The low humidity in an aircraft cabin dries the sinuses and blunts our taste buds and smell receptors, which we need if we are to truly appreciate the fine wines that airlines dish out to us inflight.
Lighting, fatigue, stress, noise and vibration also play their part in dumbing down our sensations. Add all these factors together and drinking wine in a pressurised aircraft cabin is a little like drinking with a blocked nose – the taste is dialled down.
The wines that stand up best inflight are balanced, fruity reds with well integrated tannin. Australian shiraz is often a favourite.
Quality Champagne holds its head up but when served at cruise altitude, lower pressure means less fizz than at ground level.
Wines with more assertive acidity and tannin taste harsh in the cabin environment. While all the leading airlines employ sommeliers to select their wines, those that conduct tastings at altitude as well as on the ground are few and far between. Instead, they rely on experience to tell them what will work well in the skies.