Airplane wine like never before

Vacation is a thrilling experience, and there's a unique euphoria associated with settling into an airplane seat, eagerly anticipating the adventure that lies ahead. Just as you start to get comfortable, the soft chime of the service cart draws nearer, revealing the wine list.

Champagne, Prosecco or Bordeaux – no matter the wine, its better than tomato juice. (Credit: pavelgulea/

As you peruse the options, ranging from humble plastic bottles to exquisite Champagnes and delicate Burgundians, it's evident that wines taste different in the sky than they do on the ground. If you've never thought of this moment as something special, it's perhaps time to delve into the science and artistry that ensure your high-altitude sip remains memorable.

Taste at Altitude: The Science

When travelling at 30,000 feet, taste is not the same as lounging in your living room. The cabin conditions at this altitude play tricks on our senses. The air becomes exceedingly dry, with humidity levels dropping to 20% or even less. As a result, our olfactory system, responsible for our sense of smell, is compromised. Couple that with the ambient noise of the plane, which tends to suppress our perception of sweet and salty flavors, and you’ve got a taste challenge on your hands. Surprisingly the fifth taste, umami, is not impacted by those factors.

Studies, like the one from the German Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, shed light on this phenomenon. Their research compared six wines at ground level and within a simulated airplane cabin. They concluded that the vibrant fruity notes in lighter wines became mor muted in the air, and in their place, bitter and musky undertones were accentuated. Add to that the fact that the altitude naturally heightens the perception of a wine's acidity and alcohol content, and you have a very different tasting experience on your hands.

Careful Selection

Airlines are well aware of this sensory shift and have taken measures to ensure your in-flight experience is nothing short of delightful. Some airlines ensure a thorough selection process, often conducting wine tastings in the sky to pick the right bottles that stand up to the altitude challenges.

Cheers Chicago! Champagne adds the glamour to the flight. (Credit: Sergey Novikov/

Well-established brands with a vast distribution network in the airline's country of origin are often favored. American Airlines, for example, has curated a selection that includes the effervescent Prosecco from Bottega and rich, fruit-forward wines from Spain. The altitude and the wine's characteristics intersect beautifully, creating a harmonious in-flight tasting experience.

Bottega Gold

Some carriers, like Swiss “Edelweiss,” set the tone for luxury right from the boarding process. Passengers are greeted with Champagne, an immediate nod to opulence. The Champagne Brut Selection or Brut Rosé from Maison Gruet are two standout choices that shine even in the skies, their full-bodied profiles from Cótes de Bar making them an exceptional fit for high-altitude sipping.

Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne

And speaking of luxury, Emirates deserves an honorable mention. They have redefined in-flight luxury by offering the much sought-after Dom Perignon. And the price tag of $500 is surprisingly grounded, considering the prestige of the drink. In addition, their menu is not short of fine wines.

And sometimes its a wine from a plastic bottle, served warm with ice cubes in a budget airline, while sitting on the middle seat. (Credit: Peter Douglas)

Impacting our Preferences

However, if you're not in the mood for wine while flying, it's worth noting that a significant 27% of airplane drink requests are for the umami-rich tomato juice. This flavor preference is unique to air travel; nowhere else is tomato juice consumed as frequently as it is in the sky.

For those who discover a new favorite wine mid-flight and wish to recreate the experience on the ground, there's VinoVoss — your resource to track down those sky-high delights.

Cheers from the VinoVoss team!

Peter Douglas


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