Canadians aren’t generally known to boast, but we’re lucky enough to have an airline that has been named North America’s Best Airline at the Skytrax World Airline Awards 7 of the last 9 years (including the past 2 consecutive years), so we’re going to make an exception. On a long-haul trip from Vancouver to Sydney, we had the opportunity to see firsthand that the accolades are truly deserved.
Being the largest airline in the 2nd largest country in the world (geographically), there’s a lot of ground—make that air—to cover. Last year alone, Air Canada together with its Air Canada Express regional partners carried over 48 million passengers to more than 200 destinations. Headquartered in Montreal, it is a publicly traded company on the Toronto Stock Exchange and is one of the founding members of the Star Alliance.
Air Canada’s International Business Class was recently rebranded “Air Canada Signature Service” to highlight that their premium service doesn’t just refer to the in-flight cabin, it includes the entire airport experience from the check-in process, to baggage handling, through to boarding and security clearance once in destination. The Air Canada Signature Class cabin itself features individual pods that convert to a 6’ 7” long lie-flat bed, with accompanying quilted mattress pads, duvets and pillows. Amenity kits are provided by WANT Les Essentiels and include Vitruvi skincare products.
As wine enthusiasts, we were excited to see that Air Canada was consulting with renowned Sommelier Véronique Rivest. From Gatineau, Quebec, Véronique’s reputation is recognized well beyond Canadian borders. She has been named Canada’s Best Sommelier twice (2006, 2012), won the prestigious Femme du Vin in Paris (2007), won the title of Best Sommelier of the Americas (2012), and was the first woman to make the podium for Best Sommelier in the World in 2013. Needless to say, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone better to advise on ANY wine list!
Given the limited scope of airline wine lists, her choices are unsurprisingly excellent. She manages to cover a variety of different regions and varieties, including some that are wonderfully unexpected. Not so unforeseen, is the Champagne of choice: Laurent-Perrier. There really are no bad Champagnes, full stop. The Laurent-Perrier is a classically elegant wine that is a particularly lovely way to commence a long flight.
Véronique’s first white wine selection is the 2016 Robert Weil Junior Pinot Blanc from the Rheinhessen region in Germany. This is a refreshing and lighter style white from one of Germany’s most famous winemakers. It is a lovely, smooth drinking wine with great acidity that pairs well with seafood but is approachable enough that it can be just as easily enjoyed on its own.
Having visited South Africa earlier this year, we were delighted to see a Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch as the second white wine option. South Africa is getting a reputation for producing excellent Chenin Blanc and Simonsig is one of the wineries helping put the country on the world wine map. This white is certainly going to appease the ABC (anything but chardonnay) crowd that enjoys a fuller bodied wine. Richer than the first option, it still has enough acidity without being overpowering. It would pair wonderfully with the Barbecue Salmon offered on the in-flight dinner menu.
For Véronique’s three red wine choices, she broadens the airline list’s geographical exposure, providing a sample from three more regions. The first is the 2016 Secret de Lune Carignan Vieilles Vignes from France’s Langeudoc region. The Carignan grape has historically been dismissed by wine connoisseurs due to its high tannins and acidity. Dubbed a “workhorse” variety because of its high yields, it is often overlooked or generalized. But in the hands of the Jeanjean family who has been making wine for 5 generations, their old vines combined with experience has produced a softer, more approachable wine that can work well with a variety of dishes.
To represent Canada, Véronique has chosen the 2016 Cabernet Merlot blend from Henry of Pelham Family Estate in the Niagara Peninsula. This is a Canadian wine that expresses its terroir very well. Lots of earth and tobacco notes combined with dark berries and vanilla, make this the perfect accompaniment with the Grilled Chicken Thigh and baked Gnocchi.
And finally, she rounds out the reds with another interesting choice, this time from Spain: the 2016 Legado del Moncayo Garnacha from Campo de Borja. A lesser known region to its northern Rioja and Ribera del Duero neighbours, it is known for having vineyards that date back as far as 1145 with more than half of the Garnacha vines being 30-50 years old. This particular wine is very fruit forward with cherry & currant aromas backed with notes of earth. A lovely soft mouthfeel, this garnacha is a terrific expression of the grape variety with great structure that stands up well to the beef tenderloin.
As Vancouverites, Chef David Hawksworth’s name is well known to us as the proprietor and chef of two local award-winning restaurants: Hawksworth’s and Nightingale. His name is synonymous in the city with culinary mastery and his signature dishes on the Air Canada menu include the aforementioned Grilled Chicken (that comes with braised collard greens and prosciutto) and the Dark Chocolate Fondant with praline, and blueberry ginger compote.
It would certainly be an understatement to call it a treat to fly in Air Canada’s Signature Class Cabin, particularly on such a long flight. The wine and food choices easily helped make the time at altitude more enjoyable, and the care and attention brought to both the wine and food menus is a testament to Air Canada’s commitment to offering something of quality and value.
Air Canada has recently announced that it will be commencing direct flights from Montreal to Bordeaux 4 days per week between June 15 and September 15 on their Boeing 737 Max 8 planes. Although Business Class is not an option on these flights, there’s plenty of great wine waiting for you upon landing. We will certainly be among those that will take advantage of direct access from Canadian shores to arguably the most famous wine region in the world!