The making of wine for high altitudes

by | Jan 26, 2017 | Article

Vineyard and cellar update

Basic advice for comfortable long distance flights is that alcohol consumption should be limited during flights, because alcohol causes dehydration, which leads to more discomfort of the passengers. In spite of the advice, passengers will always drink wine, either moderately or excessively, during flights. Cellars also use the opportunity of serving their wines during flight as a marketing exercise. Airlines sometimes claim that expert panels select their wines, but this is rather a marketing statement seeing that the wines are not always of exceptional quality and that the negotiated price is more important. However the reality is that the expectations of the passengers are often not met when food and wine are served during flights.

The dry air in aeroplane cabins is one of the reasons why food and wine do not taste the same as under normal conditions. The observation of flavours is restricted and if something cannot be smelled the taste will also be influenced. Research has also confirmed that the observation capacity of human senses are less than normal at altitudes of 35 000 feet (approximately 10 000 metres). Chefs of food served on flights, realised that all five human senses must be addressed in order to improve the perception of the food quality. The Seattle based cellar, Percept Wine and Alaska airlines consequently decided to launch a mutual project to improve the perceptive quality of wines at high altitudes.

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To address the problem, the cellar developed two wines with the Canoe Ridge trademark. The approach was to increase the tannin concentration and oak profile of red wines to make the flavour more prominent. The residual sugar concentration of the white wines was slightly increased to soften the sharpness of the acid taste. They investigated different blends of Pinot gris and Merlot. The residual sugar content of the Pinot gris was increased from 2 to 6 g/l, which not only made the flavour of the wine more prominent but changed the structure of the taste. Shiraz was added to the Merlot, which also made the flavour and taste of the red wine more prominent. To make a comparison, the wines had to be tasted before take-off, as well as during flight. Passengers on different flights were also requested to comment on the wines. Their feedback was so positive that, as a result of it, different marketing actions to promote local products were launched and the sales of the wines also increased. Furthermore, promotion activities were initiated in collaboration with local breweries and cheese factories (Perdue, 2014).

Thus, a project that was initially launched to make wines more acceptable during flights eventually led to a promotion action of Alaska airlines and some Washington cellars.


Perdue, Andy. 2014. Making Wine for High Altitudes. Wine Business Monthly, July 2014: 26 – 31.

Charl Theron

Vino Fino Oenological Advice

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