Wine lovers flying Delta Airlines will be delighted to hear that Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson is once again partnering with the airline, bringing a much-needed vino refresh to the flight experience. Indeed, the Delta One cabin will feature the highest number of premium wines ever offered onboard – a selection of two red wines, two white wines, rosé, Champagne and port. Rosé will be offered year-round and each flight will feature a printed list of the wines offered along with Robinson’s insights regarding each wine.
Over 1300 wines were submitted for consideration, which Robinson and the Delta In-Flight Services team winnowed down to a mere 500. “It’s process that starts out as an academic exercise,” explains Robinson. “Availability and quantity are big considerations, as are budget parameters.” While the first round of edits is relatively straightforward, once they reduce the final candidates to 120 -200 wines that’s when the tasting, debating and fine-tuning begins.
“Quality is the rule rather than the exception for us,” says Robinson, “we look for categories we know do well and a balance of styles so there is something for everyone.” Offerings include a balance of tried-and-true classics that are anchors of any wine list and discovery wines – wines that surprise and that may not be your go-to on a wine list. “Discovery wines,” says Robinson “are the best part of the experience. Having a discovery moment is a big part of the allure of travel. I love that about American culture; people travel for their desire to discover and we can bring that to people in a wine glass.”
There are other factors that influence the process, most especially altitude, which Robinson notes does strange things to the palate. “The most important consideration when tasting for altitude is that the wine’s acidity be a prominent element of structure. We want a good ripe integration of acid,
as opposed to a tart angular acid. It’s dry and there is low atmospheric pressure at altitude so the sensory system does not have the acuity it normally has. The acid is critical to make you salivate and rehydrate you. Also, the fruit has to be balanced punch and juicy.” She also looks for wines with a good concentration of aromatics. Aroma concentration dissipates much faster at altitude so there is a diminished ability to appreciate smell. “It’s like drinking great wine with a fan blowing on you,” she explains.
Identifying wineries that share Delta’s corporate values was also essential to the selection process explains Kristen Manion Taylor, senior vice president of In-flight Service. “The final selections are brands that reflect the diverse community of the winegrowing world and lead their industry in sustainability practices.”
Robinson is quick to note that this is only the beginning of a longtime commitment to both excellence and sustainability in the wine program at Delta. A “Sky Sommelier” training program is undergoing a big revamp and will kick off next year. All Delta pursers are going through a leading-edge purser training that includes the wine piece. “The hope is that we will be able to bring more wine education and pairing information to the customer experience.
Right now,” she adds, “there isn’t another US-based airline that provides this kind of training program for flight attendants. This isn’t just about putting good wine on board; this is our chance to bring back the expanded world of wine we are all living in.”
What’s on the Wine List?
Robinson is most excited about the Invivo SJP New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: I am very happy about that wine. They have a strong sustainable farming commitment and the SJV palate is lovely; it aligns acid with tropical aromatics of passionfruit, pineapple and guava; it’s just so good.
Bodegas Riojanas Vina Albina Gran Reserva Rioja: This region of Spain is coming off some great vintages and the wine is so expressive and complex. People will feel like they are having a fancy restaurant experience with these wines.
Delta One: Delta’s most premium cabin will feature a rotating list of wine offerings including Burgundy from Albert Bichot, Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Famille Perrin and Oregon pinot noir from Argyle. Also look for:
Jordan Cabernet – This iconic California Cabernet, commonly found in upscale steakhouses and on fine-dining menus, has complex flavors of rich dark fruit complimented by notes of cedar and vanilla from extended barrel aging.
House of Brown Chardonnay – A tropical-fruited yet juicy and refreshing wine, Delta is proud to offer the first Chardonnay product of this long-time partner, one of the few Black-owned, Napa-based wine estates.
First Class: First Class customers will enjoy a variety of premium selections, such as Pebble Lane Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Delta Premium Select, Comfort Plus, and Main Cabin: New additions like Casa Saulita Chenin Chardonnay will add delicious flavor to international routes, while domestic routes will continue to enjoy some of the diverse and women-run wine brands (Imagery Estate, Une Femme) customers already know and love.