The Science Behind Food and Wine In The Air

Think you know how to pair wine with food?

Meat with Reds and seafood with Whites… right?

Even professional sommeliers are left scratching their heads when it comes to pairing food with wine…. when it comes to flying 35,000 feet, that is!

To look like a professional oenophile and impress all your friends as a wine-snob at your next dinner party, Michelle Tchea gets in touch with Wine Expert, Ken Chase, who currently consulates for American Airlines and also gets some expert opinions from the country’s leading scientists on why strong wines reign supreme when you’re up in the air.

Q/A with Ken Chase

What are some initiatives AA are employing to heighten the wine and food experiences in the air?

One important initiative is that we change the wine lists quarterly which gives us a great opportunity to select wines around the menus choices. We are more focused on giving our passengers the adventure of seeing more wines more often. The wines we select are very versatile with many dishes. On some routes we will have route specific wines that will match with traditional dishes of that country.

What are your thoughts on tasting wine in the air compared to on the ground? Has it to do with high altitude, notice or human perceptions/ palate?

Wines do not change at altitude…it is the human palate that perceives it to be different due to the re-cycling of the cabin air. Hydration is the keep to keeping your palate sharp. Usually the palate starts to lose its sharpness after about 2-3 hours at altitude and that is one of the criterion I use…ensure the grape variety selected is very expressive.

What would you recommend for food and wine pairings in the air?

This is a great question and easy for me to answer because of the way we select different styles of wines on the menu. The most important rule in wine/food pairing is to pair power with power…so if we have a very savory and rich dish on the menu then a powerful and rich wine would be the choice…a light and elegant dish would require a lighter wine.

What partnerships or wine brands are you working with to improve wine in the air with AA?

We are not working with specific brands as wine world is large and gives us great opportunities to discover new things. We work with a partner, Intervine in Napa, to help us source wines and to assist in the complex world of logistics.

What is your recommendation on tasting red, white wine and also spirits?

My recommendation is to always taste wine starting with a light wine to a heavier wine…this helps to keep your palate balanced so that the one wine doesn’t overtake your taste buds. If you were to taste a big wine first and then the lighter wine, the lighter wine may get lost due to your palate still being stimulated from the first wine.

What is your advice for flyers when it comes to food and wine pairing in the air?

The most important rule is to drink what you like. Long gone are the rules about you have to have this with this wine etc. Today’s wines are so well made and versatile. The most important thing I suggest is that you stay hydrated with water as much as you can. Follow the power with power rule….heavy sauces …as an example will need  a heart wine..

Finally – should we drink in the air, or just indulge in something in the lounge before take-off?

That is a personal thing I think…but setting your palate up for a wonderful wine and dining experience is a fun thing to do. I always a have glass of white before I go because usually they have more naturally acidity and this gets my gastric juices going and ready to sit down for a nice meal and relaxing flight.

From a Scientific point of view:

Doctor Herbert Stone, Sensory Consulting and Co-founder of the Sensory Division for the International Food Technologist says:

“Since the plane is pressurized to about 5,000 feet and it is a very dry air (I think it is less than 5%), the palate will be drier than when on the ground.  Our sensitivity is best when moist.   The Dreamliner, however, is pressurized at a lower altitude and not as dry but still not at sea level.  As a result there will be more volatility and the wine and the food will lose aroma faster.   With somewhat thinner air and usually it is cool, our senses are not in the same condition as on the ground.  Too adjust for this, the passenger can drink water during the flight and is better able to appreciate the wine”

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