Up in the air: How Singapore Airlines puts together its wine list

Glass of Riesling, Business Class, Singapore AirlinesEarlier this year I flew Singapore Airlines on my return journey from Melbourne to Singapore. Sitting in Business Class I was presented with a wine list and given the options of choosing my wines for the flight and the meal.

Having attended the launch of a business and first class menu earlier I knew that cabin pressure, altitude and the lack of fresh air can negatively effect your sense of smell and taste. On a flight the sensitivity of your taste buds tends to get dulled to a certain extent: chefs compensate by enhancing the flavours of the cooked food to ensure that it is flavourful during in flight service. Wine, however is pre-packed and the contents cannot be altered, so how does this affect our perception of what we’re drinking.

The other question that came to mind is how does an airline servicing passengers from across the world make sure that everyone is happy with the wine selection? For a restaurant, curating a wine list is relatively easier; the customers are drawn largely from the city of operations and you know what wines are popular or are doing well. With an airline the client base is more heterogeneous, so a German businessman may not like the same wines as an Australian CEO.

I put these questions to Hermann Freidanck, Manager Inflight Services for Singapore Airlines.

How do you select wines for inflight service?
Singapore Airlines conducts two formal wine tastings annually in Singapore to shortlist wine to be served on board.

Up to 1,000 bottles of red and white wine, Champagne and Port are sampled by our three wine consultants in ‘blind’ tastings, where the bottle labels are concealed.

Wines are judged on appearance (colour and clarity), bouquet or “nose” (smell) and palate (taste).  The panel also assesses the wine’s suitability for drinking on board an aircraft (where the atmosphere tends to be drier).

Our consultants rate the wines according to the internationally recognised 20 point scale, which awards a Bronze Medal for wines above 15.5 points, a Silver for wines above 17 points and Gold for wines above 18.5 points. Singapore Airlines’ minimum quality requirement is Bronze for Economy Class, Silver for Business Class and Gold for First Class and Suites.

Acting on the consultants’ advice, Singapore Airlines stocks up reserves for serving in the future – particularly for Suites, First Class and Business Class.

Does each sector of the airline have a different wine list? If so, how do you choose the wines for each sector?
Singapore Airines Business Class wine menuAt Singapore Airlines, nearly 2 million wine bottles are consumed on-board annually. While we offer Bordeaux wines on all flights, different routes carry different wine selections because the preferences of our customers are different, so we strive to serve wines that have proven popular on certain routes. For example on services between Singapore and Australia, we offer Australian Shiraz, while on services between Singapore and the United States, we offer Californian Cabernet Sauvignon.

Currently, our wines come from France, Italy, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, but we have also served Spanish wines on certain routes and are always exploring new world wines.

Are the same wines served inflight and in the SA lounges?
Depending on the location, our overseas lounges may offer different wines to cater to customer preferences. While palates may differ, the quality of the wine we serve is always  .

Are wines from any regions better suited for in flight service than others?  
There is no better wine. It’s all about the grape variety, vinification process, and the achieving of a good balance between fruits and tannins.

Singapore Airlines Business Class meal with champagne
Singapore Airlines Business Class meal with champagne

Which wines tend to do better New World wines or Old World?
There is still a strong following for French wines (Bordeaux) and German Riesling (which fits well with spicy oriental cuisine). However new world wines are gaining popularity in recent years, particularly in Australian Shiraz, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and new world Chardonnays.

Considering that SQ flies to so many destinations and has multiple menus for each sector is there any attempt to pair the wines with the food? If you do, then what is the process?
Due to space constraints and weight limitations on the aircraft, choices have to be curtailed and wine pairing is difficult. We are currently serving 2 Champagnes, 3 red wines and 2 white wines in RFCL and 1 champagne, 2 red wines and 2 white wines in JCL.

How often do you meet to evaluate/ come up with a new wine list?
Singapore Airlines conducts two formal wine tastings annually in Singapore to shortlist wine to be served on board.


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