What’s the biggest challenge in serving wine at 35,000ft?
The biggest challenge at altitude is the dryness of the air. It becomes much more difficult to taste things. Bitterness and acidity become much more evident and fruit and perfume get lost. This means the wines you choose must have a generous quality. They must have lots of fruit in them and they must be led by brightness and freshness.
What works best?
Sauvignon blanc. And a New Zealand sauvignon blanc is the most obvious example. It has a nice tingly acidity and an immediate burst of bright ‘orchardy’ fruit.
What else works well?
Champagne also works very well, of course, because of the bubbles. You need something that wakes you up instead of anything that calms you towards a soporific state. It may not be perfect with all food, but it’s often perfect with your general state of mind, which is just as important.
Modern chardonnays are also doing quite well because they’re less claggy and heavy than they used to be. Riesling is another great one. They always have a zingy bite and it’s that ‘zingy-ness’ that you need to just break through the drying atmosphere.
What challenges do you face?
Another question we have to consider is what will go with your meal. We have an International Culinary Panel of world renowned – and often Michelin Star – chefs from several different countries, as well as an international passenger profile to please. So, whichever cabin you’re flying, when you typically sit down and look at your menu on the plane you will have multiple different cuisines so there’s no point in having a wine that won’t taste good with most things.
How does the panel work?
There’s three of us: Jeannie Cho Lee who’s based in Hong Kong and China, Michael Hill Smith who’s based in Australia and me in Europe. We have two chunks of time each year when we’re in Singapore doing blind evaluations. We have particular things we’re after. It might be business class red, economy class white. We might start with 100 wines at the beginning of the morning and we’ve got two or three by the time we’ve finished and then we put that to Singapore Airlines and say these are the ones we think are really going to work best.
What makes the panel work?
We all go to different parts of the wine world all through the year and we’re always looking out for what we think might work whether it’s a new Spanish wine or something from Chile. We keep in touch by email so there’s a continual evolution in what will work on the planes. And that makes sense because the planes and the food that we serve are changing so the wines gently change as well.
What’s the most unexpected thing you serve?
We’ve started using Tasmanian wines — the coolest place in Australia. People might find that a Tasmanian pinot noir is shocking and exciting — something they really hadn’t expected.
Does the job stop when you get on the plane?
Well, the first thing I want to do is have a glass of champagne. But then what I do is try all the wines from all the different classes and then I go into the galley and I chat to the crew. I want to hear what they think. They’ve been on the Hong Kong flight and they’ve been on the Los Angeles flight — what are people actually drinking? That kind of thing is important.
What’s your favourite part of flying Singapore Airlines?
I do really bound down that gangway with a certain amount of enthusiasm. I think that the thing about Singapore Airlines is that the planes are the most modern. The seats are the most comfortable. But above all, it’s that old Singapore value — the warm, personable friendly welcome that never fades. In a rushed digital world, I think that’s really important.
Where are you off to next?
I’m going to be looking at what’s happening in England in the next month or two. English wine is a niche market at the moment, but it won’t be in five years’ time or so. I don’t think we’re going to be seeing English wines on Singapore Airlines just yet, but that day will come!
Above and beyond
The airline has made a name for itself for pioneering air travel across the world with impeccable service. Step aboard and you’ll be treated to genuine warmth from cabin crew that are firing on all cylinders – this is an airline that’s won rave reviews time and time again for its award-winning customer service. Staff — on the ground and in the air — will always go the extra mile so that every flyer is granted the best travel experience possible.
The airline’s culinary offering is enough to stir anyone’s loyalty, too, developed by a clutch of world-class chefs and wine experts. Its Book the Cook service is an exceptional option for First, Business and Premium Economy passengers who can pre-book from a wide selection of dishes, while a range of special menus are available, including for children, and celebratory cakes can be pre-booked regardless of your cabin. And Singapore Airlines really comes into its own with its superb cabins, from economy’s roomy seats and premium service, to business class with double beds. Suites on board the A380, meanwhile, is a destination in its own right; from superb gourmet dining to exquisite private double suites, there’s bags of pizazz at your fingertips.
Back on the ground, stop over long enough in Singapore’s Changi Airport and you can swim in its pool, catch a film at the cinema, explore a fantastic range of shops and potter around its butterfly garden. There’s a reason it’s the world’s most awarded airport and a smooth transfer comes as standard.
Flying to Australia for over 50-years, and with flight frequencies to nine destinations making it the country’s most frequent foreign visitor, now is the time to book — and to discover why Singapore Airlines always comes out on top.
Fly to Sydney with Singapore Airlines from £765pp return. Singapore Airlines offers four daily flights from London Heathrow and five flights a week from Manchester with seamless connections via Singapore. singaporeair.com