Why Does Your Airplane Wine Taste so BAD?

Feb 14, 2022

Vacation is the perfect wine time….or is it?

Most people would agree that flying is both exciting and stressful. Flying is exciting – You’re getting out of town, seeing a new place or friends and family. Flying is stressful – cramped and noisy with lots of waiting.

airplane wine

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

So you got to the airport two hours early, stood in line to check your bags, stood in line again to take off your shoes and belt, and then stood in line again to board the plane. You’ve finally found your seat – congratulations, now hurry up and wait!

There’s not much to do for the next eight hours so grab a drink! Now depending on who you’re flying with, your drink cart experience can change wildly. Regardless of whether you are flying Emirates or RyanAir, your choices of wine are probably delegated to ‘red’ or ‘white’ (they haven’t approached us about serving Jalapeno Wine Lemonade yet).

Life is Too Short to Drink Airplane Wine

If you’ve been on a plane before you’ve probably had the Airplane Wine, you also probably remember the experience, and not fondly. It’s sour, and the tannins insist on themselves. ‘Where do they find wine this bad?’ you wonder to yourself. While you probably aren’t getting a great vintage, the thing is, that same wine would taste better anywhere else on the ground. What’s with that?

If you fancy yourself a wine aficionado you might know that the flavor of a vintage can change dramatically based on the altitude at which you enjoy it. Higher altitudes tend to result in the more acidic flavors overpowering the more subtle flavors (this is why airlines tend to stock ‘fruity’ vintages). ‘But the cabin is pressurized!’ you’re thinking. And of course it is, but some of the same problems still occur.

Airplane cabins tend to be particularly oxygen rich, so the aroma dissipates rapidly, and scent is such a big part of flavor. Airplane cabins also have exceptionally dry air, this dries out your palate and makes the acidity and tannins so much more noticeable.

The root cause of this is your olfactory epithelium. This little organ is responsible for distinguishing between aromas…when it’s working properly. And dehydration is one of the main reasons it may start to malfunction.  That dry air we talked about? It really kicks that olfactory epithelium into low gear.

Airlines are aware of this, and so why go out of their way to serve amazing food and wine, when you’re not going to taste it anyway? Do you know what the number one most requested condiment on the Space Station is for veteran space travelers? Tabasco sauce.

Science, Psychosomatics & Scents

So, there is science behind why your plastic cup of Julio Gallo tastes like grape juice and battery acid, but that’s not the whole story. The truth is that just like the human brain, wine is a complicated and fickle thing. Remember your seatmates from Florida (how could you forget)? Well they took both the arm rests, one has sleep apnea, and neither of them smell springtime fresh at this point. Does it affect the flavor of the airplane wine though? Absolutely!

So here’s the thing, while what you read about airplane wine has certainly historically been true, there’s a lot of money and effort involved in increasing the quality of your in-flight wine experience. By one estimate Delta alone served 2.8 million in-flight bottles way back in 2014! There are lots of clever people working behind the scenes to improve your experience going forward but there is one simple trick you can do with any wine on any airline: let it breathe! The precious aroma of your glass is going to be at the mercy of your canned atmosphere, as always but you’re not just letting it breathe, you’re letting it warm up too.

There is one kind of wine that has a specific release particularly for flight : SPARKLING WINE! The main cabins is pressurized at roughly the equivalent of Denver. Sparkling wine is pressurized at 5 atmospheres – or five times the pressure of sea level. In other words, if the cabin were to suddenly decompress, the oxygen masks would lower, and there would bottle of bubbly exploding throughout the cabin. So this special release is bottled with less atmospheres, or less pressure.

In Conclusion

Did you come to the same conclusion we did? They need to serve our Sparkling Jalapeno Wine Lemonade – or Giggle Juice – in flight!! It checks all the boxes. A jalapeno kick for your dulled taste buds. And if we need to have a special release of pressurization, we might as well kick it up a notch!

Who knows? Ask for it on your next local flight and we’ll see what happens.