Nothing signals the start of vacation (or reduces the pangs of flier’s anxiety) like that first in-flight drink. Sitting back, relaxing, and sipping on the drink of your choice is a surefire way to get you into that vacation mentality. But on your last vacation, you may have noticed that your favorite drinks don’t exactly taste the same at 35,000 feet as they do back on ground. No, you haven’t lost your mind. In fact, you are entirely right. There’s a reason why your beverages taste differently in air than down below.
When in-flight, altitude subdues our senses, making it more difficult to decipher nuances and complexities in wines. The dry air of the chilly, pressurized cabin also mutes taste buds, drying out your nose and weakening your sense of smell. What we taste is predominantly based on what we smell. Combine that with the low humidity of the cabin, and the plane is a no-go for any sort of aromatic, elaborate wine.
That’s not to say that you can’t relax with a glass of vino on a plane. So which wines should you be drinking in-flight? Taking into consideration the fact that your senses are much more inhibited, you’re better off drinking something on the bigger and fuller side. Lighter-bodied, complex, and highly aromatic wines should be avoided, as their full potential won’t be appreciated during your in-flight experience. Same goes for many older wines that are extremely delicate and deserve full sensory capacity to be appreciated.
For whites, we recommend sticking with powerful expressions of Chardonnay, most likely from the New World, as well as fuller-bodied white Rhone blends and Viognier-based wines. For reds, look to big Cab Sauvs, Malbecs, and Syrahs for racy reds that you’ll actually be able to appreciate. Tempranillo-based wines from Rioja are also a phenomenal choice.
If none of these varietals strike your interest, don’t worry: No matter who you fly with, Gin & Tonics are always an option.