Having travelled to more than 80 countries, it’s fair to say that we’ve had more than our share of in-flight experiences. While economy class inclusions seem to be declining, airlines are going out of their way to win business-class travellers. Today, lie-flat beds, in-flight entertainment, and in-flight dining are common among all international carriers, but it’s in the latter category where airlines seem to be trying to differentiate themselves. Our “Wine High Club” series aims to provide our readers with a review of what wine is being offered onboard different airlines. After all, if you’re going to be spending more than a few hours on a plane, it’s worth making it time well spent. First up in our series is Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij, also known as KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, which we had the pleasure of flying from Vancouver to Amsterdam on our way to an AdVINEture in Bordeaux.
KLM has been part of the Air France-KLM Group since 2004 when the two companies established a long term Joint Venture agreement. Established in 1919, KLM holds the distinction of being the oldest airline operating under its original name and today they send more than 30 million passengers to over 160 destinations worldwide. And while these statistics are notable, we were most impressed by their outstanding customer service. The flight attendants were genuinely welcoming and went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable throughout the flight (not to mention accommodating our in-flight wine tasting!).
When it comes to KLM’s business class as a whole, design and art feature prominently. Dutch designer Hella Jongerius was hired to re-imagine an interior cabin atmosphere more focused on the traveller experience. According to Jongerius, air travellers often feel like “insignificant cogs in a well-oiled machine, where every seat is identical except for the number.” The outcome of her vision is a design that is clean, warm, and inviting. Another Dutch designer, Marcel Wanders, was then consulted to create the look for the tableware including the cutlery, glassware, and menu card, weaving in KLM’s logo in a subtle but unique pattern. Investing in designers of this calibre certainly demonstrates that the airline is serious about making its product distinct from its competitors.
Food and wine menus have come a long way in the past two decades. First it was celebrity chefs, and now it’s Masters of Wine and Sommeliers that are highly sought after by airlines to consult on their menus. The result has been a radical improvement to in-flight dining featuring creative and healthy food options combined with thoughtfully curated wine lists. The wine choices are often regionally focused based on their key destinations or, as in the case with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, they also have a story to tell.
When handed the wine menu on KLM, our interest and curiosity were immediately piqued for two reasons. First, the originality and thought behind their list, and second, the fact that other than the Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne they served upon boarding, we had never tried any of the wines that were being offered.
KLM partnered with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to bring fine art and fine wine together in an exclusive collaboration. Five Dutch masterpieces were chosen from the 17th century to be the labels for five wines from five different countries. The result is one of the most unique and fun wine lists we’ve had the pleasure of tasting at 30,000 feet.
First up was the 2017 Boschendal Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa, a region doing a great job with their white wines. The label chosen for this wine is “Still Life with Asparagus” by artist Adriaen Coorte done in 1697. Pairing a painting of Asparagus with Sauvignon Blanc seems appropriate given that’s likely what you’d pair together in real life. The grassy notes of this wine are nicely complimented by hints of asparagus, wet stones and grapefruit. Medium body with medium plus acid, it shows good balance and pairs nicely with white fish and vegetables earning it a Very Good+ by our rating system.
The second wine on the list is a 2017 Grüner Veltliner from Esterházy winery in Austria. The label is a work by Caesar Boetius van Everdingen called “Girl in a Large Hat” from the mid-17th century. Self-proclaimed as the most modern winery in Austria, Esterházy has a history with the arts that dates back more than 250 years. At one time composer Joseph Haydn was the house conductor at Esterházy’s original Chateau and had part of his salary paid in wine. Notes of green apple, cut grass, and honeydew melon are joined by hints of minerality in this medium/light body wine. A very good wine that is subtle and restrained, it finishes with notes of pears and citrus fruit.
The third white wine is the 2017 Abbotts and Delauney Viognier from the South of France. The label is a work by Johannes Vermeer done in 1658 titled “View of Houses in Delft, known as The Little Street”. It’s a very good wine that is not particularly complex but provides a freshness that shows its Languedoc origins. White peach and melon are delivered on a medium body frame with decent back end acidity and is well paired with fish or chicken.
As we move to the reds, our choices were an Italian blend and an Argentinian Merlot. The Italian blend was the 2017 Masi Frescaripa Bardolino Classico with Corvina being the dominant variety. It was paired with Frans Hals “Portrait of Woman” from 1635. The Masi winery is a great patron of the arts through its Masi Foundation so it seems more than fitting that they should be chosen as one of the wines for this project. Cherry and strawberry make up the flavor profile of this lighter styled and simple wine. Some complexity comes from the spice notes but this is a wine best enjoyed on its own or with lighter fare.
The final wine on the list was the 2017 Finca Perdriel Merlot which is made from the well reputed Bodegas Norton in Argentina’s Mendoza region. Balthasar van der Ast is the artist behind this label which is “Still Life with Flowers” from 1625-1630. The Finca Pedriel Merlot shows dark cherry and plum in its flavour profile. Medium body and medium tannin in this wine showed a bit of heat. The mouthfeel is round and shows good Merlot typicity while hints of spice come through on the finish.
Not related to the art project, KLM has two dessert wines also available in flight: the 2013 Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port and the Lillypilly Sweet Harvest from Australia. We don’t tend to drink a lot of dessert wines but these were both very good. The port showed lots of black fruit and had a lovely juicy acidity while the Lillypilly was unexpectedly light in a good way with neither being cloying or sugary sweet.
We certainly hope we get the opportunity to fly with KLM again, not only to enjoy their World Business Class but also to see what their wine tasting panel comes up with next!