Updated: Jun 30, 2020
Pop the bubbly at 35,000 feet and you could be looking at a not-so enjoyable glass of champagne! Wine tastes very differently at altitude than it does down on dry land. The combination of lower pressure and lower humidity inside an airplane cabin accentuates wines acidity and alcohol.
A refreshing wine at sea level suddenly tastes a bit (off) when sipped in the air. Before blaming the airline, let's looks at what happens in our bodies.
Altitudes: Changing taste buds
When we fly, our bodies adapt to the atmospheric pressure surrounding us, and this goes for our taste buds too. Our sense of taste decreases by about 30% when we are at higher altitudes, reports the BBC. It is the same reason airline food is notorious for tasting so poorly. Contrary to what you may feel when dining on airplane food, the airline is not intentionally serving you a bland meal. Rather, the combination of cabin dryness and lower pressure diminishes taste bud sensitivity to sweet and salty foods.
There are two things about flying that worked against wine, whether it was that in-flight glass of plonk your enjoyed with your dinner, or the souvenir bottle you brought home in your suitcase. The vibrations of the plane, and the pressurised cabin, could both seriously alter the flavour.
The dry air in an aeroplane not only affects your pallet but also It dries out the follicles in your nose, that goes to your olfactory gland, and thats where you get the sense of smell — and what you smell affects what you taste.
The cabin also emphasised bitterness of wine as well, so what airlines do is select a wine with a really overt aroma, a good fruit aroma and a good balance. Its not uncommon now for wine tastings to be held during flight because this.
As well as the conditions inside the cabin, the micro-vibrations of the aircraft stressed wine and changed its flavour — or more specifically, disrupted the careful balance of acidity, tannins and fruit. Wine has flavour molecules, and those flavour molecules are either very tight, and withstand it, or it pulls them apart slightly, and the wine becomes quite dull.
Some varietals fared better than others — and if you have ever noticed how often you are offered chardonnay on a flight, this was why.
· Pinot noir is very difficult, its very difficult to find one that flies well because its very fragile this carries on even at cultivating and producing stages.
· Shiraz works very consistently because it’s got a lot of flavour and the tannins are slightly softer.
· The new modern style of cabernet sauvignon they are making in Europe, has softer tannins and quite success too. Merlot is quite successful.
· Sauvignon blanc works, and chardonnay is probably the most consistently performing white. Rose works very well as well.
The souvenir bottle of vino you brought home from your holiday is also needs will need to recover from travel shock, In my experience, a few days (up to a week or two for a particularly delicate wine) would be enough time to let a wine recover. More time is allowed for older wines, and I have heard that people believe that unfiltered and unfined wines also need extra time.
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