For the second installment of our Wine High Club, we are reviewing Air France, partner of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, who we featured in the first article of the series. Together these two airlines make up one of the world’s largest carriers in terms of both revenue and passengers. You would think that being partners would mean similar offerings when it comes to food and wine, but we were delighted to discover they have each stayed true to their regions and celebrate what makes them undeniably unique.
Established in 1933, Air France operates flights to 195 destinations and 91 countries, and in 2017 carried just shy of 100 million passengers. Like a fine French wine, their Business Class can be summed up in one word: elegance. The design is contemporary and the focus is on functionality over fancy. This doesn’t mean they’ve given up on aesthetics, but they have decidedly ensured that the seat and surrounding area is genuinely useful for business travellers.
The devil really is in the details and depending on whether you want to use your time in the air to work or rest, Air France has seemingly thought of everything. Road warriors can enjoy unparalleled privacy as well as direct access to the aisle regardless of which seat is booked. Storing electronic devices is easy and practical as they can be stowed away while being charged through a personal power outlet and USB port. And no self-respecting Business Cabin would be complete without noise-canceling headphones, (or what we like to call “travel saviours”) which are also a component of each individual pod.
If being at 30,000 feet and having a few hours of quiet time to rest and relax is more your preference, Air France also has that covered. Your work space easily transforms into a personal entertainment lounge complete with a 16-inch HD touchscreen. Your seat can be converted into a full lie-flat bed that extends to 6.5 feet in length and includes a duvet and feather pillow. A far cry from the scratchy blankets or miniscule pillows found on low cost carriers.
If you’re lucky enough to be flying off on an AdVINEture as we were, it’s the perfect time to kick things off with a glass of wine and some fine French food. As with all Business Class cabins we’ve experienced, passengers are traditionally offered a glass of sparkling wine upon boarding. Air France has chosen a classic Champagne as their greeting: the Taittinger Brut Réserve. A great choice not only because of its quality but also because it will serve equally well as an aperitif on its own, or paired with salads and seafood. But when you consider who is behind their wine menu, it really should be no surprise that this is Air France’s Champagne of choice. They have consulted none other than Paolo Basso—named in 2013 as Best Sommelier in the WORLD—to help curate their wine list. Each of the two reds and the two whites have been selected with great care and attention both for representing a proud wine making country, as well as pairing adeptly with the onboard food menu.
Before we get into the tasting notes of the wine, it’s important to also provide some background on who is behind the airline’s culinary creations. Air France has been among industry leaders in providing quality meals and was one of the first to collaborate with a Michelin-rated chef. Since 2002, they have consulted with Guy Martin of Le Grand Véfour, the first grand restaurant in Paris. The results are impressive with a 5-course meal on our particular flight. It featured a shrimp Mise en Bouche, a bouillabaisse monkfish terrine with grilled vegetable tartare; a choice between lamb stew, zander fillet or ricotta and asparagus lasagna as the main hot dish; a gourmet cheese plate, and for dessert a choice of lemon cheesecake, soft Morello cherry cake or Bigoudine chocolate cake with ice cream or sorbet. Their “light” snack as the second meal was the perfect combination of fresh cold platters (also with dessert option) to ensure you were completely satisfied but not stuffed at the end of the 9 hour flight.
With food options like that, the wines need to be versatile. Both white options paired brilliantly with the shrimp starter and monkfish terrine. The 2016 Joseph Mellot Sancerre La Chatellenie from the Loire Valley is a crisp, refreshing wine showing lots of minerality. Notes of Apple, lemon and a hint of spice made it a great accompaniment that brought out the flavours of the food without being overpowering.
Those wanting a weightier white have the option of the 2017 Domaine Laroche Chablis. An elegant chardonnay that provides more body than the Sancerre but still has a wonderful acidity to appease even the staunchest “ABC” (Anything But Chardonnay) wine drinker.
For the reds, we loved that Air France chose a red from the Languedoc region which is often underrated or overlooked. The 2015 Chateau de la Soujeole Gerard Bertrand is a blend of mostly Cabernet Franc with Merlot and Malbec. The result is a medium plus bodied wine that is smooth and approachable and able to stand up to both the lamb stew and the vegetarian lasagna perfectly.
The second option for the reds was the 2012 Chateau Jean Faure Grand Cru Classé from Saint-Emilion. A bigger, bolder wine from one of the world’s most storied regions, it was a treat to be served a Grand Cru Classé with some age on it. Definitely more complexity with this wine and a terrific accompaniment to the lamb stew.
The final wine on the list is the Graham’s Tawny Port aged 10 years. Medium tawny in colour, plum, dried fruit and brown sugar dominate the nose, while fig, spice and nuts are well balanced on the palate. It’s a lovely way to finish the meal particularly if you’re opting for the gourmet cheese plate.
As we disembarked our flight, we were notably rested, refreshed and ready to explore. As frequent fliers, we’ve really noticed the value of Business Class especially when flying long haul for a relatively short trip. We no longer deplane feeling shattered, or lose a day trying to adjust to our new time zone. And when you get to relax and enjoy wine and food of this caliber, it becomes an enjoyable part of the travel experience. Air France demonstrated beautifully that if you’re based out of one of the top wine making regions in the world that also happens to be one of the top culinary countries in the world, the journey really does become the destination. Merci Air France, à la prochaine!