In previous Wine High Club features, we’ve highlighted airlines including Air France, Air Canada and KLM who each consult with a well-known Sommelier or Master of Wine to help curate their business class wine lists. Air New Zealand has taken the focus on wine one step further by consulting with no less than 7 of New Zealand’s leading wine experts. On a recent flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, we were prepared to test whether their offering would end up being that much better than the competition…or if it would be a case of too many oenophiles in the cellar.
Based in Auckland, Air New Zealand operates flights to 20 domestic and 31 international destinations in 19 countries around the Pacific Rim and the United Kingdom. Since 1999, they have been a member of the Star Alliance and carry over 15 million passengers a year. They currently operate a fleet of Airbus 320, Airbus A320neo family, Boeing 777, and Boeing 787 aircraft. We happened to be travelling on their Boeing 777 which was easily among the best product we’ve flown to date. The Business Premier cabin features individual pods which are comfortable leather seats that convert into fully lie-flat beds. Each pod has a memory foam mattress, two full-sized pillows and proper duvet available so that you actually feel like you are sleeping in a bed, as opposed to a converted seat. Travelling together, we took full advantage of the ottoman footrest which allowed us to sit together over a glass of wine throughout the long-haul flight.
When you first board an Air New Zealand aircraft, the first thing you notice is pride in all things Kiwi. They clearly take their role as the country’s flag carrier airline seriously. ‘Kia Ora’ greetings (Māori for “be well/hello”) are standard whether by the flight attendants directly, your personal entertainment screen, or when the Captain makes the first passenger announcement. Even the airline’s safety videos have become legendary for not only highlighting the country’s heritage but doing it with their trademark humour. They have become so entertaining that people not only watch them on the plane, they have become certified YouTube hits receiving millions of views.
The airline extends that pride across all aspects of their on board offering, which is particularly noticeable with their wine and food menus. Each not only feature the local wine regions and food specialties prominently, they highlight the quality that is clearly abundant in both.
The degree to which Air New Zealand are committed to showcasing New Zealand wines is simply unmatched. The result of their policy in offering wine exclusively from their country’s local wine regions has made them the single largest server of those wines. The process they go through to select which wines will be served on board or featured in their “Fine Wines of New Zealand Program” is curated each year by a panel of 7 New Zealand wine experts which includes 6 Masters of Wine and one Master Sommelier.
It is a surprisingly rigorous procedure when you consider how easy it would be to simply partner with a few popular large producers. Each of the 7 panel members is a assigned a specific wine variety and then submissions are requested from the wine industry. From those submissions, the panel members then put forward their recommendation of the wines that best represent that variety. Those wines are then tasted with 3 other panelists, and together those 4 agree on which wines move forward to the final selection. The wines are tasted one last time by the entire panel where as a group they decide which wines become part of the Air New Zealand Fine Wines of New Zealand Program. The program is a wine club style concept that allows you to select up to 6 wine bottles for delivery or choose from a handful of pre-selected cases that the panel has put together…right from your in-flight entertainment system.
Air New Zealand takes their food just as seriously. They consult with not 1, but 2, award-winning chefs: Michael Meredith and Peter Gordon. Michael Meredith was born in Samoa and honed his craft through scholarships at both Auckland’s Institute of technology and the Culinary Institute of America. He worked at many of the United States’ top restaurants including Montrachet, March, and Gramercy Tavern in New York. He returned to Auckland where he worked at some of New Zealand’s best restaurants before opening Meredith’s to much critical acclaim.
Peter Gordon has been a consulting chef to Air New Zealand for 15 years. He is a world renown chef of Māori descent and splits his time between London and New Zealand. He built his reputation in the 1980’s pioneering fusion cuisine and has established a number of the world’s prominent restaurants including The Providores and Tapa Room in Marylebone High Street, Kopapa in Covent Garden, and Bellota Tapas at Auckland’s SkyCity Grand Hotel.
Thanks to the influence of these two culinary masters, Air New Zealand brings an enormous amount of detail to their menu sourcing local ingredients whenever possible and creating dishes that are both delicious and notable.
This attention to detail may not be realized by the majority of passengers, but it is certainly appreciated by wine enthusiasts, foodies, and road warriors. What we discovered based on our entire onboard experience is that Air New Zealand are more interested in differentiating themselves from the competition through quality and expertise. Their Kiwi pride extends beyond just expressing their heritage; it seems to be woven into their DNA. The service was impeccable and the best we’ve experienced to date.
As for the wine, Air New Zealand took a calculated risk by offering exclusively New Zealand wines, but they took that risk knowing they were still offering a quality product. As a result, travellers get a truly exceptional experience while getting a taste of New Zealand all at the same time. Well done Air New Zealand…or rather ‘Pai Mahi’.