. The French aren’t nearly as snobby as they used to be, and their wines are fine. Next comes Swissair.
Some like to fly foreign carriers to get a feel of the country before you get there. But if you believe in buying American, as I do despite that grumpy pundit Pat Buchanan, the American to buy in airline wines, both domestic and foreign, is American Airlines. When Prial wrote his book, American’s wine-consultant was Creighton Churchill, a respected wine columnist. Today, it is Dr. Richard Vine, a respected oenologist with a great palate. Second place domestic flights goes, in my experience, to United. After that you’re on your own.
JJohn Hailmanohn Hailman of Oxford is a regular contributor to HottyToddy.com on two subjects: Law and Wine. Now retired from both his “day job” as a federal prosecutor in Oxford after 33 years and his “night job” of 25 years as a nationally syndicated daily columnist in more than 100 daily papers on wine, food and travel for Gannett News Service and the Washington Post, Hailman will cover both topics under the titles of The Legal Eagle and Wine Tips of the Week. HottyToddy.com will also run periodic excerpts from Hailman’s upcoming book of humorous legal stories, From Midnight to Guntown: True Crime Stories From A Federal Prosecutor in Mississippi. Hailman now teaches Federal Trial Practice and Law and Literature at the University of Mississippi.

'The Search for Good Wine' by John Hailman will be available October 2014 /Copyright 2014, University of Mississippi Press
‘The Search for Good Wine’ by John Hailman will be available October 2014 /Copyright 2014, University of Mississippi Press

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